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.



doug 11.02.17 at 9:48 am

It takes about a day of effort to get off the Big Three (although your data to date are likely theirs, and random hackers’, in perpetuity).

Use duckduckgo, not google. Use protonmail, not gmail. Use bookstores, not amazon. Use talking to people, not social media. And don’t forget, use sci-hub for accessing publicly funded research results.

To double your value, install browser extensions like Ghostery, Disconnect, uBlock, Privacy Badger, etc. and use a VPN and/or Tor. (The Opera browser includes a free VPN.) If websites block you for using privacy features, try loading the page on If that doesn’t work, use a different website.

The Internet used to be a free space and temporary autonomous zone. It can be again. Help make it that way.


William Timberman 11.02.17 at 12:43 pm

The Trinet has persuasive advantages for users, otherwise it wouldn’t have come to be the Trinet. The solution to the possibility of becoming a non-person at the whim of some unjust and/or unknown agency is political, not technological. If we were to pass and enforce laws preventing governments from freezing our accounts or invalidating our passports on the basis of some algorithmic suspicion or other, Visa from refusing to process our payments because of our political views, or insurance companies refusing to cover us because our mandatory DNA profile showed a susceptibility to heart disease or cancer, we’d be better off than we’re going to be using purely personal defenses like TOR or Duck-Duck Go. Scott McNealy was right about the end of privacy. Getting over it, though, is the libertarian shrug that kills people. Democratic socialists have a better idea, or could have, if they would take the impact of technology on society as seriously as Marx once did..


steven t johnson 11.02.17 at 1:27 pm

“Use bookstores, not amazon.” The nearest bookstores are eighty miles away. One is a Books-a-Million. My last purchase from Amazon was Serge’s Year One. It wasn’t at the independent book shop.

As for the free space, my experience has been that all blogs are deemed to be the property of the owners, who exercise the right to censor everything they wish. And are quite indignant at the notion it should be otherwise. Since everyone has the power to set up shop for themselves, of course, just like in the economy, obviously this is free speech. Everybody, just like every publisher who owns a newspaper or broadcaster who owns a TV/radio station, has free speech.


Cranky Observer 11.02.17 at 2:31 pm

= = = Use duckduckgo, not google. = = =

DuckDuckGo? You mean the search site set up by the Four Eyes acronyms (FBI, CIA, GCHQ, etc) to capture data about poor saps who think they are clever enough to escape the panopticon?

(No, I don’t know that is true, but neither do you know what the DuckDuckGo people really do with you search data)


Anarcissie 11.02.17 at 4:26 pm

doug 11.02.17 at 9:48 am @ 1:
‘The Internet used to be a free space and temporary autonomous zone. It can be again. Help make it that way.’

Apparently only eccentrics want privacy and other freedoms; the public in general doesn’t care about them. Or at least this has been my experience when discussing the Trinet or Net Neutrality with a lot of people, including those I would think would know better. So the problem for us eccentrics is how to maintain whatever free space and temporary autonomous zones we have in the face of the indifference of the mass and the active hostility of their leaders and organizers. I’m looking at peer-to-peer stuff at the moment.


Neville Morley 11.02.17 at 6:10 pm

@ steven t johnson #3: as a blogger who moderates comments on my posts, I’m curious about your objection to this, and what the alternative would be. Anyone is free to say what they like about what I write – but, since I pay for hosting and to keep my blog ad-free, I don’t immediately grasp that I’m doing something objectionable in not approving posts that are abusive (thankfully few in number) or are basically advertising (more common).


Mike Furlan 11.02.17 at 8:39 pm

Doug, at #1:

“Use duckduckgo, not google.” Check
“Use protonmail, not gmail.” I use Lavabit
“Use bookstores, not amazon.” I am ordering my next book direct from the publisher.

I closed my FB account last year.
I have a paid subscription to the Guardian and read the news there not from an aggregator.
95% of my twitter feed is in Russian, which oddly has insulated me from Russian propaganda directed at the US.


Raven Onthill 11.02.17 at 9:24 pm

I suspect that, at the very least, Microsoft would have to be included in such a net; there’s too much commerce that one can’t effectively do with the Trinet. All the lesser local sites…none of the Trinet firms really want to do their job. I also expect that a lot of the Trinet service initiatives are going to backfire; it’s hard to predict the adoption of new technologies.

And then there’s security, which is a giant stinking can of worms waiting to be opened.


steven t johnson 11.03.17 at 1:29 am

Neville Morley@6 basically asks what my objection to seeing the internet as free speech is. Well, I wrote it, that they feel free to censor anything they wish. But Neville Morley reduces this to censoring abuse. I meant it literally: anything, including stuff that does not by any remotely reasonable stretch of the imagination that could reasonably be deemed abusive.

For example, way back when on another blog, I got into an exchange with a Greek woman (an academic) who was vaporing in multiple posts over SYRIZA’s supposed lack of politics. I tried as hard as I could to explain the simple truth that pretending to be above politics is basically a swindle. To be sure, maybe I was being too polite. Then, somehow she managed to somehow start ranting over the horrible Egyptian men at Tahrir Square by contrast to the clean and decent anti-political Greeks at Syntagma Square. Some months later, after raving about the “OXO” vote against the KKE, she not only stopped commenting on Greek politics (something of a hobby, she quit Greece when she was eighteen I think,) I believe she went back and edited out the now embarrassing blind enthusiasm.

Actually I think the only blogs that remotely approach free speech are group blogs, especially those aiming at publicity and there isn’t really much interaction between posters and commenters (like Bleeding Heart Libertarians or History News Network.) But even those I think are not shining examples. I think free speech means that people listen too. That’s why more politically sophisticated thinkers mention the right of petition. That’s why cops herding demonstrators away from the nobility aren’t leaving free speech to the masses.

A last note about abusive posts: I’m pretty sure that abuse in personal discussions are not free speech in real life, nor do I think there really is any disagreement. Crowds of people trying to make themselves heard over the megaphones of the Charles Murrays or the Milo Yiannopoulises are not the same thing in my view.


Tom Slee 11.03.17 at 3:40 am

It’s a really interesting article. Has the Internet become a “last mile” technology?

So much traffic now happens within the private networks of the big few, within content delivery networks, and out to Google “cache” servers hosted at ISPs: I wonder what the ratio of public Internet traffic to private network traffic is now.


Tom Slee 11.03.17 at 3:43 am

@doug. Protonmail looks interesting, but if we have learned one thing from the last few years it is surely to ask what the business model is that we are signing up for. I could not see a business model on my brief visit to the ProtonMail site. Do you know how they plan to stay alive?


Chris S 11.03.17 at 10:23 am

I think the wider issue with ‘The Trinet’ is the amount of information that starts off here and then – via various ad networks – flows elsewhere.


Zamfir 11.03.17 at 11:26 am

Regarding email clients and business models – a good goal would be that you can transfer your emails away, know that the data disappears from the server , and keep the same email address. All without too much hassle. At that point, you are not so dependent anymore on the changing quirks of the service provider.

The email address requires a registered domain and some settings. I have recently set this up, it’s not expensive or difficult for techies, but probably out of reach for most people. This alone leads to nasty lock-in, whether to Gmail or ancient ISP addresses, or protonmail, etc.

Protonmail and tutanova do well on the disappearance part – their encryption model assures that.

I am not sure about the transfer of emails and contacts – the same encryption seems to rule out the standard imap-based methods. Anyone with experiences on this? This is also a lockin barrier for many people, even for systems that do provide good transfer methods for technically inclined people (I think Gmail does?).

That seems a general pattern. The big firms provide an ease-of-use polish that acts as lock-in, but that polish is more than a luxury. For many people, that polish is necessary to realistically use the functionality at all.

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