By Hal Hodson
AT THE heart of the internet are monsters with voracious appetites. In bunkers and warehouses around the world, vast arrays of computers run the show, serving up the web – and gorging on our data.
These server farms are the engine rooms of the internet. Operated by some of the world’s most powerful companies, they process photos of our children, emails to our bosses and lovers, and our late-night searches. Such digital shards reveal far more of ourselves than we might like, and they are worth a lot of money. They are not only used to target advertising and sell stuff back to us, but also form the building blocks for a new generation of artificial intelligence that will determine the future of the web.
“Very big and powerful companies own a huge chunk of what happens on the web,” says Andrei Sambra, a developer with the World Wide Web (W3) Consortium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the main standards organisation for the web. But we – the ones producing this valuable data – have lost control.
The time has come to push back. Sambra is part of a growing movement to wrest back control over our digital lives by breaking the monopolies of the server farms and the people who own them. Tweak the technology on which the web runs and we can each keep our own little part of it in our pockets, they say – and determine who or what makes money out of who we are.
In a sense, that would be just getting back to the way the web was …