Law in the Internet Society
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One Step at a Time: The Shift in Perceptions Towards Big Tech and Why it Matters

-- By AlexandraWeissfisch - 21 Oct 2021

Section I: Push Back Against Big Tech

We initially perceived Big Tech’s services as facilitating connections with one another and democratizing access to information on the Web. Most of us welcomed these services with open arms and few questions.

Bombarded with marketing for services that could digitally connect us with other people, allow us to share information with the click of a button, listen to all kinds of music, store photos online, we became receptive to these services. More than that, we became reliant on them.

As the Big Tech companies providing these services have continued to grow and become more powerful, censorship has become an ever-important problem. In exchange for receiving these free services, Big Tech companies have quietly and carefully been collecting data that most of us did not even realize was collectable. And they have been using our data in ways that we could not even conceive. Tech companies have used censorship as a tool to change our behavior and increase engagement with their services.

But the exterior shell of Big Tech is starting to wither away. And people are becoming increasingly uneasy with what that they are seeing. In the past few years, we have seen an explosion of pushback against Big Tech practices on several levels. On the political front, calls for increased regulation have risen dramatically. And after forty years of allowing unrestricted growth of Big Tech, lawmakers have started to respond. Last year, CEOS of Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon testified before Congress on antitrust concerns. The Justice Department has since filed an antitrust suit against Google. While we have yet to see if anything substantial results from these efforts, it is one step forward. On the cultural front we have seen increasing numbers of articles, tv-shows, movies, taking on negative perspectives of Big Tech, attempting to expose the truth behind their practices. And on a more practical and actionable front, we see that an increasing number of users are taking steps to free themselves (somewhat) from the hold of Big Tech, for example through Adblock and VPN use.

Perceptions are changing – and these attitude shifts away from Big Tech will pave the way for an increased awareness of alternatives.

Section II: Is the Push Great Enough?

Despite this cultural shift in the perception of Big Tech, the half-measures that most of us are taking do not go far enough to rid ourselves of what we realize is wrong with these services. So why are we not turning in mass and embracing the free software movement that is rid of what we have realized we want to move away from in Big Tech? Why are we not taking action and welcoming software that reinforces our rights as free individuals?

Based on our class discussions and readings so far, I see four main steps that are necessary in pursuit of such a goal. Firstly, we need to become aware of the problems with what we are currently using. Secondly, there need to be alternatives available for consumer use. Thirdly, we need to be aware that these alternatives exist. And lastly, we need to want to embrace those alternatives, and realize that they are equal to or superior to the effectiveness of the services we have grown accustomed to.

As discussed above, the first step has been met, with a growing awareness of the ill practices pursued by Big Tech. The second step has also been met, with the existence of services that don’t require surveillance techniques, and that exist in a de-centralized and de-industrialized web. We get stuck on the third step, which has not yet been met, as the majority of users of Big Tech services do not realize that alternatives exist. And, of course, the last step has not been met. We know what we don’t want, but we need to be aware that alternatives exist, and we need to want to break our built-in habits to properly embrace those alternatives.

Section III: Can we Draw on the Environmental Movement?

It may be insightful to compare the environmental movement with the free software movement. Given the similarities between privacy pollution and atmospheric pollution, it is a comparison that makes sense to draw.

The origins of the environmental movement began in response to the increasing levels of atmospheric pollution in the atmosphere following the Industrial Revolution. Eventually, people became aware of the dire problem associated with this pollution. And with that knowledge and awareness came change. It became increasingly clear that changes had to be made to combat climate change. And things have been changing, both at the governmental level (e.g., Paris Agreement, and several other treaties), and at the individual level (e.g., driving zero emission vehicles, recycling).

Although there is still a long way to go in combating climate change, there has been progress in the fight. Any why is this? Because people finally understand the significance of the threat to the environment that comes with continuing the status quo. Alternatives exist (e.g., renewable energy sources), people are aware of those alternatives, and people want a future on our planet.

Drawing on comparisons with the environmental movement, we should see the day-to-day shifts in the cultural perception towards Big Tech as a step, albeit a small step, forward.

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r1 - 21 Oct 2021 - 19:11:02 - AlexandraWeissfisch
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