The Hangover the Internet is Producing


Gabriel E. Levy B.

After a night of celebration, joy, madness, alcohol and excesses, the subsequent consequence will be an uncomfortable “hangover” accompanied by remorse and guilt for the excesses [1].

In the same way, after three decades of celebrating the great changes caused by the development of the Internet, of being amazed by its colossal social contributions, of becoming addicted to its use, and of committing many excesses[2], we are beginning to feel a type of discomfort that we could call “the Internet hangover”.

Did the Internet-based Developments Get Out of Control?

Uber transformed forever transportation at a global level, simplified it, made it more economical, efficient, immediate, safe and friendly, the citizens of big cities adapted it in a matter of months and made it part of their daily lives, it has been referred to as a paradigm of social and economic change [3].

However, a decade after its birth, the consolidation of platforms like Uber is beginning to take its toll. Motor vehicle traffic in the cities overflowed [4], increasing the pollution derived from the use of fossil fuels; the advances achieved decades ago in the use and promotion of public transportation began to reverse, and a new form of “Low Cost” employment of low quality and few social guarantees, made the transportation workforce precarious throughout the world [5].

Airbnb changed the way of staying and visiting other cities and countries, thousands of people around the world began to share their houses, apartments, rooms and spaces to receive guests from any corner of the planet, but while the concept of hospitality evolved, the value of property increased in large cities [6], while parasitic tourism grew, leaving few resources to cities and a high mark that threatens the preservation of cultural heritage, while jobs in the entire tourism industry became precarious [7].

Facebook transformed human networks by strengthening the relationship between people, who thanks to this application can closely follow the lives of their friends, family and acquaintances as if it were a large real-time container of human connections. Thanks to Facebook, we remember birthdays, we know when a friend travels, has children, gets married or someone dies [8].

While we shared our lives on social platforms, unprecedented data was being generated with our information that quickly got out of control, to the point that the balance of the advertising markets was altered, generating economic crises in all media at the global level [9]. In parallel, private information began to be used unscrupulously by private organizations such as Cambridge Analytica [10], altering the course of democracy and causing inappropriate changes in the results of several elections.

The Genesis of an Anticipatory Problem

For Nick Srnicek[11], professor of digital economy at King’s College in London, there is an urgent need for strong regulation of large technology companies, since they are overwhelmed by their success, generating a great paradox, which, on one hand have significantly enhanced the quality of human life, but have also put at risk the social, economic and political balance globally.

“The great technologies have gained their power through what I would call natural motives. They are platform businesses that the more people use them, the greater the benefit they get and the greater the value for everyone on these platforms. It is like a kind of market where the winner takes all. Let us think about the Google search engine. The more people use it, the better the search engine is, which means that a so-called virtuous circle is created that everyone eventually uses” [12].

 Nick Srnicek, professor of Digital Economy at King’s College London

For Srnicek, even though companies like Google and Amazon have been operating in the market for more than 20 years, their business model is very recent and “We have not yet adapted our economic analysis to understand what they do and who they are” and States have not only omitted to regulate, but may not really understand what these companies do on the Internet.

“We think Amazon is an e-commerce company when it is not. It’s a cloud company. All of its profit comes from AWS, which is its division for cloud computing. That would be part of why it is so complicated to think differently” [13].

Nick Srnicek, Professor of Digital Economy at King’s College London

 Should we evolve to much more interventionist state models?

For some experts with moderate positions and convictions for freedom of expression, such as the British Andrew Puddephatt, the best alternative lies in hybrid regulatory or co-regulatory models. According to him, this is the best way to moderate digital platforms, especially when it comes to “digital rights and freedom of expression” [14] and particularly when it comes to issues where the democratic balance is at stake, such as in electoral processes.

For Fernando Latterza, leader of Telefonica’s Regulatory Projects for Latin America, government intervention should be the minimum possible and should be limited exclusively to the Defense of Competition, since any intervention by the States will end up affecting the normal flow, growth, and operation of the dynamics of the Internet [15], a position generally shared by the large telecommunications corporations at the global level [16], which tend to have the least possible intervention by governments, as Carlos Slim has stated in many forums.

On the completely opposite side is Canadian Professor Srnicek, who believes that the paradigm of competitiveness that has driven the growth of the Internet is the same one that has unleashed all the excesses and effects on social, economic and political realities at the global level, which is why it is necessary to return to schemes of greater state intervention and participation, evoking traditional tools such as public regulation.

“Many of the problems we have with the big technologies are based on this supposed competition. Why does Facebook want more and more data from us? Because it competes with Google for the revenue it receives from ads. The more data they have, the better ads they will produce and the more profit they will get. A competition for information, attention and money exists between all these platforms. I do not believe that increasing competition is the solution. It will create more problems. Just imagine a scenario with multiple Googles. The original has shown that it is capable of reasonably maintaining information security. If 50 startups enter the game, without such a good structure, what would happen [17]?

Nick Srnicek, Professor of Digital Economy at King’s College London

In conclusion, there is an evident impact produced by the exponential growth of digital platforms on the Internet, as well as the little intervention of governments that have preferred to promote freedoms on the Internet over regulations, triggering alterations in social, cultural, political and economic aspects, eroding the liberal democratic model that has governed the last decades in the Western world and putting at risk a large number of civil liberties.

Although there is sufficient evidence of this situation, there is no miracle solution, because any decision and action taken will cause consequences that, on the one hand, may discourage innovation and growth of the Internet or, on the other hand, may continue to erode fundamental social aspects. Therefore, it is urgent to increase the debate on these issues, promoting inter-sectoral dialogue that allows all parties to agree on real and long-term solutions, as an effective alternative to the “hangover” that the Internet is producing.

[1] Hangover symptoms

[2] Retina Article – El País of Spain

[3] Uber transformed transport in the world

[4] Article: Uber increased traffic in the cities

[5] Informality and poor working conditions

[6] The Impact of Airbnb in Large Cities

[7] The Uberization of the Tourism Sector

[8] The ways Facebook changed our lives

[9] Analysis of digital marketing in traditional media

[10] Cambridge Analityca case – El País from Spain

[11] Nick Srnicek Canadian Professor

[12] Retina Interview – El País from Spain

[13] Retina Interview – El País from Spain

[14] Co-regulation model proposed in the Unesco notebook series

[15] Proceedings of the Internet Governance Forum

[16] Governments must promote and regulate competition

[17] Retina Interview – El País from Spain