Platforms and power
360info investigates how today’s platforms are driving inequality and how both regulation and new technologies might shape the future web, for better or worse.
The modern web has allowed us to do more and connect with each other in more ways than ever. But being the ‘platforms’ on which people do business, socialise and exchange data has allowed some companies to amass enormous power and wealth, leaving little for the users whose content fuels their platform.
This power disparity has grown in the last decade, leaving the web less diverse and making it harder for users to understand their rights and the use of their data.
Users often have little idea how their personal data is used by platforms: “Companies unilaterally decide upon their own terms and conditions and privacy policies,” says Fabio Morreale of Waipapa Taumata Rau (the University of Auckland), “and these can be changed at any time”.
Regulators across the largest global markets are looking for ways to constrain platforms: the EU’s Digital Markets Act looks to target “gatekeeper” platforms, while in the US, Congress continues to debate the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, which seeks to stop the largest players from limiting competition.
But users may not wait for the law to catch up. A constant stream of new apps look to either become the next big platform or to reject the model entirely. Meanwhile, blockchain-driven services abound, promising to fix more and more of the web’s problems. But blockchain is still a technology that is rife with risk for many users.
With these competing approaches racing to outmode platforms and create a different web, the question won’t just be whether platforms can adapt and survive — it will be whether users are better protected.
Media investment analysis firm Ebiquity found that nearly half of all advertising spend is now digital. Google, Meta (formerly Facebook) and Amazon single-handedly collected nearly three quarters of digital advertising money globally in 2021.
A 360info analysis has found that Facebook’s terms of service have grown and splintered into an array of secondary agreements over the last 15 years, covering everything from its Advertising Policies to its Pages, Groups and Events Policy:
Quote attributable to Pradip Thomas, University of Queensland:
“Following China’s lead, India’s Hindu nationalist government is a keen advocate for a wholly indigenous media infrastructure. China’s indigenous apps, such as WeChat and Weibo, allow the state to exercise more control over the social ecology of its citizens than a multinational platform would grant.”
Quote attributable to Paul McCarthy, UNSW Australia:
“Despite the rise of trade protectionism, the economics of online gravity are here to stay, so our best economic bet is to ensure more tech-enabled ecosystems flourish in a greater range of communities worldwide.”
Editors Note: In the story “Platforms and power” sent at: 16/05/2022 12:04.
This is a corrected repeat.