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It is Time to Stop Sucking Up to BigTech

BigTech has been handing out digital restrictions management (DRM), spyware, adware, bloat, planned obsolesence, absurd end-user license agreements (EULAs) and terms of service (ToS), security holes, data breaches, terrible UIs, and the destruction of compatibility and interoperability. This is likely what you are now stuck with unless you count yourself among those of us who have actively refused to take it. But BigTech is not done yet.

BigTech is not done persuing their agenda of mass surveillance, censorship, and control. So far they have tried to pretend that they are merely in the legitimate(-ish) businesses of advertising and communications services. They only wield their discretion as publishers to remove or prioritize content when they are forced to do so for the sake of good business. Nevermind that they deny the whole time that they are publishers at all, instead claiming the privileges of common carriers.

Anyone following the evidence trail already had strong reasons to reject this narrative. BigTech's actions gave the appearance of a political agenda which their official statements failed to refute. Their financial and government connections presented conflicts of interest. They reneged on their own policies and stated goals.

But now it is being spelled out in clear language by the elites themselves: BigTech is going to help bring 1984-style authoritarian censorship to the west and (according to them) this is a great idea. Hear it from the horse's mouth.

The timing of this announcement is everything. The power structure now has both the greatest opportunity and the greatest need to justify their actions. What opportunity? The pandemic, of course. Desperate times call for desperate measures and all that. Just like the Patriot Act was ready and waiting for Congress to sign on the dotted line after the 2001 WTC attacks, under the guise of a temporary security necessity, this current crisis is again allowing authorities to push the envelope in ways that are unlikely to be rolled back and certain to avoid accountability. The reason they need to bring out the justification now is because all of the crimes they are advocating for the future are already taking place right now and are becoming more difficult to paper over.

We already knew that corporations were complicit in unconstitutional mass surveillance when the illegal NSA program was revealed during the George W. Bush administration. In 2008, Congress signed legislation giving them retroactive immunity and shuffled the problem out of sight without doing anything to solve it. Fast forward to 2013 and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress by denying that the NSA was still spying on Americans. Then Edward Snowden provided information proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that mass surveillance was still underway, bigger than ever. Members of BigTech were specifically named for their roles in collecting and submitting the data. But again, there were no consequences and construction of the NSA data center in Nevada continued. This was "the new normal."

Censorship by BigTech and their manipulation of public discourse for the sake of their own political agenda is a more recent phenomenon. It has grown along with their market dominance. At first, their excuses for intervening were limited to legal concerns. Copyright infringement, obscenity, "hate speech." Later came the more ambiguous claims of racism, sexism, or bullying. Now they are removing content and disabling accounts for "misinformation" or without any excuse at all. This is where the situation necessarily escalates. Because while partisan hacks across the spectrum have gleefully embraced the idea that one can repackage opinion as fact and pretend it is therefore beyond dispute, separating fact from fiction in the real world is difficult and people know this. Neither BigTech nor the corporate media in general have the resources to do real fact checking even for trivial matters, if they even wanted to. And in an era when "fake news" has become a popular phrase in multiple languages, more people are unwilling to delegate the task of deciding what is true to corporations or politicians. We can see the authorities contradicting themselves. We can see the double standards. We can see the hypocrisy. We can see the misdirection. We can see that the emporer has no clothes, and their response can only be to censor anyone who points this out.

It's worth considering how BigTech came to be in a position where they can perpetrate these actions against the people. The internet existed before goog, farcebook, or twit-er, and people were able to communicate over it without their help. But then some things happened. The first thing was systematic collusion and false advertising by ISPs which removed the ability of residential internet customers to serve content from their own PC or even run their own email, thereby crippling the utility of the internet for average people and setting the stage for centralized, corporate control.

The low throughput and intermittent nature of dial-up connections made user-hosted content impractical at first. At the time, popular ISPs like America Online provided their own remote file hosting and email service for customers instead. But when broadband connections became available (we can even count ISDN in this case) there was no longer a barrier to running one's own server applications and many customers did so. This situation did not last. Gradually the ISPs put artificial technical measures in place specifically to prevent residential customers from running any type of server. Then they got rid of the file hosting, then USENET service, then email, all while fraudulently selling their service as "unlimited."

This created the opening for corporate middlemen to offer their "free" adware/spyware supported email and hosting services or "platforms." Many of these were created but the space has undergone massive consolidation, so that now even smaller sites who are nominally independent still interface with BigTech for the purpose of selling ads and selling the user's data. This is also true of shopping, banking, and government sites which force one to use goog's ReCrapcha or make other requests to BigTech behind the scenes. Nobody who isn't technically knowledgable has any choice as to whether to interact with BigTech on the web. But just as the antitrust case against Microsoft was famously scuttled, the rest of BigTech has been allowed to run roughshod over consumers and competitors alike. Being propped up by the ultra-wealthy and receiving lucrative government contracts and tax-breaks has even helped BigTech members cement their positions.

This is the context that we need to reject the argument that it's purely BigTech's prerogative to surveil and censor. Even if they are not a government entity which has been explicitly prohibited from violating your rights (for all the good that did), they are now joined at the hip with government and serve the same masters. One day they are bragging about facilitating public protests that they agree with, the next day they are deliberately preventing people from organizing a protest that they don't agree with. One day they rave about the sanctity of elections, the next day they sell voter data to political campaigns while censoring elected officials that they don't fancy.

How about we tell BigTech to bugger off? Don't download their app. Don't give them your data. Don't watch their ads. Don't agree to their terms. Don't let them track you. Refuse to put up with their exploitation and manipulation. Find alternatives.