In their latest pivot, Richard Hendricks and the Pied Piper gang are trying to create a new internet that cuts out intermediaries like Facebook, Google, and the fictional Hooli. Their idea: use a peer-to-peer network built atop every smartphone on the planet, effectively rendering huge data centers full of servers unnecessary.
"If we could do it we could build a completely decentralized version of our current internet," Hendricks says. "With no firewalls, no tolls, no government regulation, no spying, information would be totally free in every sense of the word."
But wait: Isn't the internet already a decentralized network that no one owns? In theory, yes. But in practice, a small number of enormous companies control or at least mediate so much of the internet. Sure, anyone can publish whatever they want to the web. But without Facebook and Google, will anyone be able to find it? Amazon, meanwhile, controls not just the web's biggest online store but a cloud computing service so large and important that when part of it went offline briefly earlier this year, the internet itself seemed to go down. Similarly, when hackers attacked the lesser-known company Dyn–now owned by tech giant Oracle–last year, large swaths of the internet came crashing down with it. Meanwhile, a handful of telecommunications giants, including Comcast, Charter, and Verizon, control the market for internet access and have the technical capability to block you from accessing particular sites or apps. In some countries, a single state-owned telco controls internet access completely.