In this second decade of the 21st century, the Internet -the network of networks- is reasserting its role as an economic driver for the creation, transfer and concentration of value of our societies.
Faced with this ever-accelerating transformation, unparalleled in the world’s history, nations differ in how they control their destiny on computer networks, i.e. their digital sovereignty.
Such a sovereignty is both political and economic: political, with the States’ involvement in the management of the network; economic, as it is determined by the emergence of a new form of consubstantial company at the age of the Internet: the “résogiciel” (translator’s note: French blend of “réseau”, or network, and “logiciel”, or software. The English equivalent could be “netware”, but it is already a brand name owned by Novell, Inc.).
A résogiciel is a network of coordinated IT services (search engine, map, diary, browser, calendar, e-mail, translator, video server, word processor, remote storage, etc.), with dedicated infrastructures (server farms) and networks (underwater cables, optic fibres, servers located in telecommunications networks), which has its own digital services platform (apps, books, audio and video sources – e.g. iTunes), its own operating system which supervises all the machines and devices connected to the network (mobile phones, tablets, computers, but also domestic electrical appliances, robots and cars – the best example being Android), and its own terminals.
A résogiciel is incredibly convenient and useful, two features that inevitably attract users. Actually, a well-deserved success! It thus acts as an end concentrator of the value generated and captured by the network.
Governed by the law of networks -power attracts power-, it is fuelled by an irresistible movement by virtue of which it is replacing the good old, free and open, Internet with closed ecosystems that are both convenient and dangerous.
Convenient, everyone knows why: we gladly use them each day. But dangerous too: by collecting our data and exerting a cross-functional omnipotence, they totally dominate our industries and services.
Dangerous, because the almost-free web of yesteryear, readily accessible via any office equipment, is becoming a web that is filtered and intermediated by the apps and operating system of the mobile terminal.
Résogiciels represent the new private empires. These are resting on foundations laid in their countries of origin, of which they increase and expand the domination. It is not the first time in history that original economic entities set off to conquer new territories for their country’s and their own benefit.
The establishment, at the beginning of the 17th century, of joint stock companies, in particular the compagnies des Indes (companies of the East and West Indies), have been instrumental in the Dutch, then the English, economic expansion. Later, legal entities have thrived and are now competing with nations: at the beginning of the 21st century, the Top 100 classification of countries (tax revenue) and corporations (turnover) only counts thirty countries, against seventy companies!
Résogiciels are for the 21st century what the compagnies des Indes were for the 17th century: a powerful aspirator of value, at the service of private, military and national joint interests.
Digital sovereignty is thus expressed in the law and the economic activity, which is clearly taking the form of résogiciels. We may thus draw the outline -always unclear, always changing- of three major sub-assemblies:
The first Internet sealed the alliance between the network and the State to establish a symbiosis that was open to the world, democratic, expansionist and competitive. Its foundations are mercantilism and imperial power, and its expansion drivers are résogiciels, which have now attained a global scale. In particular, commercial interest is taking precedence over data rights, and its résogiciels are extending its control of and influence on the political system. We are obviously talking about the USA, with companies such as Google, Apple, Amazon or Microsoft,but also about South Korea, with Samsung.
The second Internet also stemmed from an organic partnership between the State and the network. It developed by building a membrane partly isolating it from the global Internet, by depriving citizens from their freedom, and by nurturing -in a protected environment and on a huge domestic market- giant companies operating in the field of digital services, some of which now being potential global résogiciels. Here, we are talking about China, with companies such as Tencent or Alibaba. But also of Russia, with Yandex and Vkontakte.
The third Internet has not yet become aware of the network’s power. The State and the network have separate fates. Here and there, ministries are focusing on the creation of young IT companies, like a folkloric reminiscence of the past century, to create future functionalities or services that could be added to a desperately absent résogiciel. The open -and most often, democratic- legislation is authorising the legal plundering of the private life and economic activity of the citizens of those nations. Such nations include Europe, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, the Middle-East, most African countries, and Central and South America. This Third-Internet is the free buffet and the backyard of our American, and now Chinese, friends.
The current situation of this Third-Internet is not sustainable. Indeed, just like exponential curves, after a slow and discreet growth, the digital revolution is utterly brutal. Within two decades, networked machines will replace one tertiary job out of two. What globalisation did to the working class, the Internet will do to the middle classes. This will threaten our mature societies and stop the momentum of the economies of emerging countries. It is urgent to imagine our future before it is upon us!
But how? The answer is neither in the first Internet -which privatises personal data and so attacks individual freedoms and civic rights- nor in the second Internet -which readily deprives individuals from political freedoms and fundamental rights.
The answer lies in our tradition of freedom and democracy. We must make our freedoms a weapon for our competitiveness. Our French, then European, legislation must redefine the status of data to simultaneously protect individuals and enable productivity gains stemming from big data analysis. This is feasible.
We must also create the network’s sovereign operating system. Such a system is not like a traditional operating system managing a mere computer -like Windows– but rather the software supervising all the machines accessing the network. This is what is happening with Android: designed for mobile phones, it will soon be everywhere.
This sovereign operating system (or OS) is the entry door to embed our laws in the code, thus laying the joint foundations of an open and free résogiciel.
With data rights and a free résogiciel based on this sovereign OS, we will be back in the race. Not by trying to mimic an impassable competition, but rather by imagining the next move, which will necessarily be open and collaborative.
Thus, we will pass through that transition with a chance of surviving; of course, we will face hardships, but in exchange, we will directly benefit from the extraordinary opportunities offered by the Network Age.
Our model will be exported to the Third-Internet. Our example will also help the civic rights associations of the first Internet and the protesters of the second Internet. For centuries, freedom has been contagious; this time, it will benefit from the network’s power.
Founder and CEO of the Skyrock Group