There was a time when the Internet was a Network of small computers interconnected running different services, mainly web servers, email servers and DNS servers, oh, and FTP cannot be forgetten.
In those days, a network failure or power outage only affected a small portion of the Internet, of course that Internet was small, like really small compared to today’s standards.
But then, it came Geocities, and Yahoo, Reddit and of course Google, what happened is that most of us decided that instead of hosting our own services and dealing with all the hassle, just put them in some other’s hands.
How did this happen?
At the beginning, the Internet was only visible to engineers and tech people, to the rest of the population was unknown, or just not important at all. When marketeers saw the potential of being on-line a lot of non-technical people in the need to be on-line required professional services to set up their servers and just be on-line, and of course have an email address.
The first dial-up service providers at those days gave you an email address at their domain, and usually your own home folder in their Linux server mapped through Apache to your own web space.
Then, some visionaries saw the potential of business, and Hotmail came to the word. Now if you do not know how to host your email server, you were not tied to your service provider just because they have your email address tied to their domains.
Well, Gmail came too, as Google realized that they can read everybody’s email if they offered a free service.
At that moment, a lot of more people was on the Internet, and then the bad guys also realized they can make money there, and started to hack servers, started Phishing and making it hard to host your email server, or your DNS server, just because everybody wanted to hack them and use them to scam others.
We all realized that it was to much of a headache to self-host, and almost everybody started to host on third parties, so much that now we have to use self-host, when host should mean self-host and the opposite should bit outsource hosting.
The Internet is small again
Yes, we have return to a small Internet, it is big in number of websites, pages, content and all the fiber optic cable linking those servers, actually Data Centers full of servers, full in turn of VPSs or Containers… But small in the number of owners of the infrastructure, even smaller that in the first days.
Facebook, Google, Amazon, Cloudflare and Apple concentrate almost all Internet traffic and hosting services. To the point that some people might think that the Internet is Facebook. Some small companies does not even have a website anymore, they just have Facebook page, they do not publish their email on cards, just their Facebook page, and use Facebook Messenger to get contacted by their customers.
How is that bad
That is bad in such a variety of ways that this post will not be enough to name them, but let us name a few.
- Lose of identity: If you do not own your domain, you can be out of business and any time, when Facebook or whoever your are trusting decide its time for you to go out of business.
- Privacy: You will have to trust Google, Facebook and others not to “read” your private messages, and you can be sure they are doing exactly that.
But what happened yesterday shows us the potential risks. Yesterday one of the biggest provider of the Internet Cloudflare had a technical issue, some of their engineers made a mistake and instead of routing traffic away of an overloaded server (router), did just the opposite and sent all traffic to one creating a bottleneck and turning part of the Internet off.
So many companies, some big ones like Discord, Shopify and others use Cloudflare’s services that as said, a big portion of Internet was down yesterday afternoon.
Yesterday was a mistake, an engineer typed the wrong command, and that can will happen again, but what about Google+, and a lot of other services, only on Google’s hands.
We as users are putting are eggs in just some few baskets, even small providers buy services from the big ones to offer their services. Every small to medium service provider is on AWS or Azure or Google Cloud.
Are we ready to be on their hands?, we actually are their hands already, they can squeeze us anytime. We as users should try to diversify the Internet again.
What would happen if one of those big companies once they gain full control decide what should or should not be on the Internet, Google already has that power.
The risks are big, we may lose our freedom
What can we do about that?
Well start by owning your domain, try to host your services with small companies instead of the big ones, avoid if you can AWS, Cloudflare, and if you are really brave, try to host your own services, your own DNS, your own email servers.
I know I should start doing that myself, I have some domains at Cloudflare, used to use AWS DNS server too, I have a Gmail accout, and my main email address is hosted at Google but at least using my own domain.
I do host my web servers (on a VPS, because the Internet in my country is not the best), and my social network by hosting my own Mastodon Instance.
Next steps is hosting my email server, and maybe my DNS server, or at least moving it to a smaller provider.