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Jaron Lanier. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Technology pioneer Jaron Lanier delivered a blistering indictment of the ad-supported Internet model on Tuesday, calling for a paid model to support Facebook and Google.

Why it matters: Lanier's talk comes just as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is testifying before Congress.

The companies aren't social networks, he said, but rather "behavior modification empires."

Lanier, considered one of the founders of virtual reality, said that the fundamental problems we are dealing with today stem from a decision made in the 1990s that the Internet technologies were so important that it would be wrong to charge for them.

While understandable, Lanier said that decision ignored other alternatives. Books, he noted were also important, but we have libraries rather than making them free.

Placing blame: Lanier said he thinks most of the people at the companies are well-intentioned.

"I think this is a matter of a globally tragic, astoundingly ridiculous mistake rather than a wave of evil," he said during his TED talk, part of the weeklong conference's opening session.

But, but but: He said society itself is at risk unless we make the painful and likely time consuming choice to go back and revisit that early decision.

" I don’t believe our species can survive unless we fix this," he said.

As an alternative, he recommended most users pay a Netflix-like monthly fee while the lowest income people have their search and social network services subsidized.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
3 mins ago - Politics & Policy

America is anxious, angry and heavily armed

Data: FBI; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Firearms background checks in the U.S. hit a record high in 2020.

The big picture: This past year took our collective arsenal to new heights, with millions of Americans buying guns for the first time. That trend coincides with a moment of peak political and social tension.

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

America on borrowed time

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Economic recovery will not be linear as the world continues to grapple with the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Why it matters: Despite being propped up by an extraordinary amount of fiscal stimulus and support from central banks, the state of the global economy remains fragile.

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.