We live in a corrupted system. The way to tackle corruption is to first acknowledge it exists. Only then is it possible to come up with ways of dealing with it, but don't make the mistake of believing the system can or will uncorrupt itself.

Yes, Internet Centralisation is a Bad Thing

We’ve all seen huge swathes of the internet get guzzled up by Big Tech companies. Whether it’s Google buying Youtube, Nest Labs, Boston Dynamics and over 200 other companies, Facebook buying Whatsapp, Instagram, Giphy and over 70 others, or Microsoft buying Skype, LinkedIn, Github and over 200 others, we have seen the pattern of the big fish gobbling up the small ones, sometimes to use their ideas or tech, and sometimes just to shelve it.

Many people recognise this as a bad thing. They recognise that this small number of extremely rich and influential companies owning more and more internet real-estate, plus the tech that makes it work cannot be a good long-term thing, unless you happen to be one of those giant corporations sucking everything up in a huge centralisation and consolidation of The Internet.

There are other, more subtle forms of internet centralisation though, things like free public DNS services and CDNs (Content Distribution Networks) that seem on the surface to be a handy convenience, even a protection against DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks. There is no doubt that they can and do provide such services and resilience to online attacks by botnets, wherever they happen to originate from.

The issues are that free public DNS services like Cloudflare and in particular Google’s offering, mean lots of internet traffic, requests for webpages and content specifically, all go through these companies. Cloudflare are portraying themselves as pro-free speech and have only occasionally bowed to pressure to stop providing services to certain groups. One suspects Google would be a bit less staunch in their protection of free-speech, given their propensity for censorship on their other platforms, all in the name of “keeping the community safe”.

Today 8th June 2021 a large CDN provider called Fastly had a bit of a problem, and for an hour or so, that problem took out masses of the internet, to varying degrees depending where you were. The list of sites affected included:

  • Reddit
  • Spotify
  • Twitch
  • Stack Overflow
  • GitHub
  • gov.uk
  • Hulu
  • HBO Max
  • Quora
  • PayPal
  • Vimeo
  • Shopify
  • CNN
  • The Guardian
  • The New York Times
  • BBC
  • Financial Times

Other than the obvious benefits of CNN, The Guardian, The New York Times and the BBC being offline, this illustrates a problem when consolidating and centralising too much of the internet’s resources happens. This was apparently a “technical issue” which was fixed and after some time things appear to be working again. This will of course have affected a multitude of other smaller sites too, and while the media will only focus on the big sites it considers important, for positive or negative reasons, the scale of an outage like this should serve as a warning.

Just imagine your primary sources of information, honest information from independent journalists and online writers had their DNS or CDN services pulled because a Government somewhere decided it didn’t like what was being reported. In China many CDN providers are blocked, and censorship is not exclusive to China, even if it’s a bit more overt there.

The UK government for example makes ISPs block all kinds of sites it deems naughty. They almost certainly will be pressuring DNS and CDN providers to do the same. The UK Government is obsessed with having “everything in the cloud”, to the point that they have a “Digital Marketplace” for their nattily named “G-Cloud”, complete with a buyers’ guide. There are hundreds of companies on that buyers’ guide, but many of them will be reselling cloud-computing and cloud-storage systems owned by Google, Microsoft and Amazon.

Why is the UK Government acting like a sales broker for the likes of AWS (Amazon Web Services) to the tune of billions in sales? A good question, and the seemingly obvious answer is because it is in the Government’s interests to push as much business in the direction of those companies, and it makes it much easier to control from a central point.

Decentralisation is the enemy of Central Government, monolithic States and the consolidation of everything. If we can find ways to disconnect from the State and their corporate allies, the Big Tech industry, and reduce our dependencies on centralised systems we stand a better chance of surviving the big push for G-Cloud everything. CDNs are, like everything else the technocrats push, sold to us on the strength of how convenient they are. These conveniences tend to be short-lived and we’d be wise to learn from history.