John Harris

Journalist & Author

Together we can thwart the big-tech data grab. Here’s how | John Harris

A decentralised internet sounds offputtingly complicated. But our lives, online and off, now depend upon it

Our family got a Google Home Hub for Christmas. As comparative lifestyle Neanderthals, we have so far only used it as a glorified digital picture frame and music player, though this is clearly not what it was built for. Say “Hey, Google”, tell it what you want, and a whole universe of entertainment, advice and help can be supplied – up to and including instant control of internet-connected doorbells, thermostats and more.

Contrary to their branding as “assistants”, the primary purpose of these devices is not to devotedly help the people who use them. At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, once we have paid for the hardware, we get the services they can deliver largely for free, in return for limitless access to the small details of our lives. Big tech is therefore able to carry on making advertising more and more precisely targeted, and vastly increase the mountains of data that power its development of artificial intelligence. Smartphones, tablets and computers have been helpful, but evidently not helpful enough. Build data-gathering machines into the domestic sphere, and you break open whole streams of personal information.

Related: There is a leftwing way to challenge big tech for our data. Here it is | Evgeny Morozov

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