Capitalism is an economic system based upon private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.

Software design always has many competing interests that need to be considered, including quality, time and speed, planning, scalability, security, privacy, cost, and profit.

There are many models and methodologies that present preset weightings and preferences for these interests that are generally agreed upon to be acceptable and even good. “Getting Things Done” emphasizes short-term deliverables and speed arguably at the expense of long-term planning, scalability and quality. Agile can be argued to be the same. As models, they aren’t saying don’t plan at all for growth and scaling, and don’t disregard entirely long-term quality, just don’t “overemphasize” them.

Designing and building software is an exercise in making a multitude of design choices at every step and stage, usually informed by overall goals, approaches, and models.

Capitalism, when introduced into the software design and building process, affects almost every facet immediately, and entire solution spaces are thrown away.

Capitalism elevates profit at the expense of every other interest. Arguments such as “We need a way to monetize, we need access to user data, so we can sell it” of which a subset is “we need to monitor user behaviour in our system, with full metrics, so we can know the user and target them with the best ads” become top priorities in design under capitalism and inform all other decisions.

With these arguments and priorities, capitalism throws away entirely most distributed solutions, often calling into question the viability of end to end encryption (especially for data at rest). They compromise privacy dramatically to the point of obliteration and can usually be demonstrated to weaken security.

In an age where we have many examples of the efficiencies of distributed solutions (BitTorrent for data distribution, pre-Microsoft Skype) it’s sometimes a wonder that a decade later from those innovations, P2P and other decentralized designs never come close to even being mentioned in most design discussions.

Design under capitalism favours centralization over decentralization, and it doesn’t like encryption, generally embracing it only as market demand requires it to keep a product viable.

Decentralization isn’t synonymous with either security or privacy or efficiency, but there is a strong overlap and it can more easily be argued to create a more fertile and easy surface to then build privacy into and efficient systems with. If the user stores their own data, they have control over it and can grant access to it when and only when they consent. Decentralization is more about power, from which privacy can more easily flow. It is still possible to build very inefficient decentralized systems, and even easy to build privacy leaking decentralized solutions. However, it is also possible to build decentralized solutions far more efficient than any centralized solution could ever be and decentralization also lays the groundwork that can allow much stronger privacy systems than a centralized solution can ever guarantee.

It really is very simple. Capitalism wants access to user data, which always degrades privacy. To achieve this it often disregards decentralized solutions entirely, which in-turn can affect many other interests negatively such as scalability and efficiency, favouring “simple” and last decade(s) centralized solutions, which then have to scale awkwardly internally to handle the load demanded of them.

This is why I believe in Open and Free Software. Capitalism and monetization pit the design against users and privacy from the start, and as second-order effects can negatively impact other interests, before the design of a system has even started.

This is why when Open Privacy was deciding how to create itself, we all decided for a nonprofit model over a startup, because there was no viable way we could do the privacy-focused, and user consent enforcing work we wanted to inside of any capitalist model. For us, user privacy had to be the top motivating priority, not profit, and inside capitalism, nothing can trump profit.