The use and importance of the Internet is increasing year by year. The IT sector is growing and IT companies are currently the largest business ventures in the world. Every day I read about digital transformation, even though I am not entirely sure what is meant by that. And everyone is in the cloud or is on their way to getting there. Good times for someone working at an Internet company, you would think. However, I am worried. Mostly about the last part: the cloud. Definitions of the cloud differ, but often people refer to it as a super-centralized infrastructure. That super-centralized part of the cloud is disturbing to me. It differs so much from how the Internet developed up until ten years ago.
There has always been room on the Internet for people and organizations who could be innovative without needing permission or facing obstructions. The number of people and businesses that played a part here was always relatively large. Over the last decade, however, it has been a small group of businesses that has done great things for the Internet and its users. They have made technology available to a gigantic number of users, which has made the Internet safer and more accessible.
But over the last few years, this small group of businesses seems to have been playing a decreasingly positive role. They have become so powerful that now they can decide how the Internet works, which innovations can or cannot be implemented, who has access to data, and even who owns that data. We as a society – and even more importantly as the IT sector – have given this power away to them.
Vendor lock-in of users & the centralization of data
A well-known ‘meme’ – a number of years old now – that the IT giants no doubt endorse is, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Simultaneously, the ‘meme’ “Absolute power corrupts” has been around for a few centuries. To me, it seems that this last meme is becoming more and more applicable to the IT giants. The privacy scandals around these businesses are known to us all. But there are many more cases where these companies are the villains in the story. An example is the enormous benefits some of these businesses have by using open source software without repaying the open source community in the slightest – and even ‘vendor lock’ the users to their version of the open source software.
A second example is the movement of browsers towards DNS over https through a limited number of DNS providers. If the browsers keep pushing these plans, all DNS queries will automatically be sent to only a small number of companies. These companies will have access to data about which pages were visited by whom for hundreds of millions of Internet users. This means even more information about us and our behavior is being sent to the Internet giants.
My final example: Over the past few years, many hosting businesses have closed their own mailing services and server infrastructures and opted for purchasing from one of the big cloud companies. These cloud companies then get rid of the hosting party as an intermediary by tempting the end user with direct contracts for lower fees, especially when such end users are bound to a certain format.
Why do we allow foreign IT giants to monopolize technology?
My examples above show that both the end customers and the IT sector can lose out when technology becomes monopolized. So, why do we, as an IT sector, allow this to happen? Why do we think it is a good idea to place our clients’ data in the hands of one of the three or four massive, foreign IT giants when we all know the benefits of a diverse and distributed landscape? Why do we let certain companies monopolize a technology that was designed for the benefit of all? We need to stop leaving ourselves and all innovation fully dependent on companies that we know always put themselves first. Isn’t it time to make the Internet more open again?
Wido Potters is Manager Support & Sales and a member of the management team of BIT BV.
Please note: The opinions expressed in Industry Insights published by dotmagazine are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the publisher, eco – Association of the Internet Industry.