Cory Doctorow is one of my favourite people on the entire planet. I’ve heard him speak in person and online on numerous occasions. I met him a couple of times while at Mozilla, and he’s even recommended swimming pools in Toronto to me when I visited. (He’s a daily swimmer due to chronic back pain.)
His new book, which I’m saving to read for my next holiday, is The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation. In this interview as part of promoting the book, he talks about how we’ve ended up in a world without real competition in the technology marketplace. Essential reading, as ever.
There used to be a time when the tech sector could be described as a bunch of “fast companies,” right? They would use the interoperability that’s latent in all digital technology and they would specifically target whatever pain points the incumbent had introduced. If incumbents were making money by showing you ads, they made an ad blocker. If incumbents were making money by charging gigantic margins on hard drives, they made cheaper hard drives.
Over time, we went from an internet where tech companies more or less had their users’ backs, to an internet where tech companies are colluding to take as big a bite as possible out of those users. We do not have fast companies anymore; we have lumbering behemoths. If you’ve started a fast company, it’s probably just a fake startup that you’re hoping to get acqui-hired by one of the big giants, which is something that used to be illegal.
As these companies grew more concentrated, they were able to collude and convince courts and regulators and lawmakers that it was time to get rid of the kind of interoperability, the reverse engineering that had been a feature of technology since the very beginning, and move into a new era in which no one was allowed to do anything to a tech platform that their shareholders wouldn’t appreciate. And that the government should step in to use the state’s courts to punish anyone who disagrees. That’s how we got to the world that we’re in today.