Perhaps it is just me who thinks so, yet the Internet has changed radically in the last fifteen years or so, and it is changing for the worse.
Before the year 2000 (because I'm starting to get a bit old) the Internet was moving forward thanks to standards that were shared and used internationally.
Thanks to working groups tackling a practical problem we had innovations like 802.3, more commonly known as Ethernet, and all the derivatives like WiFi and corporate LANs. Or routing protocols, or other amenities like what we take for granted today: the World Wide Web, the 'markup' language HTML (which is not a programming language), the HTTP protocol, e-mail.
It all started from a practical problem: that of allowing essentially anyone to communicate, exchange data, be able to create their own solutions and still be able to interact with those of another group.
Just think of e-mail: more than 333 billion e-mails are exchanged every single day thanks to a protocol whose RFC1 was first published in November 1981, then improved and extended over the years according to market needs.
A market standard created by an individual who faced a problem and proposed a solution, later adopted by all, improved by many.
The same could be said of HTTP, the protocol we use every day to access apps, websites, business services, you name it. The problem? Sharing scientific documents through a network made up of different systems, and allowing anyone to access these 'hypertexts' that could contain text, images, even films (which at the time was only a mirage). The year was 1989.
It began with a practical problem: sharing knowledge and the ability to communicate.
As the power of the tech giants has increased, this sharing approach has changed radically, and has deteriorated considerably: in a nutshell, everything has started to go down the drain.
Masked as philanthropic actions such as 'we created this thing, and we make it available to the public', the tech giants are pushing and flooding the market with proprietary solutions over which they have absolute dominance. And if it is not absolute, it is only because we have not seen it yet.
Take Google Chrome for example: it is the most widely used browser in the world, with a market share of 62.58% as of June 2023, followed by Safari and its 20.47%. In 2001, Microsoft Corporation was slaughtered by the American antitrust authorities for maintaining an illegal market monopoly. The cause: the presence of Internet Explorer on machines and the deterrence of users to use applications such as Netscape Navigator or applications such as Java.
Yet, no one seems to find the incidence of Google Chrome and the legacy one has towards this browser problematic, with sites or applications even being able to operate exclusively through this application due to 'features only available within it'. A slow and fierce alienation that has meant that web applications, today, are developed 'chrome-first' and perhaps, if we really feel like it, for others as well.
And that was not the end of it.
Slowly Google forced companies and public administrations to use its services.
Google DNS (8[.]8[.]8[.]8) is the most widely used service in the world, and is even considered to be the 'best performing' one. Few, if any, question that through this service, the search engine giant is able to profile user behaviour on the Internet. Even so, the focus is on Google Analytics (also recently banned in Sweden), which you are forced to use to the prejudice of search ranking. Or even the imposition of adopting 'https' for the 'protection of Internet sites' on penalty of your site getting de-ranked in searches by Google's own search engine.
Slowly, Google has contaminated the Internet to the point of making Europe and the United States bound hand and foot to the decisions of a single company that lives by collecting, profiling, and processing the data of, technically, the entire population of said continents.
And I won't even open the chapter on Android, but try buying a television that doesn't have the voice assistant on board.
Fortunately, there is the Open Source, a real source of innovation, where teams tackle problems, create solutions that are then publicly made available to the general public.
Yet, this general public is often unable to use Open Source solutions for the simple reason that it requires more technical knowledge, thus creating a strong entry barrier to their adoption.
Even then, we have cases where large companies seeking market dominance and submission manage to find a way to subjugate innovative projects.
A prime example is certainly IBM with its acquisition of RedHat for the modest sum of $4.6 billion.
TL;DR: RedHat was one of the most widely used Linux distributions (at the time) in the corporate sector, with which the CentOS and Fedora projects were associated. Between those who hated or loved2 the solution, the level of adoption of these editions was substantial. Those who have been around the market for at least 20 years had already smelled the stench and started looking for alternatives only to find that the feeling was correct: no more sharing, RedHat's open source code (hence CentOS) will no longer be available.
All of this has impacts beyond the concerns of the general public, and yet it affects the general public far more than is apparent.
The technological oligarchy we are experiencing has massive impacts that I summarise in these categories.
Innovation is slowly fading away while the market is flooded with useless changes aimed solely at enslaving the general public for the profit of the company imposing these changes.
Not to mention the fact that the greatest contribution to these platforms comes exactly from the general public that uses them. Just think of the source of the real value of platforms like Spotify, Instagram or Twitter: without content, these platforms would have nothing.
It would also suffice to look at how many commercial products contain open source solutions carefully packaged to deliver services that generate millions of euros in turnover every month3.
In the era when Artificial Intelligence is master and on everyone's lips, its use is mainly geared towards profiling people's interests and behaviour. This not only has repercussions on a de facto persecution of users of such services, but also serious consequences on the abuse of these tools. Just think of what Cambridge Analytica did by simply exploiting the data contained in another platform, but what if a Google or a Meta decided to use its own platform to implement a massive social engineering operation?
The decisions imposed by Google on the market are a prime example. My hypothesis (of which I have reasonable confidence) is that the coercion (because there is no other term for it) of companies to use encrypted sites is not at all aimed at increasing the 'general security' of Internet sites, but rather at making it more difficult to intercept the amount of information that is collected by the search engine giant. As is the attempt to force the adoption of services such as DNS-over-HTTPS (which would put the entire industry in crisis, to say the least).
One of the strengths of open standards lies precisely in the fact that they can be analysed and addressed by a heterogeneous number of individuals who, once they find a problem, can either propose a solution or disclose the presence of that problem and allow anyone to take countermeasures.
One of the things that worries me most is how easily these tech giants manage to divert attention away from the basics and how influential their word is compared to those who, for years or decades, have contributed to the creation of a sharing tool within everyone's reach.
And this influence is not only related to political choices. Today, marketing and hype are the sales driver, not innovation. The vast majority of the time, the value of a solution is based on the media hype it generates, not its actual usefulness.
Similarly, it affects the business world (here I am talking about the IT sector specifically) where figures choose 'fashions' instead of the pragmatic path of analysing and creating solutions to real problems.
Often to the point of finding themselves in outright religious wars that focus on form and not content.
Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to say no and go against the current.
For example, deciding not to go for a 'full-cloud' solution to avoid having legacies with a service provider. Or not to use Google Analytics out of respect for one's visitors and customers.
Or, again, deciding to use open-source solutions that are not on the red-carpet or everyone's lips, so as to be able to reach anyone in any condition without forcing the person to use one tool or another.
But, above all, addressing and solving a problem.
Having a choice is something they are, slowly, eliminating by passing it off as a philanthropic action for the good of the population.
Innovation is diversity: different points of view, even conflicting ideas that have the aim of solving a problem.
1 RFC (Request for Comments) is a collection of Internet technical memoranda and documentation maintained by the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force).
2 Rights Chain used CentOS as the base edition for its platform until 2022.
3 It is worth mentioning that there are many companies that contribute, in return, to the Open Source world from which they draw with contributions of various kinds and with a genuine desire to improve these solutions.