Skip to content

The ‘Open Source’ Within Big Tech’s Ideological Malpractice

Facebook - El American

[Leer en español]

We may be in the most convulsed and paradoxically interesting week in what within network of networks (the Internet) because of certain Web 2.0 service providers focused on social media (yes, the big technology corporations known as Big Tech).

In the aftermath of the upheaval in Washington on January 6th when Trump supporters stormed Congress, the siege of censorship from companies such as Twitter has intensified.

Despite the fact that Donald Trump called on those who attended his rally to be respectful of “law and order,” Silicon Valley found itself an ideal pretext to tighten censorship measures that are nothing new, since they had been trying to complicate the matter of questioning leftist official truths.

The extreme, in principle, went so far as to suspend sine die Donald Trump’s accounts on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, while some companies opted to withdraw any merchandising product that conveyed support for the current U.S. president.

In response, many users of conservative, traditionalist or paleoliberal orientations opted to migrate to alternative microblogging services such as Gab and Parler, either to “punish” Zuckerberg and Dorsey or to secure new services in the face of a veto that could reach them as well.

Amazon too opted to suspend Parler’s hosting provision (in some Amazon Web Services clusters), so that all data managed by this company, as explained by its CEO John Matze, is lost. The company is now attempting to build its own infrastructure to get back online and prevent a recurrence of such abuse of power.

Yet in this heated environment, the last straw has recently been reached: WhatsApp is forcing its users to accept privacy conditions that allow them to freely exchange data with Facebook (the company that owns the site), for any purpose, and to involve anyone who is involved.

This generated an obvious concern for privacy (an obviousness intrinsic to the natural right to property), apart from the fear of many that, in view of what happened, with the corresponding collaboration of statism, it would even serve to undermine the freedom of association of anti-socialist and counter-revolutionary movements.

There is however an additional paradigm that could determine the future of internet censorship within the spontaneous mechanisms of free competition (in order to penalize Big Tech): and it is the open-source paradigm, related to free software.

The importance of innovation

Without any doubt, we don’t have to deprive ourselves of expressing our explicit valuations about different goods and services offered in the market (this way value is configured as depending on many factors, which makes it something subjective, as Juan de Lugo and Carl Menger have already explained).

At the same time, exercising our free expression within the market, we do not only act according to what Ludwig von Mises called “economic democracy”. There is nothing illicit in promoting what can be understood as a “boycott” against certain entities for a certain reason, something that Murray Rothbard once debated.

But we should not dismiss the opportunity to put into practice those entrepreneurial virtues intrinsic to a certain moral concept of human action. In freedom, with respect for our natural rights, we can pursue our own initiatives, thus serving society.

I would like to focus on certain advantages of open source (from a prism that is not so difficult for the average reader to understand), as it follows a paradigm that encourages free creative expression and decentralized spontaneity in software engineering.

The ‘libertarian parallelism’ of open source

I don’t intend to “ideologize” or “intellectually mark” what is a mere philosophy within the environment of software solutions development. However, I must say that it is not condemned to ostracism, neither in the academic environment nor in the technological market.

Large corporations like Microsoft have renounced the “purism” of “proprietary software”, since they have chosen to release parts of their code (this has affected more than 60,000 patents), apart from gestures like the integration of Unix bash in Windows 10, the integration of Linux in Azure and the bet on GitHub.

However, despite the fact that most personal desktop computers use some version of the operating system released by Bill Gates, the area of cloud computing owes much to Linus Torvalds’ kernel (Linux). In fact, there is no supercomputer that uses Windows (even with more than 90% of servers).

We can cite more examples: the popularity of the e-gaming platform Steam, programming languages such as Python (with an upward trend, largely, given the importance of being acquired by Big Data), browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and database managers such as MySQL, Apache Hadoop and MongoDB.

However, the central issue is that success is being attributed to solutions that, although they are not always “abandoned” by their entrepreneurs, are open to contributions from developers outside the business templates, either in their own capacity or as a community (something facilitated by the dispersion from which the Internet benefits us).

At the same time, they do not have “copyrights”, but open-source licenses, such as GNU and Apache, which allow the dissemination of knowledge and open the door to improvements without leaving the author without the possibility of attribution of merit, but breaking with the “intellectual protectionism” of patents and copyright in general.

With which, it is possible to appreciate the success of spontaneous ordering in a quite concrete market area, since not all the development and maintenance depends on a single centralized entity with quite strict rules (and if it is the case, oligopolies benefiting from some measure of crony capitalism).

It is worth noting thanks to the existence of open source, we can think, for example, of a fork in Android or the already hegemonic Google Chrome that does not depend at all on Google, or some improvement that we consider appropriate in Telegram (which has released some of its own code).

With which, having said all of the above, we can say that to the distributed and decentralized essence of the blockchain and the antithesis of centralism that the internet represents, we can add the philosophy of open-source that breaks with intellectual protectionism and facilitates more than anything else the competitive innovation that makes the free market possible.

Ángel Manuel García Carmona

Leave a Reply