A battle we can’t afford to lose

An internet to benefit everyone

The most powerful force for change in the world today, the most powerful tool for building or destroying economies, for conducting business or making one extinct, for delivering education,  for waging war or for promoting  terror, for toppling governments - as well as mounting unprecedented  surveillance on  individuals - is the internet.

It is a neutral force with the kind of universal reach no human concept has had before. It surpasses by a considerable margin the empowering impact printing had on our world when it was invented many centuries ago. It would be witless to assume that we can even imagine how it  will constantly change our world.

This ever-strengthening reality makes the weekend warning from the inventor of the of the world wide web Sir Tim Berners-Lee that the escalating battle to keep control the internet out of the hands of a tiny group of extremely  powerful people all the more pressing. Berners-Lee, who spoke at an event marking the 25th anniversary of the internet's creation,  is not by any means alone.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission's newly-elected president has said that controlling how internet impacts on individuals, societies and economies is his  priority, one he sees as even more pressing than energy security. In the context of climate change and the obligations that reality   forces on us this is a pretty sobering declaration. He has said he will continue the work of the EC's outgoing competition commissioner, Joaquín Almunia who, in one of his last decisions as commissioner,  decided to reopen a  five-year investigation into Google's business practices.

Google, Facebook, Amazon, the great insatiable beasts of the internet, have become so powerful that  they are the  root of growing unease in Europe among those concerned about how utterly dominant they are in their field. This concern has spawned the phrase "data colony" to describe societies, businesses, institutions  or individuals unable to function without the support of one of these mega forces - or as they have become  known in Germany datenkraken -  data octopuses. The phrase is  intended to frighten just as the  kraken of  Norse myth, a murderous sea monster, did.

Personal privacy or  even the idea of a right to privacy are  at stake. Incomes are threatened by the inability of the old world order to uphold copyright entitlements or the marginalisation of local retailers. Amazon has become such a power that it has, like so many powerful outlets, become a price setter. It defines with an almost unquestionable force the worth of those who supply it with the  goods it sells.

Governments, as the intensifying and extremely important  debate around international taxation shows, struggle to manage multi-billion conglomerates whose business is almost virtual. This reality plays a part in the  widening and unsustainable gap between rich and poor. It may not be an exaggeration to say that how governments  come  together to  control

EU regulators are confronting the 'voluntary self-subjugation' of Europe to the dominance of Google, Amazon and Facebook

More in this section