Fortunately, there is another strategy: deprivatization.
To build a better Internet, we must change the way it is owned and organized – not with the aim of making markets work better, but of making them less important. Deprivatization aims to create an Internet where people, not profit, rule. It sounds like a protest chant, but I mean it literally.
What would a day on the deprivatized Internet look like? You wake up, have a coffee and sit down at your computer. Your first stop is a social media site run by your local library. Other users are your neighbors, colleagues or residents of your county. There’s a story in your feed about an upcoming municipal election from a local public media outlet. Indeed, much of the content that circulates on the site comes from public media sources.
The site is a cooperative; you and other users manage it collectively. You elect the board that designs the filtering algorithms and writes the content moderation policies that determine what you see in your feed. Board decisions are carried out by local library staff, who act as community stewards, always available to help classify, preserve and add context to information.
This contrasts sharply with Facebook, whose advertising-based business model forces the company to maximize user engagement for profit, making it a haven for sensationalist propaganda that generates clicks. Deprivatized social media could be optimized for a different set of purposes.
Your site may be small, but it’s not isolated. It connects with others to form a larger federation, using the same basic principle as email. (For example, Gmail and Yahoo Mail are separate services with separate features, but users can still exchange messages.) Similarly, you can read messages and exchange messages with users from other sites and networks around the world entire. Your community’s governance is local, but its reach is global. It is a self-organizing cell within the larger body of the Internet.
What about your data? When you click on links in your feed and are transported to other corners of the web, you can be sure that your privacy is secure. This is because the rights to your personal data are held by a cooperatively owned data trust.
You and other members decide under what conditions an online service has access to your data and under what conditions more data can be created. For example, your trust might choose to ban the kind of large-scale surveillance that is so integral to online advertising.