- Two principles to protect internet users from decaying platforms: Don't just try to make platforms better – make them less important.
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Two principles to protect internet users from decaying platforms (permalink)
Internet platforms have reached end-stage enshittification, where they claw back the goodies they once used to lure in end-users and business customers, trying to walk a tightrope in which there's just enough value left to keep you locked in, but no more. It's ugly out there.
When the platforms took off – using a mix of predatory pricing, catch-and-kill acquisitions and anti-competitive mergers – they seemed unstoppable. Mark Zuckerberg became the unelected social media czar-for-life for billions of users. Youtube was viewed as the final stage of online video. Twitter seemed a bedrock of public discussion and an essential source for journalists.
During that era, the primary focus for reformers, regulators and politicians was on improving these giant platforms – demanding that they spend hundreds of millions on algorithmic filters, or billions on moderators. Implicit in these ideas was that the platforms would be an eternal fact of life, and the most important thing was to tame them and make them as benign as possible.
That's still a laudable goal. We need better platforms, though filters don't work, and human moderation has severe scaling limits and poses significant labor issues. But as the platforms hungrily devour their seed corn, shrinking and curdling, it's time to turn our focus to helping users leave platforms with a minimum of pain. That is, it's time to start thinking about how to make platforms fail well, as well as making them work well.
This week, I published a article setting out two proposals for better platform failure on @EFF@mastodon.social's Deeplinks blog: "As Platforms Decay, Let’s Put Users First":
The first of these proposals is end-to-end. This is the internet's founding principle: service providers should strive to deliver data from willing senders to willing receivers as efficiently and reliably as possible. This is the principle that separates the internet from earlier systems, like cable TV or the telephone system, where the service owners decided what information users received and under what circumstances.
The end-to-end principle is a bedrock of internet design, the key principle behind Net Neutrality and (of course) end-to-end-encryption. But when it comes to platforms, end-to-end is nowhere in sight. The fact that you follow someone on social media does not guarantee that you'll see their updates. The fact that you searched for a specific product or merchant doesn't guarantee that platforms like Ebay or Amazon or Google will show you the best match for your query. The fact that you hoisted someone's email out of your spam folder doesn't guarantee that you will see the next message they send you.
An end-to-end rule would create an obligation on platforms to put the communications of willing senders and willing receivers ahead of the money they can make by selling "advertising" in search priority, or charging media companies and performers to "boost" their posts to reach their own subscribers. It would address the real political speech issues of spamfiltering the solicited messages we asked our elected reps to send us. In other words, it would take the most anti-user platform policies off the table, even as the tech giants jettison the last pretense that platforms serve their users, rather than their owners:
The second proposal is for a right-to-exit: an obligation on tech companies to facilitate users' departure from their platforms. For social media, that would mean adopting Mastodon-style standards for exporting your follower/followee list and importing it to a rival service when you want to go. This solves the collective action problem that shackles users to a service – you and your friends all hate the service, but you like each other, and you can't agree on where to go or when to leave, so you all stay:
For audiences and creators who are locked to bad platforms with DRM – the encryption scheme that makes it impossible for you to break up with Amazon or other giants without throwing away your media – right to exit would oblige platforms to help rightsholders and audiences communicate with one another, so creators would be able to verify who their customers are, and give them download codes for other services.
Both these proposals have two specific virtues: they are easy to administer, and they are cheap to implement.
Take end-to-end: it's easy to verify whether a platform reliably delivers messages to all your followers. It's easy to verify whether Amazon or Google search puts an exact match for your query at the top of the search results. Unlike complex, ambitious rules like "prevent online harassment," end-to-end has an easy, bright-line test. An "end harassment" rule would be great, but pulling it off requires a crisp definition of "harassment." It requires a finding of whether a given user's conduct meets that definition. It requires a determination as to whether the platform did all it reasonably could to prevent harassment. These fact-intensive questions can take months or years to resolve.
Same goes for right-to-exit. It's easy to determine whether a platform will make it easy for you to leave. You don't need to convince a regulator to depose the platform's engineers to find out whether they've configured their servers to make this work, you can just see for yourself. If a platform claims it has given you the data you need to hop to a rival and you dispute it, a regulator doesn't have to verify your claims – they can just tell the platform to resend the data.
Administratability is important, but so is cost of compliance. Many of the rules proposed for making platforms better are incredibly expensive to implement. For example, the EU's rule requiring mandatory copyright filters for user-generated content has a price tag starting in the hundreds of millions – small wonder that Google and Facebook supported this proposal. They know no one else can afford to comply with a rule like this, and buying their way to permanent dominance, without the threat of being disrupted by new offerings, is a sweet deal.
But complying with an end-to-end rule requires less engineering than breaking end-to-end. Services start by reliably delivering messages between willing senders and receivers, then they do extra engineering work to selectively break this, in order to extract payments from platform users. For small platform operators – say, volunteers or co-ops running Mastodon servers – this rule requires no additional expenditures.
Likewise for complying with right-to-exit; this is already present in open federated media protocols. A requirement for platforms to add right-to-exit is a requirement to implement an open standard, one that already has reference code and documentation. It's not free by any means – scaling up reference implementations to the scale of large platforms is a big engineering challenge – but it's a progressive tax, with the largest platforms bearing the largest costs.
Both of these proposals put control where it belongs: with users, not platform operators. They impose discipline on Big Tech by forcing them to compete in a market where users can easily slip from one service to the next, eluding attempts to lock them in and enshittify them.
Hey look at this (permalink)
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The Case for Judge Tim Wu https://prospect.org/justice/2023-05-09-case-for-judge-tim-wu/
The UK Finally Published its Competition Bill. Was it Worth the Wait? https://techpolicy.press/the-uk-finally-published-its-competition-bill-was-it-worth-the-wait/
This day in history (permalink)
#15yrsago SF fanzines prefigured blogs: Roger Ebert https://web.archive.org/web/20080501000000*/https://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2008/05/fanzines_beget_blogs.html
#10yrsago Breathtaking ATM hack nets $45M in hours https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/05/how-hackers-allegedly-stole-unlimited-amounts-of-cash-from-banks-in-just-hours/
#10yrsago Porno copyright troll to Georgia judge: “Ignore California judge! They have gay marriage!” https://www.techdirt.com/2013/05/09/prenda-says-judge-wrights-order-is-inapplicable-georgia-because-california-recognizes-gay-marriage/
#10yrsago US State Department orders removal of Defense Distributed’s printable gun designs https://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2013/05/09/state-department-demands-takedown-of-3d-printable-gun-for-possible-export-control-violation/?sh=6db85b27375f
#10yrsago Bake a Mean Spirited Censorship Pie with the Electronic Frontier Foundation https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/05/baking-eff-not-derby-pie-trademarked-treat
#10yrsago Warcraft numbers plummet; 14% drop in Q1/13 https://web.archive.org/web/20130608102812/http://paritynews.com/business/item/1053-world-of-warcraft-loses-13-million-subscribers-in-2013
#10yrsago Forcing your employees to do dumb Scientology exercises creates a “hostile work environment” https://www.eeoc.gov/newsroom/eeoc-sues-dynamic-medical-services-religious-discrimination
#10yrsago Anatomy of a state-sponsored phishing attack: how the Syrian Electronic Army hacked The Onion https://theonion.github.io/blog/2013/05/08/how-the-syrian-electronic-army-hacked-the-onion/
#5yrsago Amazon has a real fake review problem https://www.buzzfeed.com/nicolenguyen/amazon-fake-review-problem?utm_term=.mtVwea25G#.kkjrZxKao
#5yrsago Victory! Fourth Circuit rules that border officials can’t subject electronic devices to suspicionless forensic searches https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2018/05/fourth-circuit-rules-suspicionless-forensic-searches-electronic-devices-border-are
#5yrsago Trump’s Labor Department is planning a rollback of teen labor laws, allowing kids to work in “hazardous” jobs https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/trump-administration-wants-to-train-teens-in-hazardous-jobs
#5yrsago Leaked Grenfell Towers papers: Tory politicians rejected fireproof cladding proposal for a 5.7% savings https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/may/08/grenfell-tower-more-costly-fire-resistant-cladding-plan-was-dropped
#5yrsago Chinese law professor: AI will end capitalism https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/theworldpost/wp/2018/05/03/end-of-capitalism/
#5yrsago Senators will be forced to vote on Ajit Pai’s decision to kill Net Neutrality https://www.theverge.com/2018/5/9/17333108/net-neutrality-congressional-review-act-cra-resolution-vote-senate
Today's top sources:
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Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW
The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW
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Massy Books Red Team Blues event with Sean Cranbury (Vancouver), May 10
Wordfest (Calgary), May 11
Gaithersburg Book Festival, May 20
Public Knowledge Emerging Tech keynote (DC), May 22
WEPFest with Ron Diebert, Dave Bidini and Nancy Olivieri (Toronto), May 23
HowTheLightGetsIn (Hay), May 28
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Red Team Blues event with Tim Harford (Oxford), May 29
Red Team Blues event with Christian Reilly (Nottingham), May 30
Red Team Blues event with Ian Forrester (Manchester), May 31
UCL Peter Kirstein Lecture, Jun 1 (London):
Cymera Festival, Jun 3 (Edinburgh)
Red Team Blues with Martha Lane Fox at the British Library, Jun 5 (London):
Re:publica keynote, Jun 7 (Berlin)
- The Mark Thompson Show
Enshittification Part 1: Why Every Platform Goes Bad (On the Media)
Author Talk: Cory Doctorow and Annalee Newitz in Conversation/SFPL
- "Red Team Blues": "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books http://redteamblues.com
"Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin", on how to unrig the markets for creative labor, Beacon Press/Scribe 2022 https://chokepointcapitalism.com
"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The Washington Post called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html
"How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59 (print edition: https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism/9781736205907) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)
"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html
"Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2682/Corey_Doctorow%3A_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer_HB.html#/.
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The Lost Cause: a post-Green New Deal eco-topian novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias, Tor Books, November 2023
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