Netflix and Mozilla show that there's no room for idealism in modern tech
Silicon Valley is a capitalist utopia masquerading as a bastion of idealism. The technology companies that call the Valley home are fond of talking about their "corporate values," as if the first word's devotion to the dollar sign doesn't make the second word absolutely meaningless, but when ideals collide with revenues there's rarely a question of which should be prioritized. (It's worth noting that I'm speaking of the metaphorical Valley, not the geographic location.)
Netflix is a prime example of this double standard. The company has come out in support of net neutrality in force, publishing blog post after blog post about the dangers companies like Comcast pose to the free Internet, and chief executive Reed Hastings is a staunch supporter of the open Web. But the company continues to make deals with Comcast and Verizon and other Internet companies that undermine the ideals that it purports to uphold -- often while its blog is overrun with condemnations of those very same deals and how they could effect the Internet.
The company has an obvious motivation for making these deals: it can't keep its users without them. Its catalog is far from comprehensive, its price continues to rise, and the best thing it has is the fact that its videos will start streaming whenever someone hits play. Consumers won't pay more money for a service with fewer videos that look like a cubist painting until their Internet connection finally catches up to Netflix's requirements. Netflix needs to be fast, and the best way to ensure that speed is to make deals with Comcast and Verizon, even if Hastings hates it.
Mozilla joined Netflix in the cabal of hypocrisy today by announcing that it will support a new anti-piracy technology in future versions of its Firefox browser. The company previously tried to resist adding the feature -- which, fittingly enough, will be required in order to play Netflix videos -- but has caved after realizing that consumers will abandon Firefox if they can't stream Netflix using it. Who'd have thought that "Weeds" and "The Italian Job" would threaten the Internet so much?
The decision to add those features to Firefox shows that even Mozilla, which is a nonprofit company that relies on its users' zeal for the open Web, isn't immune to the force exerted when "corporate" and "ideals" come into conflict. Mozilla has promised to continue fighting for individual liberty even as it adds these features, but the compromise shows that there's only so much one company can do to protect the free Internet.
This isn't a new concept. Most people know that companies have a commitment to themselves first and to their supposed ideals second. But in a time when tech companies are fighting laws and regulations beside advocates who don't directly benefit from their activism -- whether it's the fight against intelligence agencies or the call for the Federal Communications Commission to defend the free Internet -- it's worth remembering that there are no white knights riding.
There are only false saints willing to appeal to consumers' ideals while continuing to cater to those who wish to make those ideals hollow in every way imaginable. Netflix will make deals with companies like Comcast. Mozilla will add features it would prefer not to so people can watch videos. There are no corporate ideals -- there are only user numbers and balance sheets.
[image via thinkstock]