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Benevolent Centralization is Not the Solution to Malevolent Centralization

2019 April 12

[apple] [decentralization] [tech] [opinion] [tech]

We all know big tech companies are evil. They don't care about their users. They exert control over their users with proprietary software and use it to spy on them. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft (among many others) are watching your every move and using this data to make a profit off of you.

Some users say they've had enough! We will no longer accept these disgusting practices! No more spying! (or whatever specific issue they're focusing on)

Some people come up with the clever solution: "If I ran this service, I would never mistreat my users!" They create services similar to those offered by these malicious companies, with a solemn promise that they won't abuse their customers like some other companies do.

And we're supposed to trust them for some reason. We're supposed to look at this promise and say, "Well they say they won't abuse our data, so I guess we're safe." And we know tech companies always stay true to their word, especially when it favors the users instead of making money at their expense.</sarcasm>

Consider the person who says, "I don't trust the people running the world. I want to run it myself because I know that I'll make good decisions." Why would you trust that person to run the world? Would you even trust yourself to do that?

Example: Apple

Even worse, some of these companies (looking at you, Apple) are championed for their emphasis on privacy, while obfuscating their actual activities and controlling their users with proprietary software. Maybe they "respect" your privacy, but how would you know for sure? And what if they change their mind? Then they create lock-in, which further centralizes users to their platform. How often do you hear Apple users talk about how nice it is that all of their devices just work together seamlessly?

This is called interoperability, the ability for different things (devices, protocols, etc.) to work together. Apple is big on interoperability... but only between their devices. Apple doesn't actually create interoperability; it creates lock-in, a system which makes it difficult to switch to a different system.

Even if you like and agree with Apple now, what if you start to disagree with them? What if they start selling user data or some other practice you decide is not okay? What if they force a product or software update on you that you don't like? How difficult would it be for you to switch to another platform?

Apple's attitude towards its users is authoritarian. When you use Apple devices and software, you're letting Apple dictate what you can and can't do. They make the rules, and you're forced to follow them. Even if you're okay with those rules right now, this model is intolerable as a matter of principle.

What We Need

The solution isn't to trust one company with all the control, and trust them to be benevolent. The solution is interoperability and decentralization. We need many options, which can work together. If one of these is problematic, it needs to be easy to switch to a different one. We need to limit the control a single entity can hold. We need to be able to take direct control of hosting services, to the level that those who can host a server can host their own version of the service, maintaining the greatest possible degree of control over their own use of that service.

The solution is free software, which can be modified and improved by anyone, for the betterment of themself and the community. We need to have control over our software, lest we be controlled ourselves. We need software to be free so that we can audit it and ensure it's not malicious. We need software to be free so we can ensure that the modifications that need to be made get made.

The solution is encryption for confidentiality - confidentiality from the service(s) hosting and processing our data. We need end-to-end encryption that we can verify because it's free.

The solution is not for one central entity (which claims to be benevolent) to overcome another (which we know to be malevolent). The solution is for the people to take control - to decentralize.

Benevolent centralization is not a good solution to malevolent centralization. Decentralization is the solution.