Can we imagine a Web without giants?

Is a world without GAFA possible? Perhaps, but on condition of acting on technical means, changing practices, and being supported by strong political will.

We tend to forget it: a decentralized web existed. Gaël Duval, Linux pioneer in France, remembers it with nostalgia: “ In the 90s, we didn’t have Google or Facebook, and the web was served by dozens of different search engines. This world existed, and it did exist very well. He was not a drag for normal digital use. Thirty years later, consumer use of the web has tightened around a handful of players. Through their efficient solutions at painless cost, five global giants have established themselves in the digital space: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. The famous GAFAM.

It’s hard to imagine them falling from their pedestal: the dynamics of the web are firmly anchored to the services produced by the American quintet. “If we unplug Google and Amazon, we put the web down. Amazon hosts services that run essential elements on many websites, just as Google provides essential services “for free” to many websites, ”observes François Poulain, administrator at the Association for Promotion and Research in Computer Science. Free (April).

It will take a lot of technical and political means, and a lot of time

For the engineer, it will not take less than 15 to 20 years to deconstruct this hegemony, provided he is willing to do so. Only an alliance of circumstances will allow the advent of a decentralized future: ” We need technical solutions, that the understanding of the stakes evolves, that the policies set ambitions to restore the balance, and to regulate the market.

Because bringing the giants of the web to their knees requires legal means, and above all political will. ” The fines that Google and Apple get, it makes them laugh compared to the cash they generate, it’s the equivalent of a slap on the wrist, sighs Pouhiou, co-director of Framasoft, the association for popular education in free software. We must make the laws concerning monopolies act and give coercive powers to the CNIL, which has only consultative power, and far too limited means.

“The solution lies in popular education, embodied in the field by digital mediators and librarians”

Lucid on its ability to supplant Google, Framasoft has devoted itself to offering alternative technical infrastructures, like the CHATONS project (Collective of Alternative, Transparent, Open, Neutral and Solidarity Hosts). Launched in 2016, this collective aims to develop networks of local actors, who are committed to providing equivalent but decentralized services to GAFAM: website hosting, collaborative tools, e-mail services, etc. digital amap network ”, describes Piouhou. Objective: to regain control of everyday tools, far from the inquisitive gaze and the mercantile ulterior motives of American companies.

The main challenge remains: how to convince the general public? ” We are not going to get there if we make users feel guilty by saying: “Google is bad, you have to change”, explains the co-director of Framasoft. The solution lies in popular education, embodied in the field by digital mediators and librarians, who, if given the means, can shake things up. Because it is at the local level, through associations, that the mechanics of digital mediation, often supported by public authorities, are best developed.

This is evidenced by the Infini association in Brest. The Breton town hall provides it with premises and servers, in exchange it carries out animation and training projects on IT tools for the Brest public. ” This is a very interesting example of what could be replicated nationally, Pouhiou point, provided that operating grants ensure sustainability over three to five years, to establish security of services. “

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Communities, administrations and institutions tend towards emancipation

To emancipate itself from the digital behemoths, the consumption of digital tools must also evolve within institutions and administrations. ” We have a skills gap in France, which we maintain by turning to GAFAM », Underlines April. A lack of digital autonomy which is costing France dearly. According to activist calculations, French public and private expenditure on IT tools with Microsoft would amount to around one billion euros annually. At a minimum, the price of software constitutes between 10 and 25% of the purchase price of a computer. ” If we invested this amount in free software, its few flaws would not remain realities for very long. », Notes François Poulain.

This does not prevent initiatives from evolving within the institutions. The first confinement caused the acceleration of the experiment. Now deployed in version V.1, this platform provides French academies with free software for educational purposes: document sharing with Nextcloud, shared writing on Etherpad, video distribution via PeerTube, etc.

Communities, such as Grenoble, have taken the step of installing free tools on the workstations of agents in their city, and of renewing the computer park of schools to switch it to Linux. Progress to be put into perspective: many communities and administrations, like the Ministry of the Armed Forces, remain under contract with Microsoft.
While these initiatives remain marginal, they mark the rise of a dynamic favorable to a paradigm shift. Pouhiou assures him: ” I see the evolution since 2014, where everyone did not care about these issues. Today we do not go a week without a Facebook scandal, a breakdown at Google, a scandal at Apple … When we go out into the field to meet people, we feel that the demand is increasing. more present.

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