A New World is being constructed. It is currently dominated by the Big Four of information (GAFA) : Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon (chapter 1, no 1). More recently, the acronym has shifted to being FANGA with the addition of Netflix as a dominant platform for streaming films and what we used to call television shows.

We barely realize that over the past 40 years we have just witnessed the emergence of superpowers like we had never seen before in our history. And now we are dependent on screens and connection in order to communicate, compromise, learn and even dream.

Our cultural heritage, such as books, images and music, is stored with these dominant platforms and now seems to belong to them as well.

Why did we get here?

Today’s situation began to develop during the 1980s. Originally, there were several very small companies (early versions of today’s start-ups) born in garages on the US West Coast, started by young developers who wanted to meet the needs of some local users. These young non-conformists were entrepreneurial and dreamed of the day when there would be a computer in every house. Without knowing it, they discovered and began settling a new social and economic space that was completely unoccupied.

The first-mover rule has played in their favor. Indeed, the first companies who plant their flag on a given territory are always supported by early adopters. This is the premium of the first entrant (Apple and Microsoft, for example), the philosophy of Winner Take All !

This new business culture, with values born in the movements of the era such as beatniks and « flower power », was in rebellion against the establishment in place at the time. Their motto was Empowering the People (see Steve Jobs’ recent bibliography).

Because the political elites were (and are) digital illiterates, they did not protect these new public and private spaces as this new viral force (digital) was developing. Without benchmarks to signal the fundamental changes under development, the legal system has been very late to frame these unknown forces in order to protect citizens from possible abuses.

Current consequences

  • As it now stands, these consortia have become more powerful than most current states. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest country in the world :
  • These consortia are now virtual monopolies that unilaterally decide actions that endanger the economic or social life of countries. Indeed, never in the history of humanity has so much personal information been collected on citizens.
  • These information-driven companies have become service companies that have become the foundation of our new society (health, education and culture) and our economy (Net economy).

Here is Google Brain around 2020 (incomplete diagram) :

The process of transition to the New World began with an utopian vision : the digital conquest of the whole planet (see below). Then, from industrial societies, we moved on to local environments (most recently the smart city), in order to eventually situate personal objects within hyperlinked networks (Internet 3) :

Example of the Google universe

The company Google is responsible for 7% of the world’s Internet traffic. Its mission is to organize information globally and make it universally accessible and useful.

Some numbers about Google :

  • 50,000 employees worldwide ;
  • $ 60 billion in revenue in 2013 (a $ 14 billion profit) ;
  • a capitalization of $ 300 billion ;
  • 32 billion indexed documents, etc.

It is the world’s largest advertising agency combining the largest search engine (PageRank) with the largest video platform (YouTube), the largest email server (Gmail) and the largest mobile (Android) system. Its services and products are :

Google Maps Google Apps Chrome
Google Earth Google Glass AdSense
Google Analytics Google Books AdWord
Google Translate Google Fiber Knowledge Graph. etc.

In addition, this company has several labs: a wind turbine project (Makami), telecommunications (Loon and drone solar), headsets (with Motorola), robocar, Internet 3, etc.

Here is a 3D map illustrating the thousands of sites connected to Google (located at the center of this map) at any given moment (Wikimedia) :

To date, Google has been the subject of numerous lawsuits for non-respect of copyrights, copies of works without the authorization of the publishers, counterfeiting, leakage of employees, abusive monopoly, etc.

Google responds that it is not its fault.

« You use our search engine which is a statistical algorithm, and therefore automatic and objective » !

Here’s Google’s algorithm :

Very different companies

Industrial firms mainly sell goods manufactured in factories via organized markets in well-defined territories, while new information-based companies sell products to anyone anywhere, « delivered » from cyberspace. The big difference between the physical world’s B2B, B2C and C2C and the Net Economy is that the Net Economy can offer the public free services while reaping huge revenues. These new sources of revenues are automatic, and difficult to observe because they are linked to the false myth of the free web :

  • selling of adwords (Adwords) ;
  • sale of sponsored links ;
  • online advertising (banners) ;
  • Cloud storage and services ;
  • resale of marketing data ;
  • applications ;
  • tax evasion tactics, etc.

In addition, these companies impose a voluntary contribution model on users and have recently introduced a surveillance model (see below).

It must be understood that in this new universe (characterized by personalization) they can break prices to the point where only a few cents of profit remain. However, these small profits-per-unit are now multiplied by hundreds of millions of users.

These companies ignore certain governmental rules (customs, tax, etc.), because they answer only to a board of directors or to the pressures of the Stock Exchange. They are hidden companies, which never reveal their tactics (professional secrecy !) and serve only to seek profits in order to please their own bosses: investors.

The voluntary contribution model

Users of social networks provide (at their own expense) information about themselves without which they cannot use the product or service. In addition, the platform or application owners also ask users to provide photos and videos, free of rights.

Afterwards, they invite users to solicit friends under the pretext of commenting on their contents and profiles. It is an economy based on « disguised contribution ».

In this manner, in 2011 Facebook realized $ 3.7 billion in advertising revenues.

They vampirise our lives to sell them to advertisers
(Electronic Privacy Information Center).

The surveillance model

In the United States, a surveillance economy was introduced following the Iraqi war : interception or jamming of communications, reading of personal emails, intelligence, monitoring (chapter 6). It was born through the development of mass-media personal intelligence technologies. It represents the continuation of the Battlefield Internet that was set up during the invasion of Iraq (Rumsfeld, 2009).

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, these technologies have been proliferating as regulations for the protection of civilian life have shrunk (Patriot Act). The infrastructure and protocols of mass surveillance treats every citizen as a suspect and challenges the presumption of innocence.

This model operates on the basis of the terror that the mass media amplifies via continuous sensational reporting. This kind of terror, based on fear of « the others », has replaced another older fear : Communism during the Cold War of the 1960s.