cover image The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation

The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation

Cory Doctorow. Verso, $24.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-804-29124-5

Journalist and novelist Doctorow (Red Team Blues) details a plan for how to break up Big Tech in this impassioned and perceptive manifesto. Today’s large tech companies are legally able to quash “interoperators” (defined as: “new technologies that plug into their services, systems and platforms”)—a privilege never granted to the likes of IBM in decades past, according to Doctorow. If the industry’s “complex thicket of copyright, patent... and other IP rights” were swept away, Doctorow writes, a healthy market of secondary services would spring up—for instance, a service that could allow a user to message friends on various social media platforms without logging into them directly. Doctorow hypothesizes that legislating in favor of interoperability, and thus righting the market, would be a more direct route to breaking up Big Tech than other forms of antitrust legislation, since it would force big companies to innovate and compete. He also advocates for extralegal, “guerrilla” forms of interoperability. To illustrate his point, Doctorow tours the past several decades of technology history, highlighting such cases as the film industry’s attempts to ban the VCR in the 1980s, Apple’s reverse engineering of Microsoft Office in the 2000s, and several “right to repair” laws passed over the past decade in Massachusetts. Readers may find Doctorow’s analysis too blithe on some points—for example, he is dismissive of the need for the kind of centralized content moderation practiced by giant social media platforms. Still, Doctorow’s sense of urgency is contagious. (Sept.)