It’s not at all uncommon to miss the signs of change as they unfold. We are currently experiencing a turning point for the mobile industry that has the potential to gravely deteriorate our relationship with technology in the future.
This point in time, much like the beginnings of the internet, is paramount. Fortunately, solid foundations have been laid out in the past, like the net neutrality principles, that have provided an area for freedom and opportunities that few people would stop to question today.
A few days ago, Bill Gates warned Silicon Valley to shy away from becoming the new Microsoft (2018, Interview with Axios: Bill Gates warns Silicon Valley not to be the new Microsoft). In other words, to strive to develop a policy that steers clear from industry arrogance, injustices and monopolies that could call governing bodies to intervene.
Despite the fact that there has long been a trend to hate Silicon Valley- the toxicity of its culture or how entrepreneurs and startups have lost all their charm, the truth is that more and more cities around the world flock towards adopting the “Valley” distinction within their region and companies all over the world seek to imitate its essence. But the patterns faced in the 90s/00s are reemerging and once again we’re facing similar hurdles in the race posed by Facebook, Google and Apple to conquer the mobile space.
Sometimes, there are really obvious signs of danger like the latest ruling from the European Commission that includes a record fine of 2.42 billion euros for abusing search results to favor themselves or the Facebook/Google duopoly skewing the distribution of the mobile ad market. But, other times there are more subtle moves like the way companies like Google control the internet in people’s devices.
Note: the charges listed below could just as easily be applied to any of the other GAFA companies and, obviously, I’m not saying that their accomplishments have any less meritm.
Take AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) for example, this project diminishes the standards that fulfill the needs that triggered its creation in the first place. Or concepts such as the Instant-Apps that inevitably link us to proprietary systems. The list is quite long; all kinds of arbitrary elements that aren’t marked as ads when people use a search engine and that attempt against the free market (widgets, panels, snippets), blocking information for “security” reasons that are totally unjustified and that interfere with the ranks in Google, restricting the access to certain tools in your mobile browsers (like not allowing the installation of adblockers for Android through Chrome), controlling Android through Google Play services, shady agreements with smartphone manufacturers (EU Antitrust: Google abused its dominant position by imposing restrictions on Android device manufacturers), inappropriately using open-source concepts and technologies, arbitrary policies and all kinds of online ad/marketing products that don’t have a real alternative…not to mention the privacy issues and treating users like a commodity.
The good news is that there is time to start working on the solutions; we’re not facing an inevitable catastrophe quite yet. Although it is true that our mobile phones are not really just ours and that they’ve never been neutral, we can to stop feeding the monster. Our responsibility as users is to bet on open services that offer greater freedom.
Sometimes it’s as easy as pick your apps. It takes the same amount of effort to download Firefox from Mozilla, a non-profit organization with the mission to defend the free and open web. In the same coin, maybe you should to try Telegram instead of Whatsapp which is owned by Facebook (who just happens to own four out of the five most downloaded apps in the world). I also encourage you to use platforms that allow you to install apps with no artificial restrictions or that may put your privacy at risk, that make the tasks between platforms much easier instead of placing walls that limit your ability to choose.
To add to that thought, those of us who work in the mobile industry share the responsibility of fighting each and every day to empower users, liberating them from these enclosed ecosystems as much as we can and developing more impartial tools that offer better opportunities when it comes to the relationship between technology and people.
But the most important role is set aside for the heroes, the members of a growing movement that include those who defend and fight to keep the internet and technology as a public service, activists of the open web, private parties and organizations whose job it is to educate others about the importance of online policies, our digital rights and the defense of the individual freedom and online privacy.
Here, building the foundations of the mobile era, we will all come face to face; the tech giants destined to turn into the new Microsoft, the users, those likely to fall victims of the mentioned arrogance and, hopefully, some of the heroes of the next stage in technology’s history.