Jonathan Taplin reveals how just three companies subverted the internet’s utopian ideals
The internet, defined as the network switched on in January 1983, is now 34 years old. When it began, it was a gloriously decentralised, creative, non-commercial system that evoked in many of its early users utopian hopes about liberation, empowerment, creativity and sticking it to The Man. In those heady days, only a few sceptics wondered how long it would take for capitalism to get a grip on it. Now we know: it took only 21 years.
Opinions vary about the timing, of course. For my money, the critical year was 2004, the year Google had its IPO, Facebook was launched and the business model that became known as “surveillance capitalism” really got a grip on the network. This is the model that provides supposedly free services to users in return for “consent” to mine and exploit their personal data and digital trails in order to target adverts at them.