Submitted by xandra in media (edited )


In Internet for the People, leading tech writer Ben Tarnoff offers an answer. The internet is broken, he argues, because it is owned by private firms and run for profit. Google annihilates your privacy and Facebook amplifies right-wing propaganda because it is profitable to do so. But the internet wasn't always like this-it had to be remade for the purposes of profit maximization, through a years-long process of privatization that turned a small research network into a powerhouse of global capitalism. Tarnoff tells the story of the privatization that made the modern internet, and which set in motion the crises that consume it today.

The solution to those crises is straightforward: deprivatize the internet. Deprivatization aims at creating an internet where people, and not profit, rule. It calls for shrinking the space of the market and diminishing the power of the profit motive. It calls for abolishing the walled gardens of Google, Facebook, and the other giants that dominate our digital lives and developing publicly and cooperatively owned alternatives that encode real democratic control. To build a better internet, we need to change how it is owned and organized. Not with an eye towards making markets work better, but towards making them less dominant. Not in order to create a more competitive or more rule-bound version of privatization, but to overturn it. Otherwise, a small number of executives and investors will continue to make choices on everyone's behalf, and these choices will remain tightly bound by the demands of the market. It's time to demand an internet by, and for, the people now.


Week 1: June 15-22

Part 1: The Pipes

Week 2: June 22-29

Part 2: The Platforms

Week 3: June 29-July 6

Conclusion: Future Nostalgia

📖 Let's discuss! 📖



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jay wrote

Im gonna read it 💪 looks really interesting thank you


purelyconstructive wrote

Looks like an interesting book!

For those whom the hardback copy is prohibitively expensive, the publishing company, Verso, also has an ebook copy for $6.

There is also an interview with the author available on Internet Archive.


purelyconstructive wrote

Sorry I am a week late from the finish date. Finally got a chance to read it...

First, here is an extended table of contents (i.e.: chapters with subsections) to make it easier to reference and review specific topics:

Preface - Among the Eels

Market Failure
Into the Stack
New Directions

Part 1 - The Pipes

Chapter 1 - A People's History of the Internet

Birth of a Network
The Mainframe and the Battlefield
From Protocol to Place
Open for Business
The Electronic Shopping Mall

Chapter 2 - The Plunder Continues

The Internet's Slumlords
The Possibility of Democracy

Chapter 3 - The People's Pipes

The People Rule
Making an Example
Defend and Extend
Wiring an Ecosystem
Small Is Not Always Beautiful

Chapter 4 - From Below

Competition is Overrated
Spy Machines

Part 2 - The Platforms

Chapter 5 - Up The Stack

Platforms Don't Exist
The Ultimate Market
Community Standards

Chapter 6 - Online Malls

The Eyeball Business
Making Friends

Chapter 7 - Elastic Empires

The Internet's Factories
Far from the Mothership
The Everywhere Machine
Command and Control
Discipline at a Distance
Real Abstractions
Saturation Point

Chapter 8 - Inclusive Predators

An Entangled Existence
Risk and Reward
Innovation Opportunism
Beyond the Bubble
Balancing Act
Multiple Choice

Chapter 9 - Toward the Forest

Market Forces
Facing Reality
Birds in the Food Court
Protocolize the Walled Gardens
Public Programming
Common Sense
Innovation from Below
Everything Else

Conclusion - Future Nostalgia

Next, here is a brief summary and a bit of personal commentary:

Ben is a fantastic writer. The book offers an expansive view, yet stays clear and concise, steadily building upon itself throughout.

Tying all of this together are two analogies:

  1. The House Analogy - All aspects of the Internet are stacked on top of one another. The physical networks described in part 1 are like the pipes within the basement of a house, and the systems used by the businesses described in part 2 are like the activities occurring within the upper floors. One is built upon the other. [While it is related, this is not to be confused with The OSI 7-Layer Model that is used within the study of Networking. It is a lot more general.]

  2. The Shopping Mall Analogy - The systems described in part 2 are often presented within public discourse as if they are "platforms" in the literal sense of the word (i.e.: a tool that people can use to present something to a large crowd). In actuality, they are environments structured by those businesses for the purpose of "profit maximization" at the expense of their "users" through algorithms and other means. He likens them to online "shopping malls". [It is important to note how much research into human behavior is behind the design of business environments of all kinds. It would seem that many people are unaware of just how influenced they are by forces outside of themselves.]

The book also serves as a useful outline of alternatives. To quote the Conclusion...

...Privatization was an act of reinvention: it made a small academic network into the modern internet. Deprivatization must be no less inventive. If privatization meant creating an internet that served the principle of profit maximization, deprivatization means creating an internet organized by the idea that people, not profit, should rule.

No single line of attack can achieve this end. Different strategies are needed for different layers. Down the stack, in the realm of the pipes, publicly and cooperatively owned community networks are the building blocks of a democratic internet. These networks can serve the communities exploited and excluded by the slumlords of the broadband cartel; instead of funneling money upward to executives and investors, they can focus on making service accessible and affordable. They can also give communities control over their operations, so that users and residents determine how infrastructure is run. Hundreds of such networks already exist across the United States, but they will have to be defended and extended with public support.

Up the stack, among the so-called platforms, the path to deprivatization is less linear. There is no equivalent of the community network. Here what's needed is the imaginative work of abolition. Two maneuvers are involved: first, shrinking the footprint of the online malls, which means making common cause with anti-monopoly advocates. Yet the goal of deprivatization is not an internet with more competitive markets, but an internet where markets matter less. This is why, while working to disassemble the online malls, we must also be assembling a constellation of alternatives that can lay claim to the space they currently occupy. And these must be real alternatives, not smaller or more entrepreneurial versions of the tech giants but institutions of a fundamentally different kind, engineered to curtail the power of the profit motive and to enshrine the practices and principles of democratic decision-making. Some are already emerging in rudimentary form - self-governing social media communities, worker-owned app-based services - but they will need to be refined and expanded through public investment. We will also need spaces that help new alternatives emerge, where people can collectively articulate their needs and construct the online worlds capable of meeting them.

There is so much material here that could be elaborated upon and implemented in various ways. Many of the examples that he shares are quite inspiring as well. I am tempted to systematically go through all of it point-by-point and add comments, but I will stop there for now. Thank you so much for sharing!

Did everyone else enjoy the book? What are your thoughts?