The Trinet

by John Holbo on November 2, 2017


Before the year 2014, there were many people using Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Today, there are still many people using services from those three tech giants (respectively, GOOG, FB, AMZN). Not much has changed, and quite literally the user interface and features on those sites has remained mostly untouched. However, the underlying dynamics of power on the Web have drastically changed, and those three companies are at the center of a fundamental transformation of the Web


We forget how useful it has been to remain anonymous and control what we share, or how easy it was to start an internet startup with its own independent servers operating with the same rights GOOG servers have. On the Trinet, if you are permanently banned from GOOG or FB, you would have no alternative. You could even be restricted from creating a new account. As private businesses, GOOG, FB, and AMZN don’t need to guarantee you access to their networks. You do not have a legal right to an account in their servers, and as societies we aren’t demanding for these rights as vehemently as we could, to counter the strategies that tech giants are putting forward.

The Web and the internet have represented freedom: efficient and unsupervised exchange of information between people of all nations. In the Trinet, we will have even more vivid exchange of information between people, but we will sacrifice freedom. Many of us will wake up to the tragedy of this tradeoff only once it is reality.

What Can I Say?

by John Holbo on November 2, 2017

“Russia exploited real vulnerabilities that exist across online platforms and we must identify, expose, and defend ourselves against similar covert influence operations in the future,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said during a hearing on Wednesday with executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google.

Depressing, obviously. At a more fundamental level, Russia exploited real vulnerabilities that exist across all human cognitive platforms. It’s hard to think of a technical patch, or a legislative fix, that doesn’t significantly infringe the freedom to think and say (stupid) stuff. It’s like we need a Voight-Kampff test, to separate bots from real people. But, like in the original PKD novel, I’m kind of worried that the humans will start failing.

You can (and should!) identify Russian troll farms and try to weed stuff out, weed it again. Facebook and Twitter can self-police; legislators can make law (well, if theory.) But, in a sense, what we have are online platforms that connect people, and then people being people. Other people are exploiting this. There’s an irreducibility to that. ‘We have met the troll farm, and he is us.’ [click to continue…]