The Internet, the Engine of Capitalism?


The doubtful Origins, the Fleeting Promise and the Greedy Usurpation of the Internet by Capitalism.

"This edition isn’t merely a translation of words, but a translation of time. Since Debord wrote this book,(Society of the Spectacle, 1967) society hasn’t changed in kind, but by degree, everything is exactly the same, only more. Advertising is no longer prominent, but dominant. Facebook and Google aren’t merely the tech companies driving the economy, but have captured the entire advertising industry, monopolized it, and built the foundations of a new form of capital on the back of data tracking, profiling, and machine learning: surveillance capitalism. Urban development has increased separation and inequality to public goods like education and transportation. Technology is now ubiquitous and we’re all glued to personalized screens all day, mediating nearly all interactions, even the ways we find love. For Debord, none of this would be new, only more."

From the foreword to Ron. Adams 2021 English translation of the Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord


                                                                             About Internet Technology.

The internet has become such a widespread phenomenon that it is now difficult to specify exactly when and how it came about, and especially explain the intricate solutions to the many technological problems encountered along the way. There are different versions, usually favouring certain University research scientists over others but the truth is that probably they were all  equally important, leading finally to its overall general developments. These events, spread out over nearly half a century, were unlike say, book printing, which started with the William Caxton printing press in 1473. With the Internet, there was never a Eureka moment; no-one can really claim to have invented it, though such claims have been made. Its history is complex and involved many technological aspects which were required first to be solved and there were also organisational political problems. Without going into technological detail we can examine it a little. What is certain is that the Internet has come to dominate every aspect of our daily lives, our business, our communications, our banking, even our personal lives, so much so that it is quite difficult now to imagine a world without it. 



                                                                                    A Little History


The origins of the internet are undoubtedly rooted in the 1950s USA at the height of the Cold War with both superpowers (USA and Russia) threatening deadly nuclear weapons capable of completely wiping out global communications as they existed.  The US Military realised that it needed a communications system that could not be threatened by a Soviet attack and, under Eisenhower, the US defence department lavishly funded the research body, ARPA, (Advanced Research Projects Agency – as well as its many private business contractors -with the aim of creating a new type of information network. In 1969, DARPA, (the D was added for Defence) had built a potential computer network called Arpanet at UCLA which was to hook up to Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and soon after to the University of Santa Barbara and the University of Utah and this would eventually be linked to mainframes at several universities, government agencies, and defence contractors around the United States. The computers on Arpanet were gigantic machines, occupying whole University departments and they could only communicate over fixed links.  So to overcome this, the first problem was to set about building a wireless network that could relay packets of data among the widely dispersed cogs of the US military machine by radio or satellite rather than just by bulky and cumbersome telephone network lines. The second problem was connecting those wireless networks to the wired network of Arpanet, so that multimillion-dollar mainframes could serve soldiers in combat. “Internetworking,” the scientists called it. And thus the Internet was born, just four academic computers hooked up together in 1969.


While both the Military and the upper echelons of Higher Academia sought out solutions to some of these technological problems, an important breakthrough took place in the early 1970s. There had been many attempts to develop a standardised computer language, like Pascal, Unix , Basic, Cobol, etc. but what was needed was a protocol suite which spanned all these codes so that they could communicate across platforms. In 1972, a system of communications using electronic pulses was established so that various nodes could communicate more easily in an open-architectural network, eventually leading to an accepted standard -the TCP/IP, or the Transmission Control Protocol or Internet Protocol. This set the possibility for wide-scale communication and was to be pivotal in the development of a galactic communications network. At the same time, systems were established for creating communication norms and the language required so that people had to agree to certain hierarchies of information and keyword taxonomies. TCP/IP made it possible to link up to other computers and through them to LANS (Local Area Networks Systems and even WANS (Wide Area Network Systems). In theory, anyone could create a page and link it to anything else. Get enough people doing this, and the content creation could and did increase astronomically. With minimal institutions or outlay it was quite simple to set up and with a list of phone numbers and the commitment of clients, there were no holds barred.  This would be helped by the setting up of a kind of map or phone-book of all the computers on the network, a Domain Name System or DNS, replacing the complex ID of the server or IPs, usually strings of numbers indicating where the website was stored This was first known as IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) set up in 1998, by the University of Southern California, by the US Defence organisation, DARPA. It divided the various computer addresses into bands like .edu or .org or .com or .net. The Clinton Administration White Paper "Framework for Global  Electronic Commerce" set out its  commitment to the privatization of DNS management in a manner which would increase competition, transferring its management from the US Government to a new private non-profit corporation based in the US but supposedly globally represented, stressing the dominance of the private sector and competition. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was established in late 1998 through the US Dept. of Commerce and along with the International Telecommunications Unit (ITU) controls all aspects of the Internet, both in the US and globally, although China has a slightly different history which is not dealt with here.



The Growth of the mini-Computer Industry.



In 1976,  the Apple 1, designed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, was produced and began to be marketed,  which was to usher in the beginning of a mega personal computer industry. It contained an operating system, a screen, and a keyboard, all wrapped up in a compact case which was easily portable. This was followed quickly by the many copy cats which also brought down the price so that it became within the budget of lower middle class students. Radio Shack launched the TRS-80 in 1977, which was marketed by Tandy Corporation at their stores across the US with a few in Europe and this was soon to be followed by the Commodore Pet, the IBM 5100 and 5150, a few Motorola processors and so on down to the very inexpensive Sinclair ZX80. A lot of these gadgets were little more than office typewriters though some were able to be used to send e-mails by the early 1980s. Many of the cheaper ones were really just games machines for kids (or older kids) which despite their low memory capacity were able to develop quite intricate games with very little little code, often using just 8-16 kilobytes of RAM, some of them managing truly amazing achievements for the standards of the time.


Soon after the successful marketing of the Apple computer, a second big event happened  when Bill Gates and Paul Allen  founded Microsoft to produce software for a new microcomputer called the Altair 8800 and developed an Operating System, (MSDOS), written in BASIC which it then licenced to IBM PC. By 1978, Microsoft had topped more than 1 million sales of its operating system. So besides Linux based on UNIX, and the Apple Operating System, they became the largest of the three dominant operating systems. In 1985, Microsoft released a new version of its  operating system called Windows which was still DOS based but easier to use, and requiring little or no commands in  computer language  By the late 1980s it had become the largest personal computer software vendor so that when it launched its Windows 95, it outsold anything on the market, selling 7 million copies in the first 5 weeks of existence. By the early 1990s it had sold more than 100 million copies making Bill Gates the then richest man in the world.



                                                                                                                      4 .

The Generalisation and Privatisation of the Internet


For some time, other than in the games industry and the production of these micro-computers themselves, this communications system barely stepped outside the confines of the universities. In fact, for most of the first decade, a large part of the real world remained blissfully unaware of the existence of this virtual one and thus was born the then dominant narrative about the internet – that it was an open technology that liberated, informed and empowered people. It is true that over these years thousand, many hundreds of thousands of users were able to freely share things through this connection and communicate freely without having to go through a third source. Local groups even  set up their own communications systems, like sports groups.  The problem was that this was all developed  in a highly capitalist copyrighted environment which meant that rather than more openness and the destruction of hierarchies, it created a networked society owned by just a few companies which compounded economic and cultural inequality, and created a digital elite of masters of the universe. This new power may have been rooted in a borderless network, but it still translated into the massive wealth and power for a tiny handful of unregulated companies and individuals.

But more and more the access to LANS and WANS was directed through large companies, and local email was directed through email systems like Yahoo who offered their services "for free". and the expansion of such companies became astronomical. Microsoft, Apple  and companies like Yahoo or Netscape got increasing control of the market.


The Arrival of the Internet Monopoly


In the early 1990s, the US  Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation into whether Microsoft was monopolizing its control of the personal computer market. Microsoft had distributed its browser software for free but this could only be used by people who had already bought the Microsoft operating system and which, for example, had already led to the collapse of its main rival at the time, Netscape. While the Trade Commission recognised that it had no jurisdiction over the Internet it argued that this was contrary to laws governing so-called fair competition in the market and found that Microsoft had used practises like price-fixing to maintain what amounted to an almost quasi-monopoly. The pro-capitalist ethos of the world of the late twentieth century and its media censorship looked to Bill Gates as a genius and not as an opportunist. Although the Trade Commission had also ruled that the company should be divided into two, one solely for the Windows operating system, and the other responsible for all other software, the ruling was contested by Microsoft Lawyers and an Appeals Court overturned the ruling in favour of Microsoft. It was clearly a decision which in the early 90s,  favoured big business and which set the precedent that computer capitalism, no matter how big or wealthy, was to have  its own set of rules. There was no question of nationalisation or even government interference, and any hint of it being a public utility was completely outside the agenda of a world which was then governed by Reaganomics and Thatcherism.

This decision was  instrumental in creating a market environment favourable to the emergence and growth  of some of the largest capitalist enterprises, such as Microsoft, Apple or Google and it seemed that there was nothing that could be done or that anything that could stop it. More companies grew all the time and the growth seemed irreversible.


One such company, was set up by Marc Zuckerberg who established the media website, Facebook, a social networking website at Harvard University designed to create a dating site linking rich Harvard Ivy league students to the world outside. He had stolen this idea as well as all the data from another website, the Harvard Connection. With private data about Ivy League students from this site he managed to commercialise the idea and it mushroomed, so much so, that by the end of 2004 Facebook had over 1 million users around the world. Allegedly Facebook had to pay ConnectU $65 million in compensation.


Google was another such site, which started in January 1996 as a research project by Larry Page and Sergey Brin when they were both PhD students at Stanford University in California. It initially involved an unofficial "third founder", Scott Hassan, who wrote much of the code for the original Google Search engine, but he had left before it was established as a company in order to pursue a career in robotics. While conventional search engines ranked results by counting how many times the search terms appeared on the page, they designed a different system that analysed relationships among websites. They called this algorithm Page Rank; it determined a website's relevance by the number of pages, and the importance of those pages that linked back to the original site. Page and Brian had originally nicknamed the new search engine "Back Rub", because the system checked backlinks to estimate the importance of a site.  Eventually, they changed the name to Google; the name of the search engine was a play on the word google, a very large number written 10100 (or 1 followed by 100 zeros), picked to signify that the search engine was intended to provide large quantities of information.

 The domain name was registered in September 1997, and the company was incorporated the following year and was originally based in a garage in Menlo Park in California. Google was initially funded by an August 1998 investment of $100,000 from Andy Bechtolsheim, a co-founder of the giant Sun Microsystems computer company. It received money from three other  investors in 1998: founder Jeff Bezos, Stanford University computer science professor David Cheriton, as well as the entrepreneur Ram Shriram. Between these initial investors, plus a few others, Google raised around $1,000,000, not a measly sum and this allowed them to open up their original shop in Menlo Park, California. After some additional investments at the end of 1998 and early 1999, there was a new $25 million round of funding, with investors, including major venture capital firms. in what became known as the where hundreds of thousands of investors were willing to invest in ventures about which they often understood little of the technical nature, but such was the hype in the market that stock brokers and even clueless journalists were advising their clients into investments with very little information. It was reminiscent of the Tulip Mania of the mid 1660s Dutch Stock Exchange investments where speculation on certain tulip bulbs sent the market into hyperinflation with prices often reaching a thousand times their previous values.

 The Internet market had imploded with just a few companies controlling a massive share of it and fortunes were being made by a handful of entrepreneurs. By March 2000, Google had begun to sell advertisements associated with search keywords something which they swore would never happen, although the condition that it maintain an uncluttered page design, and advertisements would be solely text-based  was probably more by design than anything else. In June 2000, it was announced that Google would become the default search engine provider for Yahoo, one of the most popular websites at the time.  The whole thing, outside of China had become a giant monopoly with  Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook (or Meta as it would become)  owning over 75% of it, and each one buying up just about everything that existed plus any new applications that came along, like, for example, Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp. in 2014 for  $16 billion 

 Massive expansion was in the air. In 2003, after outgrowing two other locations, Google leased an office complex known as the Googleplex in Mountain View, California and three years later, it bought the property for $319 million. By that time, the name "Google" had found its way into everyday language, causing the verb "google" to be added to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary, denoted as: "to use the Google search engine to obtain information on the Internet"

 In August 2004, Google became a public company offering 19,605,052 shares at a price of $85 per share, which were sold in an online auction format using a system built by Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse, underwriters for the deal. The sale of $1.67 billion gave Google a market capitalization of more than $23 billion. In November 13, 2006, Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion in Google stock and in 2008, it bought DoubleClick for $3.1 billion, thus transferring to Google the valuable relationships that DoubleClick had with Web publishers and advertising agencies. By 2011, it was handling approximately 3 billion searches per day and for this workload, it built 11 data centres around the world with several thousand servers in each. These data centres allowed Google to handle the ever-changing workload more efficiently and in May 2011, the number of monthly unique visitors to Google surpassed one billion for the first time.

 In May 2012, Google acquired Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, in its largest acquisition to that date. This purchase was made in part to help Google gain Motorola's considerable patent portfolio on mobile phones and wireless technologies, and to help protect Google in its ongoing patent disputes with other companies, mainly Apple and Microsoft, and allowing it to continue freely offering Android.

 In June 2013, Google acquired Waze, in a $966 million deal. While Waze would remain an independent entity, its social features, such as its crowdsourced location platform, were reportedly valuable integrations between Waze and its own Google Maps. Google had become the second most valuable brand in the world (behind Apple Inc.) in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, with a valuation estimate of $133 billion. On August 10, 2015, it reorganised its various interests as a conglomerate  called Alphabet, with Larry Page, becoming CEO .

 In June 2019, the United States Department of Justice reported that it would investigate Google for antitrust violations. This led to the filing of an antitrust lawsuit in October 2020, on the grounds the company had abused a monopoly position . In January 2021, the Australian Government proposed legislation that would require Google and Facebook to pay media companies for the right to use their content. In response, Google threatened to close off access to its search engine in Australia. In September 2021, the Australian government announced plans to curb Google’s capability to sell targeted ads, claiming that the company had a monopoly on the market, harming publishers, advertisers, and consumers.

 In terms of software Google continues to develop and sell the Android mobile operating system, as well as other devices like its smartwatch, television, car, and the so called Internet Of Things-enabled smart device variations. It also develops the Google Chrome web browser, and the Chrome operating system based on Chrome.

 In the third quarter of 2005, Google reported a 700% increase in profits, largely due to a growth in  companies shifting their advertising strategies from newspapers, magazines, and television to the Internet. For the 2006 fiscal year, the company reported $10.492 billion in total advertising revenues and only $112 million in licensing and other revenues. In 2011, 96% of Google's revenue was derived from its advertising programs. Google generated $50 billion in annual revenue for the first time in 2012, generating $38 billion the previous year. By January 2014, Google's market capitalization had grown to $397 billion.

 Google uses a variety of tax avoidance strategies. While being one of the largest information technology companies, it pays the lowest taxes to the countries of origin of its revenues. Google, between 2007 and 2010, saved $3.1 billion in taxes by shuttling non-U.S. profits through Ireland and the Netherlands and then on to Bermuda. Such techniques lower its non-U.S. tax rate to 2.3 per cent, while normally a corporate tax rate in, for instance the UK or Portugal would be in the region of 28 per cent.

 Google’s wealth is truly obscene. Its headquarters in Mountain View, California, "the Googleplex",   is a complex of buildings. Internationally, Google has over 78 offices in more than 50 countries. In 2006, Google moved into about 300,000 square feet (27,900 m2) of prime office space at 111 Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, New York City. The office, designed and built specially for Google, houses its largest advertising sales team. In 2010, Google bought the building housing the headquarters, valuing the property at a little less than US $2 billion. In March 2018, Google's parent company Alphabet bought the nearby Chelsea Market building for $2.4 billion. The sale is touted as one of the most expensive real estate transactions for a single building in the history of New York. In November 2018, Google announced its plan to expand its New York City office to a capacity of 12,000 employees and announced that a new $1 billion, (160,000 m2) headquarters for Google would be built in Manhattan's Hudson Square neighbourhood.  
The obscenity of the story is that it just goes on and on.  As Jonathan Crary, in his new book, "Scorched Earth: Beyond the Digital Age to a Post Capitalist World" Verso Books, 2022 put it so concisely."The digital tools and services used by people everywhere are subordinated to the power of transnational corporations, intelligence agencies, criminal cartels, and sociopathic billionaire elite. For the majority of the earth’s population on whom it has been imposed, the internet complex is the implacable engine of addiction, loneliness, false hopes, cruelty, psychosis, indebtedness, squandered life, the corrosion of memory, and social disintegration. All of its touted benefits are rendered irrelevant or secondary by its injurious and sociocidal impacts." 




But obviously, and as Crary argues, a sustainable and liveable future must be one that refuses capitalism and our addiction to the internet which has clearly been mismanaged by profit-making companies like Google, Microsoft or Meta. While it is difficult to call for their total boycott., it  is, however, possible to raise consciousness about these abuses of capitalist ideology and people are already becoming aware of them and have already begun to take action. The Berlin Google Campus which was announced at the end of 2016 was set to inhabit an old electrical substation on the banks of the Landwehr canal, a building known locally as the “Umspannwerk".  But opposition from local activists and neighbourhood groups, concerned about gentrification and rising rents raised immense and effective opposition in a campaign prosaically called "Fuck Off Google". 

Clearly, without the abolition of capitalism there is no solution.  But however we do have choices in terms of  the software we use. Instead of using Microsoft Office there are free alternatives like LibreOffice, very easily downloadable. Signal, for example, is a good alternative to Facebook and there are lots of other alternatives which are available. However, in the ten richest companies in the world,  Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet and Facebook (Meta) unfortunately occupy four places. Although people are becoming conscious of these factors and are already abandoning them in droves.  

The ten richest companies in the world are by order of profit:




United States





Saudi Arabia





United States





United States

Consumer Discretionary




United States





United States










United States

Consumer Discretionary





Consumer Discretionary




United States




Main Players

 Jeff Bezos, Amazon (net worth 189.2 billion)

 Marc Zuckerberg (net worth 79.3 billion dollars

 Bill Gates (net worth 133.5 billion)

 Larry Page (net worth 131 billion)

 Sergey Brin (net worth 105.7 billion)




google-campus        google-fuck-off


google-mai2018-1            google-mai2018-2  

 The above two posters of course reference back to well known posters from the great French rebellion of 1968

google-meta-data       google-poster-2-2 


google-foto-4     google-foto5



     google-lingo                 google-watching1