In The Grand Deflection category, mark your calendars: Where were you the first time you heard the word “tech lash”? They are the spin they’ve been waiting for.
Facebook hires former senior government officials to lobby for Facebook to use its tools for more surveillance capitalism by roiling against the surveillance state that uses their tools to perfect the totalitarian state.
Welcome to The Party.
[Sir Nick Clegg t]he former deputy prime minister [and now lobbyist for Facebook] has said the social network plans to set up an independent oversight board to which people can appeal against content decisions made by Facebook. [But wait…they’re a platform…they’re a publisher…they’re a platform….]
He also defended the company, saying it was the victim of a “tech lash”.
[This is a highly insightful post by professors at the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia (ARW readers will recall that Terry hosted the first Artist Rights Symposium a couple months ago where I spoke and of course is where David Lowery teaches. Gunton & Hendrix make the case for regulating Facebook which make for required reading alongside Jonathan Taplin’s work. (Prof. Taplin keynoted the Artist Rights Symposium.)]
On Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg finally ended days of silence and set out on a media tour to explain Facebook’s role in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. CNN’s Laurie Segall asked him if he was worried about Facebook facing government regulation after what he admitted was a massive breach of trust between the platform and its users. “I actually am not sure we shouldn’t be regulated,” he said. “I think in general technology is an increasingly important trend in the world. I think the question is more what is the right regulation rather than ‘yes or no should we be regulated?’”
It is certainly time for a robust international conversation about how best to regulate social media platforms, and data privacy more generally. Major technology companies — including Facebook, Google, Twitter, SNAP and others — define the information ecosystem in much of the world. Barely regulated and rarely held accountable, these companies are completely transforming the public sphere. While these platforms present new opportunities to connect people around the world, they also create new spaces for bad actors that wish to spread misinformation, encourage terrorism or incite violence, engage in online harassment, steal personal data, restrict free speech and suppress dissent.
As this urgent conversation gets underway, here are some factors to consider when imagining new regulations…
Before you think it can’t happen to Google or Facebook, remember–if you told a room full of MBAs in 1984 that in a few years time Drexel Burnham Lambert would be bankrupt and Michael Milken would be in prison, you would have been laughed out of the room. And also remember–they almost got Google on violations of the Controlled Substances Act. If you’re concerned, call your representatives at (202) 224-3121 and tell them you want an investigation into Google and its price fixing cartel the MIC Coalition.
The blinding rise of Donald Trump over the past year has masked another major trend in American politics: the palpable, and perhaps permanent, turn against the tech industry. The new corporate leviathans that used to be seen as bright new avatars of American innovation are increasingly portrayed as sinister new centers of unaccountable power, a transformation likely to have major consequences for the industry and for American politics.
That turn has accelerated in recent days: Steve Bannon and Bernie Sanders both want big tech treated as, in Bannon’s words in Hong Kong this week, “public utilities.” Tucker Carlson and Franklin Foer have found common ground. Even the group No Labels, an exquisitely poll-tested effort to create a safe new center, is on board. Rupert Murdoch, never shy to use his media power to advance his commercial interests, is hard at work.
“Anti-trust is back,
baby,” Yelp’s policy chief, Luther Lowe, DM’d me after Fox News gave him several minutes to make the antitrust case against Yelp’s giant rival Google to its audience of millions….
So Facebook should probably ease out of the business of bland background statements and awkward photo ops, and start worrying about congressional testimony. Amazon, whose market power doesn’t fall into the categories envisioned by pre-internet antitrust law, is developing a bipartisan lobby that wants to break it up. Google’s public affairs efforts are starting to look a bit like the oil industry’s. These are the existential collisions with political power that can shake and redefine industries and their leaders, not the nickel-and-dime regulatory games Silicon Valley has played to date.
[Editor Charlie sez: Remember that most of these companies are in the MIC Coalition cartel that is colluding to destroy songwriters, and royalty deadbeat Facebook refuses to license at all.]
Until recently, it was easy to define our most widely known corporations. Any third-grader could describe their essence. Exxon sells gas; McDonald’s makes hamburgers; Walmart is a place to buy stuff. This is no longer so. Today’s ascendant monopolies aspire to encompass all of existence. Google derives from googol, a number (1 followed by 100 zeros) that mathematicians use as shorthand for unimaginably large quantities. Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google with the mission of organizing all knowledge, but that proved too narrow. They now aim to build driverless cars, manufacture phones and conquer death. Amazon, which once called itself “the everything store,” now produces television shows, owns Whole Foods and powers the cloud. The architect of this firm, Jeff Bezos, even owns this newspaper.
Along with Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, these companies are in a race to become our “personal assistant.” They want to wake us in the morning, have their artificial intelligence software guide us through our days and never quite leave our sides. They aspire to become the repository for precious and private items, our calendars and contacts, our photos and documents. They intend for us to turn unthinkingly to them for information and entertainment while they catalogue our intentions and aversions. Google Glass and the Apple Watch prefigure the day when these companies implant their artificial intelligence in our bodies. Brin has mused, “Perhaps in the future, we can attach a little version of Google that you just plug into your brain.”
More than any previous coterie of corporations, the tech monopolies aspire to mold humanity into their desired image of it.
Five to 10 years ago, independent bloggers used to be able to getby on internet advertising, like the broadsheets of yore. But that changed quite quickly, and for two big reasons: Facebook and Google. They now gobble up the vast majority of internet advertising dollars — about 85 percent, as my colleague Jeff Spross writes — and a great many media outlets have been forced to move to direct subscriptions or other business models.
Google and Facebook manage this because they are platform monopolists. They can exert tremendous influence through their control of how people use the internet — and crush productive businesses in the process. Like any monopoly, it is long since time that the government regulated them to serve the public interest….
The upshot here is that both Google’s overwhelming search dominance and their profitable exploitation thereof are almost wholly unmerited in terms of their actual product. Google is a fine tool, but what defines the company is luck. Its profits come from a largely unearned strategic position within a socially-created communication medium. Devouring a small business that provided Google and the internet writ large with quality research simply to keep people fenced onto their own portion of the internet is just one particularly egregious example how this position can be abused.