The commercialization of the Internet is a complex topic that has received much attention and involves many different perspectives and arguments.150 Over the years, emerging communication technologies have centralized and commercialized the creation and transmission of information, while expanding the geographic and social reach of information dissemination networks (Benkler, 2006, p. 29). The commercialization of the Internet has provided enormous business opportunities. It also stimulates the ability to innovate. For example, entrepreneurs can use the Internet to create new products and services. This can meet the changing needs of consumers. In addition to this, Internet commercialization expands the market and enables companies to cross over into the global market. There are many more benefits of Internet commercialization. However, there are also many disadvantages. Firstly, with the commercialization of the Internet, companies collect and use large amounts of personal data to tailor advertisements and personalize services to users. Second, the commercialization of the Internet has also raised questions about the credibility of information, and the spread of false information and rumors on social media platforms has become a serious problem. Third, some large technology companies have dominated the Internet commercialization process, raising controversies about market monopoly. This paper will focus on the controversies arising from the commercialization of the Internet. According to the reading, it highlights the limited attention given by political economy scholars to lobbying, particularly in the tech industry dominated by giants like Facebook and Google. These tech companies have achieved near-monopoly status globally, leading to concerns about their market power. It suggests that tech firms use various strategies to maintain their monopoly, which can have negative consequences for competition, user privacy, and the commercialization of the Internet. Additionally, the government’s reliance on these firms’ user data for surveillance activities contributes to the lack of oversight of these issues (Popiel, 2018).
Browsing history, geographic location, online behavior, and other large amounts of users’ personal data are collected by Internet companies. This data is used for personalized services, and users are also pushed specific advertisements. This has raised concerns about users’ personal privacy. Users may worry that their data is being misused or used inappropriately. They may not be aware of how companies are using their data. Here is an example. In April 2021, personal data of more than 530 million Facebook users was leaked on an online hacking forum. The data was obtained by hackers in 2019 through a vulnerability in Facebook’s contact importer, allowing them to scrape user profile information. While Facebook fixed the vulnerability, they chose not to inform the affected users. In November 2022, Meta (formerly Facebook) was fined €265 million by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission for violating the European Union’s GDPR in connection with this incident, following a previous fine of €405 million for privacy violations by Instagram in September 2022 (Heiligenstein, 2023).
Massive data breaches, where users’ personal data is stolen and sold to malicious parties, are vulnerabilities that can lead to identity theft, financial fraud, and other nefarious activities. Companies need to take greater responsibility in ensuring data security. In addition, different countries and regions have different laws and regulatory approaches to data privacy. Different standards need to be adhered to by Internet companies. The issue of transparency and user consent for data collection by Internet companies has also sparked controversy. Users may not be aware that their data is being collected, or consent options may be hidden in service agreements. This has also sparked controversy over whether data collection is truly voluntary.
The commercialization of the Internet can lead to a decline in the credibility of certain information. On the Internet, information comes from a variety of sources, ranging from official news organizations and specialized websites to personal blogs and social media posts. However, information from different sources has different levels of credibility. For example, some companies may deceive the public in order to increase sales. Therefore, users often need to determine the credibility of the source of information, but this is not always easy. Some untrustworthy websites or individuals may mislead the public by disseminating false or misleading information.
Disinformation and fake news are part of the problem of information credibility. Some people deliberately create false information for personal gain. Disinformation and fake news are heavily publicized on social media platforms. This can have a negative impact on public opinion and decision-making.
Here’s an example. Matt Motil, a podcast host in Ohio who portrayed himself as the “Cash Flow King,” has been accused by the U.S. Motil has always relied on social media and its own website to promote and attract other investors. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of running an $11 million Ponzi scheme. Motil promised more than 50 investors that he would help them become successful real estate investors. However, the SEC alleges that he used false claims and issued “promissory notes” backed by property as collateral, misleading investors about the security of their investments. Motil targeted a diverse range of investors, profited from the scheme, and evaded SEC subpoenas by filing for bankruptcy. The SEC also accuses him of forgery and misuse of a notary’s seal. This case highlights increased regulatory scrutiny on smaller-scale scammers who harm investors and the public financially (Rogoswami, 2023).
Some of the Internet’s largest companies control the majority of Internet traffic and advertising markets. An opaque advertising marketplace may negatively impact advertisers, advertising platforms, and consumers. Advertisers may find it difficult to effectively manage advertising campaigns and budgets. Consumers may be over-targeted with ads by platforms. Users’ data privacy is also at risk. As a result, the industry has been working to improve the transparency of the advertising marketplace, including clearer pricing models, ad effectiveness measurement, and data privacy regulations. Governments and regulators are also working to enact stricter regulations to protect fair competition and consumer rights in the advertising market. Yet related issues still arise.
Monopolies are often able to invest significant resources in driving innovation at the initial stage. However, as the market monopoly strengthens and large companies lack competitive pressure, they may lose the incentive to continue innovating. In addition, monopolies may abuse their market power to the detriment of the opportunities of small innovative firms.
A market monopoly may result in only one product or service being available in the market. This may jeopardize consumer choice. This results in a lack of diversity in the market.
Here is an example. The research firm Adalytics has published a study suggesting that Google may have misled advertisers regarding its TrueView skippable in-stream video ads on YouTube. Adalytics claims that advertisers may have been misled for years about the placement of their ads on third-party properties, potentially costing them “billions” in ad misplacement. The study alleges that some TrueView ads were placed on small, muted, out-stream, auto-playing, or interstitial video ad units running on independent websites and mobile apps, contrary to Google’s policies (Shields, 2023).
Benkler, Y. (2006). The Networked Information Economy. In The wealth of networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom (pp. 29–34). essay, Yale University Press.
Popiel. (2018). The Tech Lobby: Tracing the Contours of New Media Elite Lobbying Power. Communication, Culture & Critique, 11(4), 566–585. https://doi.org/10.1093/ccc/tcy027
Heiligenstein, M. X. (2023, May 31). Facebook data breaches: Full timeline through 2023. Firewall Times. https://firewalltimes.com/facebook-data-breach-timeline/
Rogoswami. (2023, September 25). “cash-flow” podcaster made off with millions in ponzi scheme, SEC alleges. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2023/09/25/cash-flow-podcaster-made-off-with-millions-in-ponzi-scheme-sec.html?recirc=taboolainternal
Shields, R. (2023, July 24). Transparency woes mount, just as Google’s antitrust pressures start to intensify. Digiday. https://digiday.com/media-buying/transparency-woes-mount-just-as-googles-antitrust-pressures-start-to-intensify/