[Plura-list] Tech trustbusting's moment has arrived; Signed copies of HOW TO DESTROY SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM
doctorow at craphound.com
Sat Feb 20 11:29:23 EST 2021
On Feb 22, I'm delivering a keynote address for the NISO Plus
conference, "The day of the comet: what trustbusting means for digital
* Tech trustbusting's moment has arrived: The end of the beginning is at
* Signed copies of HOW TO DESTROY SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM: Relief for
your screen-burned eyes.
* This day in history: 2016, 2020
* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading
👩🏻🎓 Tech trustbusting's moment has arrived
When it's railroading time, you get railroads.
When the railroads turn into the personal satrapies of rail-barons, you
A couple decades ago, it was online service time. We had the users, the
telcoms systems, the computers, the modems, so we got platforms.
We had that, but we lacked something important: effective antimonopoly
enforcement. Lax merger laws allowed companies with access to capital
markets to buy out or neutralize all their competitors, so we got
Right on schedule, we're getting digital trustbusters.
Now, some people aren't technically sophisticated, but they do
understand a lot about competition law. That's how you get
meat-and-taters antitrust proposals like Amy Klobuchar's CALERA, which
address the structural problems with antitrust law.
Klobuchar's bill is hugely important. The reason we have monopolies is
that we stopped enforcing anti-monopoly law 40 years ago. Monopoly isn't
a tech problem, it's everywhere from sneakers to glass bottles to pro
wrestling to candy to aerospace.
Klobuchar's CALERA doesn't just seek to apply antitrust law to tech - it
also explicitly restores the pre-Reagan basis for fighting monopolies:
we fight monopolies because they concentrate power and corrupt our
politics. All monopolies are guilty unless proven otherwise.
But though industries all attained their monopolies through similar
tactics - predatory acquisitions and mergers, vertical integration -
they also each have their own technical characteristics that must inform
our demonopolization tactics.
Take emergency care: monopolists love ERs because we don't choose which
ER to use, nor when. You can't shop for an ER from the back of an
ambulance. You don't know going in whether you're going to spend $1m or
$1k. And you'll buy whatever services the ER tells you to buy.
Or power-grids: demand for electricity is both inelastic (you need power
when you need power) and price-insensitive, and that inelasticity
*increases* with demand: that is, when it's freezing or boiling out,
everyone wants electricity.
Tech, of course, has its own technical characteristics. Chief among
these is its flexibility. At a deep, theoretical level our digital tools
and networks are capable of interoperating with one another in ways that
no physical technologies can match.
Think of the Australian rail-system. In the mid-19th century, would-be
rail-barons laid differing gauges in hopes of conquering the nation's
logistics and transport. For 150+ years, engineers have tried to solve
the "multi-gauge muddle" by designing multi-system railcars.
Hundreds of designs for cars that retract and extrude different
wheelbases have been tried, and none ever caught on. Instead, Australia
is tearing up and re-laying thousands of kilometers' worth of track.
With physical tech, "compatibility" often means starting from scratch.
Not so with digital tech. If you are an OS company whose rival has
locked up all office docs in a proprietary format, you don't have to
convince all its customers to abandon their documents and start over.
You just make a compatible program:
With digital and physical tech, network effects drive high switching
costs, but when it comes to digital, network effects are a double-edged
With interoperability, a walled garden can easily become a feed-lot,
where customers for a new service are neatly arrayed for competitors to
come and harvest.
Good tech policy emphasizes interoperability when it comes to
demonopolizing the digital world. Long before the US ACCESS Act and the
EU Digital Markets Act, Mike Masnick published his seminal "Protocols,
Not Platforms" paper.
And Daphne Keller's work on "Magic APIs" presaged the ACCESS Act's idea
of forcing tech companies to expose the APIs they use internally so that
competitors can plug into their services:
(that paper is outstanding, BTW, with clear-eyed assessments of
alternatives, like a digital fairness doctrine, "common carriage" rules,
an "indecency" standard for content moderation - basically a checklist
for "So you've got a plan to fix tech - did you think of ____?")
Masnick's "protocols" are a vision for a decentralized, better internet.
Keller's Magic APIs describe a legal path to getting there. My own work
on Competitive Compatibility (nee Adversarial Interoperability)
describes how we'll STAY there.
Because monopolies are good at subverting regulation, so any Magic API
rule would be brittle - dependent on the tech companies not sabotaging
those APIs by moving the important data-flows away from the mandatory APIs.
That's why we have to strip monopolists of the power to ask a court to
block interoperators: take away the wildly distorted copyright, patent,
terms of service and other legal doctrines that Big Tech ignored during
its ascent, but now enforces against would-be competitors.
With both interop mandates and a legal right for new entrants to force
interoperability through technical means, tech giants will face
consequences if they subvert antimonopoly rules.
The choice becomes: either respect the intent of a mandate and preserve
interop; *or* be plunged into a chaotic arms-race with competitors who
switch to scraping, bots, and reverse-engineering.
All of this is incredibly wonkish, a highly specialized debate that
involves highly technical propositions about how digital technology
works today, how it used to work and how it might work - layered atop a
similar, highly technical understanding of antitrust law.
The Venn overlap of "deep understanding of digital tech" and "deep
understanding of antitrust debates" isn't so much a slice as it is a
sphincter, and the debate has been equally narrow, but when it's
railbaron time, you get trustbusters.
The tech monopoly/interop debate is going mainstream. Francis Fukuyama
and his colleagues at the Stanford Working Group on Platform Scale have
proposed an intervention similar to the ACCESS Act, where trusted third
parties mediate between monopolists, new entrants and users.
The Stanford proposal calls them "middleware companies," but they're
conceptually interchangeable with the idea of a "data fiduciary":
companies that act as referees when a new co-op, startup or nonprofit
wants to plug into a monopolist's service.
This is clearly an idea whose time has come - it's present in the EU's
DMA and the US Access Act, and latent in the UK CMA report:
Importantly, it's an approach that recognizes the distinctive character
of tech - taking account of the power of interop to break open walled
gardens and unravel network effects.
What's especially interesting about this work is that it appears to have
been developed in parallel to pre-existing work from Masnick and Keller
(and me) - it's a case of convergence between the tech-policy world and
the broader world of policy.
After all, while Masnick and Keller's work is well known inside of tech
policy, that's just our obscure, nerdy corner of the policy world - now
they're escaping that corner, becoming self-evident to people from
traditional policy backgrounds.
My hope is that the trend continues - that we see ideas about
Competitive Compatibility/Adversarial Interop join the idea of API
mandates, so that we produce durable anti-monopoly systems, not just
Most important, though, is restoring an appreciation for the importance
of interoperability in *preventing* monopolies and promoting
technological self-determination for communities and individuals.
Because such a sensibility can escape the legislative world and be
enacted via fast-moving, easier-to-use policy tools. For example, we
could (*should*!) make interop a feature of all government procurement
No school district should buy devices for students without securing the
right to sideload the apps they need on them - imagine buying 50,000
Ipads at public expense and then having Apple boot the app you rely on
out of the App Store!
Likewise, no district should buy Google Classroom without securing a
legally binding guarantee not to block interoperators who want to
integrate other ed-tech services into the curriculum, with or without
Procurement and interop are as old as the Civil War, when the Union Army
demanded firearms and ammo that had multiple manufacturers. As the
state-level Net Neutrality rules (which bar governments from using
non-neutral ISPs) showed us, procurement can shape markets.
Procurement is just for starters. Right now, tech companies caught
breaking the law are handed down fines that are less than the profits
their lawbreaking generated - instead, we could demand interop as part
of any settlement.
One major barrier to interop is contract law: terms of service, EULAs,
noncompetes, arbitration, etc. States wield enormous power over
contracting terms: states can declare certain contractual language
against public policy and thus unenforceable.
If, say, California were to pass a rule nullifying the mountain of
abusive garbage that has become standard in digital "contracts," it
would be in a position to export fair usage terms to the country in just
the same way it exports robust emissions standards.
Antittrust is primarily a federal manner (that's why 40 years of federal
antitrust malpractice has been such a disaster). But every level of
government, down to your local school board, can make a meaningful
difference in tech antitrust.
Digital technology's inescapable, marvellous, terrifying flexibility can
be translated into so many unique, powerful weapons for transforming the
industry and empowering communities to control their digital lives and
seize the means of computation.
👩🏻🎓 Signed copies of HOW TO DESTROY SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM
Last summer, Onezero published my book HOW TO DESTROY SURVEILLANCE
CAPITALISM - an antimonopoly critique of Big Tech that's skeptical of
its self-serving claims to have perfected digital manipulation and looks
to monopoly to explain our weird discourse.
Last month, Onezero published the book between covers, with an all-new
additional chapter. It's a beautiful little book, perfect for people
whose screen-burned eyes seek rest in a physical object.
Yesterday, Dark Delicacies, my local bookseller, got its shipment of the
book, and I popped in and signed 25 of them. You can order a signed copy
here (with a personalized inscription, if you'd like!):
If you'd like an epub/mobi/PDF of the book, it's DRM-free in all the
ebook stores - and you can also buy it direct from my store (that way I
get the 30% retail share that Amazon or whomever would skim):
👩🏻🎓 This day in history
#5yrsago What a serious keysigning ceremony looks like
#5yrsago Forced arbitration clauses are a form of wealth transfer to the
#5yrsago Pseudoscientific terror ended fluoridation in Calgary, now
kids’ teeth are rotting
#1yrago Adding 2 inches of tape to a road-sign induces sudden 50mph
acceleration in Teslas
#1yrago Bloomberg: kids only like Sanders because they're stupid
#1yrago Barclay's bankers forced to endure nagging work-computer spyware
#1yrago Uber driver/sharecroppers drive like maniacs to make quota
* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Friday's progress: 601 words (113076 total).
* A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions.
Friday's progress: 258 words (6467 total).
Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.
Latest podcast: Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and
Interoperability (Part 1) Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and
Interoperability (Part 1)
* Keynote, NISO Plus, Feb 22,
* Mellon Sawyer Seminar on Contemporary Political Struggle: Social
Movements, Social Surveillance, Social Media (with Zeynep Tufekci), Feb
* World Ethical Data Forum keynote, Mar 17-19,
* Launching "The Future You" with Brian David Johnson, Mar 19,
* Balancing Worldbuilding and Narrative (with Karen Osborne and Kali
Wallace), Mar 24,
* Interop: Self-Determination vs Dystopia (FITC), Apr 19-21,
* Technology, Self-Determination, and the Future of the Future (CERIAS)
* Talking "Permanent Record Young Readers' Edition" with Edward Snowden
* Talking "Agency" with William Gibson
* Software Freedom is Essential to Human Freedom (linux.conf.au keynote)
* "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
* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies
* "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
This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially,
provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are
included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the
basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.
👩🏻🎓 How to get Pluralistic:
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"*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla*" -Joey "Accordion
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