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What lies beneath: transparency in online service supply chains

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There is a noticeable trend towards the increased centralisation of Internet-based services. Though much focus has been on the dominance of organisations such as Facebook, Google and Netflix, popular consumer-facing services with large userbases, there has been far less discussion regarding those providing the infrastructure that supports websites, applications and other online services. This bears consideration, given that many online services rely on a range of services and platforms operated by third-party organisations. As such, this paper explores issues of consolidation as regards the systems supply chains that underpin and drive online services. Specifically, we note that while there are trends towards increased centralisation and dominance in the provision of supporting technical infrastructure, the nature of these run-time supply chains are relatively hidden. We explore the broader societal implications of this with regards to power and resilience, emphasising the lack of means, legal or technical, for uncovering the nature of the supply chains on which online services rely. Given society’s ever-growing reliance on data-driven technology, we conclude by arguing that more can be done to increase levels of transparency over the supply arrangements of technical infrastructure. This as a necessary precursor to determining what interventions, if any, may be required to deal with issues of consolidation in online infrastructure.



46 Information and Computing Sciences, 4609 Information Systems, 9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

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Journal of Cyber Policy

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Informa UK Limited
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/P024394/1)
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/R033501/1)
We acknowledge the financial support of the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/P024394/1, EP/R033501/1), University of Cambridge via the Trust & Technology Initiative, and Microsoft via the Microsoft Cloud Computing Research Centre.