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The Privatized Internet Has Failed Us

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The Privatized Internet Has Failed Us

Several decades into our experiment with the internet, we appear to have reached a crossroads. The connection that it enables and the various forms of interaction that grow out of it have undoubtedly brought benefits. People can more easily communicate with the people they love, access knowledge to keep themselves informed or entertained, and find myriad new opportunities that otherwise might have been out of reach.

But if you ask people today, for all those positive attributes, they’re also likely to tell you that the internet has several big problems. The new Brandeisian movement calling to “break up Big Tech” will say that the problem is monopolization and the power that major tech companies have accrued as a result. Other activists may frame the problem as the ability of companies or the state to use the new tools offered by this digital infrastructure to intrude on our privacy or restrict our ability to freely express ourselves. Depending on how the problem is defined, a series of reforms are presented that claim to rein in those undesirable actions and get companies to embrace a more ethical digital capitalism.

There’s certainly some truth to the claims of these activists, and aspects of their proposed reforms could make an important difference to our online experiences. But in his new book Internet for the People: The Fight for Our Digital Future, Ben Tarnoff argues that those criticisms fail to identify the true problem with the internet. Monopolization, surveillance, and any number of other issues are the product of a much deeper flaw in the system.

“The root is simple,” writes Tarnoff: “The internet is broken because the internet is a business.”

Internet for the People takes readers on a journey through the history of the internet and its problems. But at the core of Tarnoff’s analysis is the question of privatization: how it happened and what consequences it has had for the infrastructures and services that have become virtually inescapable.

The book takes us through a series of key moments in the development of the internet: 1969, when the publicly owned Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), the first public computer network that became a forerunner to the internet, went live for the first time; 1976, when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) linked two networks for the first time in pursuit of its goal to “bring the mainframe to the battlefield”; 1983, when ARPANET switched over to the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), the communications protocols that are used in the internet and various computer networks, which were foundational to the modern internet; 1986, when the National Science Foundation launched the NSFNET (National Science Foundation Network), a national public backbone network that allowed more people — researchers, in particular — to use it to communicate.

At each of these stages, Tarnoff explains why the government was essential to allowing these developments to take place in a way that the private sector could not, embracing an “open source ethic” that went against “the commercial impulse to lock users into a proprietary system.”

Take the protocols that allow these various networks to communicate with one another and eventually produced TCP/IP. “Under private ownership, such a language could never have been created,” writes Tarnoff. The basic research work was not only incredibly expensive, but there was no obvious means to make a profit from it. Indeed, DARPA even offered AT&T the opportunity to take over ARPANET. AT&T refused; it couldn’t see a viable business model.

After all of this investment, the internet underwent a radical transformation in the 1990s. For Tarnoff, it was the decade when “the internet abruptly died, and a different one appeared.” As more and more people got on online, businesses finally started to see in it the opportunity to make a lot of money, but the NSFNET’s Acceptable Use Policy forbade commercial activity. In an era of neoliberal hegemony, that could not stand.

Regardless of the internet’s global potential, decisions about its governance were to be made in Washington, DC. Among House speaker Newt Gingrich’s Republicans and President Bill Clinton’s Democrats, the path forward was clear: the internet had to be privatized.

The fateful date was April 30, 1995. The National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET), the public backbone of the internet, was shut down and the infrastructural side of the internet ceded to private companies. Tarnoff describes the event as the product of a “false choice” dictated by industry, one where the options were framed as the preservation of “the system as a restricted research network or to make it a fully privatized mass medium.” At a moment when trust was being placed in “the market” through a broad agenda of deregulation and privatization, business and political elites wanted us to believe that there was no alternative.

Even though 1995 can be seen as the moment of privatization, Tarnoff positions it as the beginning of a process that started with privatizing the pipes of the internet then went up “the stack,” borrowing the industry’s own terminology. It should come as no surprise that the Clinton administration and other mid-1990s power players argued that privatization was the only path to achieve a better internet, one that was cheaper to access and spurred innovation. Yet the outcome of that privatization was something quite different.

The United States now pays some of the highest prices in the world for some of the worst internet service. (PxHere)

The United States now pays some of the highest prices in the world for some of the worst internet service, as the deregulated and consolidated telecommunications oligopoly controls most people’s access. Meanwhile, the modern tech monopolies — companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon — are making a big push into the infrastructural side of the internet, as they buy more of the undersea cables that link up the world. Tarnoff argues that as they build “vertically integrated empires that control both the pipes and the information inside them, they are remaking the internet remade by the 1990s into an even more privatized form.”

The reorientation of the world wide web to serve the business needs of these companies above its users is the other side of this equation. The dot-com boom was the moment when this process began, as new companies were seeking the means to extract profit from what we did online. They’ve been massively successful.

We often call the services offered by these companies “platforms,” but that’s a term Tarnoff rejects. It allows them to “present an aura of openness and neutrality” — when they’re actually shaping what we do for their benefit. Tarnoff instead calls them online malls, private spaces that appear public, in which we’re brought together in service of generating profit for the company that controls it.

Tarnoff expertly charts how this process of pushing privatization up the stack unfolded, looking at the contributions of key companies like eBay, Google, and Amazon at various stages to establish the model of the online mall, expand the infrastructure of the cloud, turn the process of data-making into a lucrative business, and push the internet beyond the home or the desk to many aspects of society.

Rather than fulfilling the libertarian utopian dreams of the 1990s, those developments have had terrible effects: providing new means of exploiting marginalized people, enabling a new wave of right-wing radicalization, and helping create an even more unequal world. Addressing those issues requires getting to the root of the problem: the privatized internet has failed us.

While privacy legislation and antitrust measures could have some positive effects, they don’t go far enough. “A privatized internet will always amount to the rule of the many by the few,” writes Tarnoff, and since that tendency is hardwired into capitalism itself — not just a certain iteration of capitalism — fixing the internet requires a different strategy: deprivatization. But what that looks like is still up for debate.

Rather than lay out a concrete plan for a deprivatized internet, Tarnoff explains that experimentation will be key. The future he envisions is one where technology takes on a very different character; where it changes from “something that is done to people, and becomes something they do together.” Instead of waiting to see what Google or Amazon hand us, technology is produced by communities and collectives to serve very different needs and ends. Yet that doesn’t mean Tarnoff leaves us with no map of the path we could take.

On the infrastructural side, Tarnoff shows a clear preference for the community-owned networks that have been proliferating across the United States, even as they’ve faced opposition from the telecom oligopoly. These networks tend to deliver better service at lower cost, while prioritizing community needs over those of major corporations’ shareholders.

Meanwhile, on the services side, Tarnoff takes aim at the “bigness” incentivized by the need to produce returns for the difficulties they create for self-governance and the negative social interactions they promote. Instead, he presents a model of a “protocolized” social media with a proliferation of small communities that can interact with one another and where public funding is available for media.

The internet has long been surrounded by a libertarian idealism, despite always failing to deliver on those ambitions, and many of the ideas for a better internet take on a preference for decentralization. Since Tarnoff relies on existing ideas to outline how a deprivatized internet could function, his vision can also be seen as taking on some of those qualities. Yet in his discussion of community networks, he notes that decentralization isn’t an inherent good, as it can be positioned by some digital rights activists and tech libertarians.

“Decentralization is not inherently democratizing: it can just as easily serve to concentrate power as to distribute it,” he writes.

Ultimately, a deprivatized internet will require different solutions for different aspects of the network. In some cases, they will show a preference for decentralization, while in others a regional or national approach will be required.

As Tarnoff told me in a recent conversation, “You cannot fully decentralize the internet, nor can you fully centralize the internet. The question is always: what do you want to decentralize and what do you want to centralize?”

By reframing the debate over the internet not around surveillance, speech, or monopoly, but around the deeper and more fundamental process of privatization, Internet for the People encourages us to think more expansively about how a different kind of internet could function and who it could serve. At a moment when the future of the tech industry seems to be more in question than at any time in recent memory, that’s a conversation we desperately need to have.

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Microsoft Teams is finally fixing this ear-splitting annoyance

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Microsoft Teams is finally fixing this ear-splitting annoyance
Four people in a meeting room video conferencing with four remote participants.



(Image credit: Microsoft)

One of the most irritating (and slightly painful) parts of joining a Microsoft Teams call could soon be fixed by a new update.

The video conferencing service is a popular choice for many companies, meaning calls with large numbers of participants joining at the same time, and from the same location (such as a meeting room) are a common occurrence. 

However, often when multiple people join a meeting in the same room, a feedback loop is created, which causes echo, which in most cases quickly escalates to howling – with Microsoft likening the noise to when a musician holds the mic too close to a loudspeaker.

Teams’ howling

Fortunately, a new fix is coming for Microsoft Teams users. In its entry in the official Microsoft 365 roadmap (opens in new tab), the new “Ultrasound Howling Detection” describes how it aims to prevent this noise for users on Windows and Mac across the world.

Microsoft says that the update should mean if multiple users on laptops join from the same location, it will share with the user that another Teams Device is detected in their vicinity and is already joined with audio to the current meeting. 

If a user has already joined with their audio on, Microsoft Teams will automatically mute the mic and speakers of any new the person who then joins the call, hopefully putting an end to the howling and screeching feedback.

Thankfully, the update is already listed as being in development, with an expected general availability date of March 2023, so users shouldn’t have to wait too long to enjoy.

The news follows a number of recent updates largely aimed around improving the audio quality on Microsoft Teams calls using AI and machine learning.

The new updates are the result of using a machine learning model trained on 30,000 hours of speech samples, and include echo cancellation, better adjusting audio in poor acoustic environments, and allowing users to speak and hear at the same time without interruptions.

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Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK’s leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he’s not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.

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Shazam! Fury of the Gods trailer breakdown: 6 thing you might have missed

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Shazam! Fury of the Gods trailer breakdown: 6 thing you might have missed
Shazam points at someone off camera in Shazam! Fury of the Gods



Shazam! Fury of the Gods lands in theaters on March 17.
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The final trailer for Shazam! Fury of the Gods has debuted online – and it looks even more charming, funnier, frenetic, and darker than its predecessor.

Shazam’s sequel flick arrives in theaters worldwide on March 17, so it’s about time we were given another look at the forthcoming DC Extended Universe movie (read our DC movies in order guide to find out where it’ll fit in that timeline). Luckily, Warner Bros. has duly obliged. Check it out below:

Okay, there’s some messy CGI and a slightly corny vibe about Shazam 2. But hey, the first problem can be ironed out before the superhero film takes flight, while the latter is part of what makes this movie series spellbinding (see what we did there?).

But we digress – you’re here because you want to find out what you missed from Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ new trailer. Below, we’ve pointed out six things you might have overlooked. So, what are you waiting for? Shout “Shazam!” and let’s dive in.

1. Who are the Daughters of Atlas?

Kalypso hands Hespera the wizard's staff in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

New movie, new villains. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

For a film centered around Shazam, we don’t actually see the titular superhero appear in the official trailer for the first 20 seconds.

Instead, we get another glimpse at Fury of the Gods‘ villains, aka the Daughters of Atlas. The powerful trio comprises the power-hungry Hespera (Helen Millen), dragon-riding Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Athena (Rachel Zegler), the latter of whom seems particularly torn about how the sisters are going about their business.

So, why are they gunning for Shazam and his superpowered foster siblings? Essentially, when Billy Batson was gifted his abilities by Djimon Hounsou’s wizard in the film film (available now on HBO Max), one of those powers was the Stamina of Atlas. The Daughters of Atlas aren’t too happy about their father’s ability being passed down to a child, so they want to take back what is theirs – and they’ll do it so by any means necessary.

2. Mythological monsters

A dragon prepares to breathe fire at one of Shazam's fellow heroes in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Shazam isn’t the only person taking flight in Fury of the Gods. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Shazam’s first DCEU outing featured some horror-imbued creatures in the form of the Seven Deadly Sins. How, then, do you go about topping (or, at the very least) matching what came before? Throw in a bunch of myth-based monsters, of course.

Kalypso’s imposing dragon is the most notable inclusion. It feature prominently throughout the trailer, and we even get an amusing Game of Thrones reference from Shazam – “Hey, Khaleesi!” – in the movie. Hey, Warner Bros. loves to mention its suite of IPs in as many of its films as possible.

But Kalypso’s wyvern isn’t the only fairy-tale-based beast we see. Minotaurs, griffons, and demonic unicorns are just three of the other monsters who’ll turn up in Fury of the Gods. Basically, don’t expect this to be an easy fight for Shazam and company to save the world.

3. You can’t get the staff these days

Hespera uses the wizard's staff as Kalypso looks on in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

“So I just point it and then what?” (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Saving earth from a new titanic threat will be even harder when Shazam’s adoptive family are stripped of their powers, too. And it seems that the staff, which was wielded by Hounsou’s wizard in the first movie, is the key to giving and taking those abilities away.

In 2019’s Shazam!, the titular hero gave powers to his foster siblings to help him combat the Seven Deadly Sins and Doctor Sivana. They’ve still got those power in Fury of the Gods, too, but they won’t have them for long, based by what the trailer suggests.

The footage shows Freddy Freeman and Mary Bromfield being drained of their abilities by the Daughters of Atlas at various points. The trio are using the wizard’s staff to rob the teens of their powers, so it’s clearly of major importance to the movie’s main players. 

Later, we see Shazam wielding it – not before he asks the wizard to take his powers back, mind you, when he becomes convinced he can’t defeat the Daughters of Atlas. Anyway, Shazam’s brandishing of the staff suggests he needs it to boost his own abilities if he’s going to defeat the movie’s antagonists and give his siblings their powers back. Expect the staff to play a vital role in Fury of the Gods‘ plot, then.

4. Prison break

Djimon Hounsou's wizard blows som magic dust out of a prison window in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Time to break out, Mr. Wizard. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

In order to get the wizard’s staff, it seems the Daughters of Atlas go after Hounsou’s magic wielder to obtain it.

We see Hounsou’s character imprisoned at various points, including a shot of Hespera chastising him for giving the power of the gods to Billy, Freddy, and company. “You ripped it from our father’s core,” she tells him, which implies Hounsou’s wizard might not be as mighty and heroic as we were led to believe.

Anyway, Hounsou’s wizard interacts with Shazam later in the trailer, so he clearly escapes captivity. Whether he does so alone, or he enlists Shazam’s help – does that magic-infused dust, which he sends through his prison cell window, have something to do with it? – is unclear. Regardless, we’ll see Hounsou’s character break out at some stage.

5. Is that you, Doctor Strange?

Shazam flies past some rotating buildings in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Where have we seen this kind of aesthetic before? (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Remember when we said Zegler’s Athena doesn’t seem as keen to destroy earth as her sisters? That’s because, at the 1: 14 mark, we see her use her powers with a uncertain look on her face. You wouldn’t look like that if you were convinced you were doing the right thing, would you? 

Based on the fact she’s pushed away by Kalypso (using the staff no less), seconds later, it seems she’ll be swapping sides at some stage.

Interestingly, it seems the wizard’s staff can do more than give or take a person’s powers away. One perceived ability certainly has an air of the Doctor Strange/Marvel-based mystic arts about them. Just look at the Escher-style nature of how the scenery bends and folds in on itself when Athena is pushed back, and when Shazam evades numerous buildings at the 1: 44 mark. We’d be very surprised if DC and Warner Bros. didn’t take a leaf out of the MCU’s book with such an aesthetic.

6. Light the way

Shazam prepares to fight Kalypso and her dragon in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

A yellow bolt out of the blue. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Shazam and his fellow superheroes get a costume upgrade in Fury of the Gods. The group’s threads are more streamlined and less plastic-looking this time around, which is pleasing to see.

Fans had been worried, though, that these suits wouldn’t feature one of the first movie’s most underrated (if somewhat tacky) aspects: the glowing lightning bolt on Shazam’s chest. Shazam’s costume in the 2019 movie was manufactured in a way that allowed the bolt to physically light up, avoiding the problem of having to add awkward lighting effects during the post-production phase.

Thankfully, Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ official trailer confirms that Shazam’s lightning bolt will glow. However, given the sleeker look of the costumes this time around, it appears that the illumination effect has been added in post. Regardless of how it’s been implemented, we’re just glad it’s a feature that’s been retained.

For more DCEU-based coverage, find out where we placed 2019’s Shazam! in our DC movies ranked article. Additionally, read up on the best superhero films of all-time or check out how to watch the Batman movies in order.

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As TechRadar’s entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You’ll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot (opens in new tab).

Away from work, Tom can be found checking out the latest video games, immersing himself in his favorite sporting pastime of football, reading the many unread books on his shelf, staying fit at the gym, and petting every dog he comes across.

Got a scoop, interesting story, or an intriguing angle on the latest news in entertainment? Feel free to drop him a line.

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You can lock Chrome incognito tabs on Android now. Bring it to the PC!

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You can lock Chrome incognito tabs on Android now. Bring it to the PC!

Chrome logo on a phone with a lock image over it

Image: Deepanker Verma / Pexels


Author: Alaina Yee
, Senior Editor

Alaina Yee is PCWorld’s resident bargain hunter—when she’s not covering PC building, computer components, mini-PCs, and more, she’s scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.

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