Read any of the classic cypherpunk or crypto-anarchist writings and one thing is clear: the internet offered us freedom. While the open source and peer-to-peer (p2p) movements are still alive and well in certain corners of the internet, most of us have chosen corporate rule instead.
While cryptocurrency offered us a medium of exchange that could be independent of Wall Street, Big Banks, and the dreaded state, many flock to exchanges that require you to confirm your identity to the state, and some even link their bank accounts, instead of using resources such as Local Bitcoins that would allow for more anonymous transactions.
While the p2p movement offered us a vision of the sharing economy that was truly peer-to-peer, many instead praise the likes of corporate apps which act as a third party between peers, setting the rules and taking a cut of the profits while providing little more than an app in return; an app that could have just as easily been crowdfunded into existence, owned cooperatively by its users, and made open source for all to utilize as they please. We hail the likes of Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, etc. as examples of the “sharing economy” instead of looking towards true sharing economy options such as Cell 411 ridesharing or Couchsurfing.org which operate in a truly peer-to-peer anti-corporate fashion.
While we were offered decentralized and encrypted forms of communication and social media, many of us still flocked to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Discord, and Tik Tok instead of the likes of Mastodon, Minds, MeWe, Element, and Signal, thus allowing our data to be farmed for profit and handed over to government agencies under the guise of security. We could have easily chosen our privacy but instead chose “convenience,” although I’m unsure about what exactly is convenient about willingly letting others invade our privacy when perfectly functional alternatives exist. And then after willingly handing these Big Tech platforms so much power, some act surprised and betrayed when these same platforms censor and ban people for their political views or other metrics which they have chosen to enact via hierarchical decree.
While we were offered open source and/or encrypted options such as Linux, GIMP, Icedrive, CryptDrive, Open Office, CryptPad, Riseup, Protonmail, etc., many still chose options like Windows, Photoshop, Google Drive, Google Docs, Gmail, etc. thus lining the pockets of corporate fatcats and further centralizing their control over the internet instead of embracing decentralization and empowering smaller creators and communities to share and collaborate with each other to create a multitude of amazing platforms.
At a time where video conferencing is much more necessary, Zoom is making money hand over fist and continuously flaunting the fact that they don’t care at all about consumer privacy and having the audacity to provide encryption services only to those who pay extra after they were outed for not encrypting at all despite claims that they were. All this while safer truly encrypted alternatives such as Jitsi and Agora.io go largely unused by comparison.
Hell, even here at C4SS, we self-proclaimed anarchists still can’t help but give ourselves over to corporate rule. We operate out of a Google Group, we do our editing on Google Docs, we use Zoom for our meetings, we sell through Amazon… and we should know better (by the way, you can purchase our books from our personal store instead of buying via Amazon, so no need to support a company who contracts with ICE).
The internet offered us freedom from corporate control and yet we threw that offer away to gladly continue the tradition of licking corporate boots. Many claim to do it out of convenience, but since when is it convenient to hand over all of our personal data to Big Tech companies willingly?
The internet offered us freedom and we squandered it. Yet the offer is still there. It’s within our reach. We still have the chance to cash in on that offer and make the internet the bastion of freedom it was prophesied to be by our cypherpunk and crypto-anarchist forebearers. It’ll be a process. It won’t always be the easiest or smoothest transition. It will take time and research. But damn if it’s not worth it in the end. So let’s get to work creating the internet we long to see.