It’s very tempting, at the moment, to assume the worst about the state of the internet, particularly when most of it is owned by a small number of companies with more leverage, data and money than many countries. This interview with Tim Berners-Lee cuts to the heart of the problem – when a small number of companies hold all the power, it stifles progress and concentrates issues such as hate speech.
Berners-Lee suggests that companies should be split up for their own good, though he doesn’t try to suggest how this would be done. Perhaps corporations like Google will fall apart of their own accord, or would outside pressure have to be put on them? There have been multiple attempts by individual countries, or blocs such as the European Union, to put checks on these companies, but it seems they will always be doomed to failure when the internet exists outside some of those countries, and it is always going to, even if the United Nations ruled on it. But Google or Amazon losing the favour of some of those countries would absolutely force them to a change of tactics (I think we have yet to see the full fall-out of the Cambridge Analytica scandal on Facebook’s bottom line). The only question is, what would prompt a political change of heart like that?
Much of the major legislation against internet giants so far has surrounded copyright law and data protection, but not so much against their financial dominance; the way they can simply buy out competition, and influence governments just by physically existing. Cities vie for Google and Amazon offices just for the prestige of the name and even if it creates little in the way of real new jobs and investment. It’s the Olympics bid of the business world, and it will take a lot more negative press and public feeling for that to change. But it absolutely could, if these companies continue to ride roughshod over communities online and offline, and disappointing people as they have disappointed the original creator of the internet.