State-stack: How the TPP could aid Google, Facebook, and others, to monopolise the web.

[Week 12 blog post].

The recently leaked provisions of the (draft) Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement could go a long way to cementing the developing self-imagined state-us of “stacks”.

“At Webstock 2013 Bruce Sterling defined what he calls ‘The Stacks’ – a new type of corporation”. (Springett, 2014).

He meant corporations like Facebook, like Google.

“Stacks” are big in terms of staff and users, use vertically integrated global software, are wireless, use advertising as a revenue model and rely on social networks, the cloud and increasingly, the internet of things to develop their advertising models (Springett, 2014).

They increasingly control the internet, and by extension, our lives.

Springett (2014) provides some proofs of how “stacks” are increasingly acting as a sort of ‘state unto themselves’.

The massive, globalised, membership, the increasing reliance of ordinary people on the services of “stacks” like Google and Facebook, along with the “stacks’” increasing monopolisation of the internet have allowed this state-stack mentality to develop.

Google recently bought Nest, “a deep strata sensing device you can put in your home which will passively sense and gather data about you” (Springett, 2014).

“If they’re not profiling you by what kind of couch you can afford to serve you targeted ads… I’m pretty sure they will be soon,” Springett (2014) opines.

The point is that “stacks” are increasingly able, and willing, to collect new types of data about us and use that to make money.

Facebook’s infamous social experiment, where they manipulated what an (unknowing) group of users saw and how this affected their emotional state is another example of how “stacks” are venturing into new territories of our increasingly digital lives (and privacy).

This phenomenon weakens the traditional separation of private and public, state and citizen.

Springett (2014) also discusses how ‘the cloud’ is becoming ‘a cloud’ to provide an example of how the digital space is increasingly notionally territorial, and controllable.

But who controls the internet?

The infrastructure and responsibilities of “stacks” are spread across multitudinous physical spaces and legal jurisdictions – what the rules of the game are is not clear, but like it or not, if we’re online, we’re playing, and they own the field.

This is all very worrying, but Springett’s article got me thinking about a further problem:

What will the rules be under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement currently being negotiated, in secret, by the Australian, U.S., Japanese, and other governments, and how will that affect the “stacks’” ability to become the state?

Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent of security states’ spying show how any illusions that states can be relied on to govern emergent digital spaces in line with community wishes are, well, illusions. So we should all be breaking a light sweat about what negotiations are going on between governments about our online rights and protections, as well as what input “stacks” are having in the negotiations.

In many cases, the provisions of the TPP would have the capacity to overrule domestic law.

Last week, Wikileaks disclosed some details of the chapter of the TPP which deals with the internet.

According to Chan (2014), the leaks revealed that:

“The US and Japan, the largest holders of intellectual property, have been keen to pursue stronger laws for breaches of copyright, including criminal penalties for non-commercial copyright infringements. That could cover internet downloads of television shows or music, where people do not make any money out of the product.”

Although the negotiations of the TPP have largely been kept secret, there is strong potential for internet intermediaries like Google, Facebook – actually anyone with a website – to become copyright cops.

The state and the stack-state would need to cooperate in the enforcement of the TPP provisions relating to copyright and given that the “stacks” have well-heeled legal teams and control of the information that’d be required by law enforcement agencies, they’d likely be able to wring out some (more) neat concessions.

The parallel developments occurring within “stacks” and the TPP make for a worrying, associated, combination.

“Stacks” increasingly see themselves as quasi-states, entitled to collect increasingly invasive and massive amounts of data, and the rumoured imposition of criminal charges for non-commercial copyright infringement under the TPP suggests the two are likely to co-contribute to the murkiness of what citizens’ rights and protections are in the digital world.

This sucks, because we’re already losing out.

Source list:

Chan Gabrielle, Safi Micheal (2014) ‘WikiLeaks’ free trade documents reveal ‘drastic’ Australian concessions’, The Guardian, 17 October, accessed 23 October 2014 <http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/oct/17/wikileaks-trans-pacific-partnership-drastic-australian-concessions>

Springett, Jay (2014) ’Colonising the Clouds—Infrastructure Territory and The Geopolitics of The Stacks’, Medium.com, July 8, <https://medium.com/@thejaymo/colonising-the-clouds-4405d2d590b5>

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