When the internet was founded, many years ago, it had a clear and decentralized setup. Designed as a communication and collaboration platform, it didn’t have a sole owner. In the course of more recent year, the design has shifted to a more centralized architecture, where CloudFlare, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Google are becoming the vital factors.
These parties offer services on a massive scale that are broadly adopted. With the growth of these parties, we tend to become more and more dependent on their infrastructure and services. Not only is this contradictionary to the initial architecture by the internet - it forms a threat to the sustainability and privacy of both the internet and the world wide web.
The threat unraveled
With the Facebook scandals still fresh in memory - and the resulting hearings with questions and remarks that still go unanswered, it might be a time to rethink this development. The core of the problem isn’t these platforms - it is us, the users, adopters and integrators.
To a certain degree, it can be uncomfortable to think what the effects are and what the effects can be. For instance, there is little that Facebook doesn’t know about the users. From data the user choose to share to unwillingly shared details, like browsing history; with the FB like button, it can track anyone and everyone as long as the spying button is integrated.
Even though Facebook is undergoing hearings, we should broaden this vision and scandal onto all these massive players. If Google had a databreach, the results would be much worse than it were the case with Facebook. Google has access to search history, e-mails, chat history (including WhatsApp that by defaults backups to Google Drive), call history, texts, location history, etc.
The nasty thing is, it makes very little difference if one user would ditch everything and all Google-esque, if he/she partakes in a conversation where the other party still uses Google, Android, WhatsApp etc.
Mitigating the threat
There are several courses that can mitigate this threat. One of the best is shifting to a decentralized infrastructure. Short-term, this does offer more privacy for the switching user. Long-term, if these platforms gain popularity, the influence of Google, Facebook, Amazon, et al - and their networks, decrease.
In recent years, there is a steady growth in viable, decentralized alternatives. One of these, of which I am particularly fond, is NextCloud. NextCloud is an user-friendly, secure and solid alternative for Google Drive, DropBox and OneDrive. It integrates neatly with other applications and services, like Collabora Online, creating the exact same benefits and functionality that Google Docs offers. And with recent additions like NextCloud Talk, the possibilities are virtually endless.
Another awesome candidate is MatterMost; an open source, selfhosted version of Slack. Somewhat bluntly put, it is basically a drop-in replacement. The UX and functionality is the same as - or even outweighs - Slack, it even offers import functionality from Slack.
Decentralization is a proper migitation to the threats I highlighted earlier in this writing. The most basic form of decentralization is ‘self hosting’ or ‘on premise’. A more advanced and mature form is federation. Mastodon is a good example, it is a decentralized Twitter alternative, whereby everyone can launch an instance. Federation, in this example, defines the possibility to communicate with users across instances. This fixes one of the challenges of ‘self hosting’: a scattered web of different instances of a specific application/platform.
If you are still reading, chances are I have sparked your interest. I am going to make a list with federated players and will update this writing if it is online. These links are worth checking out: