Digital Feudalism

Digital feudalism refers to the power relationship between legal frameworks and networked ecosystems. Due to the internet and digital technologies quick evolution, they are increasingly becoming opposite of their decentralised roots. This is because of technologies such as smartphones and tablets experiencing vertical integration (stacks) which is “hardware, software platform, and an identity layer packaged together, along with an app and content ecosystem”. The previous as well as a minute amount of companies (masters) controlling their digital data exchange territories have a form of control over users (serfs) whereby user give up some freedoms but gain security, usability and convenience, and app and content providers finally have a workable revenue model.

Some serious concerns raised by Stanford scholar Arvind Narayanan include;

  1. Public conversations are stored on and mediated by privately controlled servers and algorithms.
  2. As a side effect, vast repositories of sociological data are inaccessible to researchers.
  3. With digital goods, the concept of resale, and hence the first-sale doctrine, are becoming meaningless in practice.
  4. Non-interoperability leads to redundancy and economic inefficiency.
  5. Companies control our digital identities, and getting locked out can mean losing one’s digital life.

These issues give rise to questions like should tech innovators be content to tinker at the edges, or try to strike at the roots? Which laws need to be re-examined, and what new laws do we need? What are the implications for privacy?


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