I recently read two short titles by Cory Doctorow, a SF author and internet freedom activist.
For at least the last twenty years, Cory Doctorow has been thinking about the future of intellectual property, copyright, and the open internet. He often works these themes into his novels, but in Information Doesn’t Want to be Free, he addresses them directly. Although it initially appears aimed at content creators, who he urges to resist the urge to use Digital Rights Management on the grounds that it would make them subservient to publishers, Doctorow’s argument should be of interest to everyone – for, as he points out, technocratic schemes powerful to stymie any and all violations of IP or copyright law are potent enough to destroy any veneer of privacy online, not to mention the cost to human creativity. Although I understood why DRM is a bad deal for consumers, I’ve noticed and wondered why Doctorow’s own works were purposely published without it – until now. I’ve never tried to understand the vagaries of international copyright treaties before, so Doctorow’s explanation of them was helpful, especially his analysis of the SOPA/PIPA bills that were narrowly defeated ten years ago. Part of the book’s contents are expressly aimed at creatives, as when Doctorow suggests different models for monetizing work that don’t depend on intrusive digital locks, but the book recommends itself more generally to those interested in the future structure of the Internet.
Doctorow’s second work, How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism, argues that the rise of big tech powerhouses (Google & Facebook, chiefly) who command much of the Internet’s traffic or serve as giant platforms for destructive minorities to broadcast their views and radicalize others owes not to the unique nature of these industries, but to their growth during a period of deregulation: he points to the concentration of other services and industries in the same timeframe as proof that the legal environment of American tech corporations has been the main reason for their success, not necessarily their unique nature or skill for innovation. Google innovated and mastered one thing, Doctorow writes — Search — and the rest of its commercial dominion has come from purchasing other products like Android and then fusing them with its own. I was disappointed that an author as deeply immersed in the culture of the free web (witness his characters’ frequent evasions of corporate-state spyware in the Little Brother and Pirate Cinema books) could only suggest More Regulation as the solution, especially given that Doctorow frequently pointed out how often the regulators of industries are drawn from the industry’s own executive pool. That is not a unique quirk of big tech: it happens in every industry that’s regulated, and it’s how corporations create rules to shelter them at the expense of their competitors. And it gets worse, because as Doctorow points out, the state has a vested interest in maintaining the potency of big tech, using the corporate mesh of surveillance and data collection to feed its own desires for information about potential reichsfeinde. Doctorow’s analysis is fine, but the recommendation is feeble and uninteresting to anyone who is seriously concerned about solutions for subverting big tech.