The modern web has allowed us to do more and connect with each other in more ways than ever before. But being the “platforms” on which people do business, socialize and exchange data has allowed some companies to accumulate enormous power and wealth, leaving little to the users whose content feeds their platform.
This power disparity has grown over the past decade, leaving the web less diverse and making it harder for users to understand their rights and the use of their data.
Users often have few ideas about how their personal data is used by platforms: “Companies decide unilaterally on their own terms and conditions and privacy policies”, explains Fabio Morreale from Waipapa Taumata Rau (the University of ‘Auckland), “and these may be changed at any time”.
Regulators in world’s biggest markets are looking for ways to constrain platforms: EU Digital Markets Act seeks to target “guardian” platforms, while in the United States, Congress continues to debate the American Choice and Innovation Online Actwhich aims to prevent the biggest players from limiting competition.
But users can’t wait for the law to catch up with them. A steady stream of new apps are looking to either become the next big platform or discard the model altogether. Meanwhile, blockchain-based services abound, promising to solve more and more of the web’s problems. But blockchain remains a risky technology for many users.
With these competing approaches rushing to outdated platforms and creating a different web, the question will not only be whether platforms can adapt and survive, but whether users are better protected.
Platforms and power
Media investment analytics firm Ebiquity found that nearly half of all ad spend is now digital. Google, Meta (formerly Facebook) and Amazon alone collected almost three-quarters of the world’s digital advertising money in 2021.
An analysis by 360info found that Facebook’s terms of service have grown and fragmented into an array of side agreements over the past 15 years, covering everything from its advertising policies to its policy on pages, groups and events:
In 2005, Facebook’s Terms of Service included two policies totaling less than 3,000 words. Since then they have grown tenfold to become a juggernaut comprising at least nine policies.
- This article is originally published under Creative Commons by 360info. 360info addresses key global challenges as broadly defined by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. But goes further by providing research-driven solutions. It is an independent, not-for-profit public information service headquartered in Melbourne and hosted at Monash University. 360info collaborates with many experts, but only commissions academic authors with relevant and demonstrable research expertise.