“It’s the season of cyber-panic,” says The Guardian‘s John Harris, and then proceeds to add some more cyber-panic to the mix. After all, we’re well overdue for a reboot of the “Google is a dangerous monopoly” meme, aren’t we?
We seem to accept it as something as inarguable as the weather, but Google now has a terrifying dominance of the world’s internet use. In Europe, it controls around 90% of the online search market.
I’m not going to dispute the figures, but it’s not like there aren’t dozens of other search engines people could use. Even if you put forward ignorance of alternatives and userbase inertia as components of that dominance, I’m still failing to see how Google is the bad guy here.
As is Google’s apparent appetite for any technology business it can get its hands on: in the first 10 months of 2010 alone, it spent $1.6bn on new acquisitions. If you have ever raged against the stranglehold practised by Rupert Murdoch, bear one thing in mind: Google’s power now threatens to make him look like a village newsagent.
On the contrary; Google is more like a newsagent than Murdoch, because it’s primarily in the business of locating and supplying media and providing platforms for people to create their own; Murdoch is a top-down content creator and peddler of dubious ideological flim-flam. Or, to put it another way: Google owns pipelines, Murdoch sells sewage.
Google has a shot not at control of the means to access information, but the information itself. Potentially all information, which is something worth panicking about.
Google has no “shot at controlling all information” whatsoever. If it starts censoring or massaging its results – which would get spotted pretty quickly, thanks to legions of competitors looking for a handful of mud to sling – Josephine Average can simply use an alternative search engine, blogging platform, online video hosting service, whatever. Google is not a telco; it has no way of controlling what comes into your house via that bit of optical fibre unless you choose to use it as a gateway. Mister Harris’ concern should perhaps be directed toward the telcos themselves, whose resistance to net neutrality is far more suspect and manipulative than Google’s dominant market share in search.
In one of those turnabouts that defy satire, Microsoft is pursuing Google via the European commission, claiming that it unfairly promotes its own services via web searches.
Y’know what? When I look at the BT website, they don’t tell me about the offerings from other telcos. When I look at Microsoft’s website, I don’t see a message saying “or, of course, you could always get a Mac”. When I go to Burger King, there are no ads for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Microsoft’s lawsuit is petulant tit-for-tat obstructionism, nothing more.
In Texas, antitrust investigations by the attorney general’s office are ongoing, triggered by websites’ complaints about their lowly Google rankings.
Google makes it very clear how to make your site rank well, and what actions will count against you. Their algos aren’t perfect, of course… but they fix them regularly and are fairly transparent about how and why they do so. If you don’t like Google’s rules, don’t optimise for their search engine. Google doesn’t owe your business a living.
Yesterday, Bloomberg ran a story with the headline “Google Antitrust Probe by US Could Take Years”, and paraphrased a renowned technology lawyer: “The agency is likely to examine whether Google is using its position in internet search to subdue rivals in adjacent markets with threats and jacked-up advertising rates.” It would certainly be a start.
Sounds more like a fishing expedition than an effort to fix a clear and observable problem to me… one that will tie up the company’s resources and energies in proving its innocence. Given the source of said lawsuit – oh, look, Microsoft again! – it’s not exactly hard to assume that someone is more interested in throwing caltrops into Google’s path than working out ways of competing in the marketplace in which Google dominates. Shorter version: if you can’t beat ’em, use the legal system to slow ’em down while you try to get a jump on ’em.
In the meantime, some advice, not least for employees of the US government. Don’t feed the tiger. Think back to the frontier days of dial-up, when pluralism reigned. Have a look around for alternative email providers, search engines and video-sharing sites.
This is pretty much the only sensible paragraph in the whole damned piece: the US government is indeed extremely unwise to rely on outsourced services if secrecy is of great importance (though they’re not exactly great at internal security when they do keep things local, either), and – if you really do fear Google’s dominance – you should put your money where your mouth is and use someone else’s services.
Cue accusations of Google fanboyism in 5… 4… 3… Look, I don’t care for Google any more than I care for any other company that provides me with useful services, I fully understand that they’re a profit-orientated business and that “don’t be evil” is very open to intrpretation as a coprporate slogan, and I’m happy to rag on them when their stuff doesn’t work (which is why I’m an unstinting Blogger hater, f’rinstance). Show me evidence that Google are spiking the competition’s wheels, and I’ll gladly hear your case. But if all you can do is bitch about the fact that 90% of people think they deliver the best results and use them as a result, I’m going to file you under “probable axe to grind”, or possibly “journalist in search of nebulous bogey-man”.
14 thoughts on “Fear of a Google planet”
Did you know well over 90% of pub goers drink beer? Twinings are readying their court case as we speak.
Perhaps the main thing that scares me about Google is that it doesn’t scare me. They’ve managed to become a worldwide mega-corp without doing anything to raise my suspicions or make me doubt their ‘don’t be evil’ motto. They have a name that sounds like baby talk and a cute kindergarten logo, and they provide a host of services which are actually useful. And free. I trust them with all my information. So this, in its own way, makes me more fearful than a company more obviously evil in its intent.
Oh, gosh, a company is actually providing a service people want – we can’t have that, can we? Weird to think that competence now equals conspiracy!
Ok, Paul, how much is Schmidt paying you? 🙂
“I’m not going to dispute the figures, but it’s not like there aren’t dozens of other search engines people could use. Even if you put forward ignorance of alternatives and userbase inertia as components of that dominance, I’m still failing to see how Google is the bad guy here.”
It’s not about ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’, this is not a Spaghetti Western. You could have Mother Theresa running a thermonuclear weapon company who makes the fabest cutesy pastel Easter-themed neutron bombs, supports anti-African malaria charities, is carbon neutral and who shits hummus-flavored granola. The fact that Larry and Sergei are nice geeky engineers you’d like to have a Red Bull who don’t really want a monopoly on the world’s communication and knowledge acquisition systems does not change the scaryness of the consolidation of power inherent in Google and similar tech companies. Every dictatorship starts out as a well-meaning revolution.
The “if people don’t like it they can just hop on over to some other search engine” argument is about as naive as the belief that anything like a free market actually exists in the real world. Perhaps in the Ivory Tower where Homo Economicus denizens frolick in ideal worlds hewn of theory, there we might actually have perfect or even functioning competition. It’s nice to theorize about how all inefficiencies and bad aspects of companies get magically worked out by Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”, but in the real world we have to look at how people actually behave. It’s like saying, “If people don’t like Coke, they can always drink Pepsi.” Don’t like eBay? You can always exert vast amounts of your personal time and energy hand-peddling your products to the 3 billion people on the internet for a fraction of the targeted eyeballs you’d get from eBay. Companies in the search business, like companies in the soft drink business, follow a Power Law distribution, that is, the vast majority of market share is inevitably controlled by a tiny minority of companies, and the barriers to entry of any new entrepreneurial venture into an existing mature industry, such as soft drinks or search, are so immense that the free market competition factor is so distorted it becomes essentially nil, ultimately resulting in a universal attractor state of near-monopoly. Oligopoly, if you like. This is why almost all small businesses ventures are in smaller, non-Power Law sectors (What Nassim Taleb calls “mediocristan”) like restaurants, or are inventing some new business niche who has not yet developed a monopolistic stasis (as the venture capitalist who started Google once did).
This effect goes DOUBLY for internet companies who, on top of the business Power Law, have the monstrous advantage of software lock-in and network lock-in. Software lock-in manifests as the substrata of established code, protocols and API upon which new programs are built become exponentially more difficult to dislodge and revamp as time passes. Network lock-in is best illustrated in the eBay example where the user utility of the service (internet auctions) increases dramatically with increase in user base, thus creating a winner-take-all feedback loop causing the company with the most users to become the Master Node for that particular market. The best utility for auctions (most eyeballs, cheapest prices) can be garnered via eBay, so users will naturally continue to flock there until either they shut down for whatever reason or people stop wanting to auction their stuff off (not likely). The Google of the pre-ubiquitous-internet era was of course Microsoft, who controlled 90% marketshare of OS and productivity software (90%… seeing a pattern here? 😉 ). So Google dominating the search and online ad market (and recommendation engine market and self-driving cars and libraries, and…) is not some unexpected Black Swan out of left field. Thing is, it gets scary when they start branching out into email, mobile phones, mobile OSes, and via the Google suite of online docs spreadsheets etc. they’re trying to SUBSUME all of Microsft’s necropolising empire. And they’re not stopping there.
But even if Google *was*
And it’s a misleading misnomer to say that Google’s business is search, especially at this point in their evolution. Their real business is information filtering. That is, using Google search is actually NOT unbiased when you examine their actual ranking methods closely. The #1 search results are not determined by some democratic pagerank devoid of external influence: the #1 site for any given term is regularly auctioned off, often for millions in high-value words like “smartphone” or “luxury car”. Their business is already fundamentally one of manipulation of the flow of information for their own profit, like an astronomically expensive dating service connecting consumers with businesses. During theGulf incident, BP bought up the “premium result” positions of every keyword permutation remotely associated with “oilspill” or “BP”, effectively rearranging the information ecosystem to suit their interests, buying reality. And that’s not some aberration; almost every common-language word is bought and paid for.
Now add the fact that they Google is “personalizing” each individual’s search, effectively *deciding* for us what we *should* be viewing based on the gargantuan dossier of information on each and every one of us that they collect including our browsing habits to our location spacetime-graph to our friends (which they’re datamining out of Facebook: a synergy of panopticons!) which makes any Chinese dictator or the NSA’s Echelon look like small town cops. I mean really, Big Brother is here, it’s just unevenly recognized. Of course they’re not telling us exactly what’s in these “recommendation engine” filters, and who knows the degree to which moneyed interests are leaning on and coloring those filters on our eyes, selling our little “Google bubbles” of consensus reality to the highest bidder. Maybe someone slips Google a nice chunk of change and the filters suddenly discover you really really like Nike over Addidas. Maybe Google decides that you really really don’t want to be reading about the incidences of cancer caused by some new 8G phone. Maybe you discover searches for the opponent of a Wall Street-backed political candidate starts returning scandals and swift-boat like smear articles on them in the news results. I suppose if we are to believe Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt, they’ll soon be deciding “what we’ll be doing next”, which ultimately translates into, “what you’ll buy next”, and “who you’ll vote for next”. But, hey, maybe this multibillion dollar corporation is just a bunch of really nice guys, right!?
“Sounds more like a fishing expedition than an effort to fix a clear and observable problem to me… one that will tie up the company’s resources and energies in proving its innocence.”
Or, you know, maybe you’re just making an assumption. Perhaps Google has successfully warped your mind into believing all their press releases and that their search algorithms are “completely unbiased!” just like they say. Perhaps you’ve been convinced that they’re not some megaglomerate corporation whose top priority of maximization of profit, that they’re actually “Not Evil” as their cutesy little slogan purports. They certainly invest massive amounts of resources and energy into the PR to develop that image.
Google doesn’t need to “control every bit of information that comes into your house” like some brute-force authoritarian censor-state like China. No, their method of control is much more elegant and effective. You don’t even *know* the manipulation is happening: you just accept that what pops up in Google’s results is what’s reality, because we can’t actually see behind Google’s one-way mirrors into their algorithms to tell. (Damn that big dumb Microsoft challenging poor little anti-authoritarian rebel altruistic geeky Google!)
As Jon aptly puts it: “Perhaps the main thing that scares me about Google is that it doesn’t scare me. They’ve managed to become a worldwide mega-corp without doing anything to raise my suspicions or make me doubt their ‘don’t be evil’ motto.”
And if your goal is to dominate the means of communication and information acquistition, and thus potentially information itself, then paving your path with a facade of “good intentions” so that people don’t take notice of you is par for the course.
And even if Larry and Sergei really are just cute little idealistic Silicon Valley crunchy-granolas who truly just believe “information wants to be free”, that doesn’t mean the CEOs and The Money behind Google will always be so benign. Again, it’s not about good and bad, but about the *potential* ugliness: that is the scary thing. If you’re worried about Orwell’s 1984 scenarios not self-defeating, you have to look no further than the non-reflective screen of your Android Phone’s default search engine.
That’s quite a lengthy rant, Wintermute, but I agree with you on quite a bit of it.
The “Don’t be Evil” mantra is absolute bollocks. It manages to be both bland and scary at the same time. It’s a figleaf that may have once been well-intentioned but is now just another slogan. And however nice Sergey and Larry may be, they no longer control the business, and inevitably they will eventually no longer have any say in what the shareholders of Google Inc decide to do with the world’s information. However, I can confidently predict that what they decide to do will be to use it to make as much money as they possibly can, in whatever means they can get away with. This is what companies exist to do – indeed, they are legally obliged to do so. Don’t be Evil is meaningless because the concept of “evil” has no meaning to a corporate entity. They are by definition amoral. As was once said – “they have no bodies to kick nor souls to damn”.
Google will therefore certainly manipulate information in search results if they believe it will make them more money. The fact that they say that they are only delivering the results that customers want is not just irrelevant – it’s actually part of the problem People do tend to like what they are familiar with. But pandering to this neophobe instinct is not a recipe for progress as a culture. We owe it to ourselves as humans to seek out the new and challenging, not just live within our bubble. I’d argue that this is the single most powerful thing the Internet has brought us, and I would expect this blog to strongly support the idea that new ideas are worth hearing and exploring, even if they contradict our current beliefs. Google adjusting my search results based on my past history runs directly counter to this.
What worries me most is that we end up with people only seeing the information and opinions that they want to hear.The polarisation of culture (especially in the US) is already a problem. What will be much worse if when we people live inside dangerously self-contained echo chambers that they do not even know exist. That is truly scary.
Check out this for more info: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOTPz7KnwIA&feature=share
You’re both making valid points, but there’s a core assumption to both screeds which I think is unsubstantiated, and undermines the points to some degree. It’s best summed up by Ian’s sentence:
This is definitely a concern; I’m well aware of the dangers of the echo-chamber effect, and of confirmation bias. The issue I have is with “end up with”… as if in the not-too-distant past we were all living in some wonderful utopia of free access to all information for everyone. I’m sure I don’t need to belabour the point that we weren’t. Indeed, access to information is unquestionably more open than it has ever been for the vast majority of people thanks to the network effect of the internet and related technologies, though I’ll concede that not everyone understands how best to get the full picture; we’d do better to advise our fellow citizens to clue themselves up than complain about the inherent bias of channels. (When living on the savannah, one should learn to defend oneself from lions rather than expecting the lions to listen to your ethical reasoning as to why they shouldn’t eat you; the ethical option would be more ideal, but we do not live in an ideal world.)
So, yes; the threat of information control is there, but the carrot of profitability can be turned into a stick if we remember that those profits ultimately come from our own attention. If Google’s massaging of your result based on previous searches concerns you, turn it off; if Google in general concerns you, don’t use it. We are obliged to police the corporations who provide us with services by being careful and thoughtful about just such matters. The alternative is to turn to the government and ask for regulation… and as regulation these days seems to depend on how much money the corporations spend on lobbying for policies that suit them, it should come as no surprise that regulation-by-gov’t fails. (One look at the Wall Street SNAFU right now is a pretty clear indication of that; regulation is a great idea in principle, but when you depend on a corrupt third party to regulate your intercourse with a major industry, you might as well let the dogs off the leash entirely; without the patronage and approval of the third party to preselect the hierarchy, they will be forced to compete with each other for your approval. This is a real free market, rather than the rigged game that conservative oligopolists label as such; I’d find the hand-wringing over the horrors of free markets much easier to take if anyone could demonstrate that they were actually living under one.)
My point is not that we shouldn’t worry about how corporations behave. Quite the opposite; we should make a point of keeping very much abreast of how they behave, and lobby those corporations directly in the only language they will listen to, namely money – or, in the case of Google, the eyeball time that they convert into money. Representative democracy has left us with a sort of civilisational laziness: we’re incredibly happy when smart people in sharp suits offer to make their careers and livings out of looking out for our best interests on our behalf, but when – shockingly! – it turns out that they actually end up looking out for their own interests first, well, that’s unthinkably unfair, and totally wrong. And then we elect another batch of them four years later; rinse and repeat.
So, Wintermute, we are actually in full concordance about “potential ugliness”, but I hold that potential ugliness is the risk that offsets potential beauty; the no-risk alternative is stasis, which is even more conducive to hierarchical control. So how’s this for a T-shirt slogan, a sort of altermodern remix of caveat emptor: “Regulation – if you want something doing properly, do it yourself.” 😉
Paul: I, too, found your post to be uncharacteristically naive. I will not repeat what Wintermute and Ian have so clearly stated (besides, I would not be so good at that 🙂 ), but I fully agree with most of it.
The problem is that Google is so good at providing useful and well-designed services that I have to make a constant effort *not* to use them outside of the search engine (this is my own threshold of acceptable compromise). I really can’t see how the average non-paranoid internet user can (or should!) endure that… and in fact almost everyone I know does not.
So: let’s assume that, presently, Google is actually and perfectly Not Being Evil. If, at any time in the future, it will decide that (for whatever reason, such as… profit) it will become necessary to become A Little Bit Evil, people will not react significantly. They will have too much to lose: their lives will be so dependent on Google’s services and databases that disentangling themselves from all of that will require great work, and much of their activities and social relations would be disrupted by the process. Massive user reaction can be foreseen only if and when Google will have evidently become Really Really Evil (which, if its managers are not stupid, it will never happen: maybe Google will asymptotically tend to the threshold, but never cross it). In that extreme case, yes, we will all take our eyeballs and emails and whatever elsewhere; but why should such an Evil Google refrain from using the monstruous amount of data that it have collected about its (former) users in any possibly profitable way, however nasty?
Sorry to be so catastrophic, but the simple truth is that when an extremely large amount of power collects in the hands of a few people, however Not Evil they are, something bad usually happens. Generally when that someone retires; and someone else gets to run the business.
Which is pretty much how party politics in representational democracies works, too, but suggesting that needs dismantling also tends to get me labelled as a naive loony. (There’s a theme developing here, isn’t there? 🙂 )
Basically, what you’re saying is “we can’t trust ourselves (considered as a societal mass of consumers) not to consume The Useful Thing and make its creators into a very rich and powerful hierarchy, so we must instead ask a rich and powerful hierarchy that feeds on our labour to protect us from The Useful Thing’s creators, and from ourselves!”
Shorter, less snarky version: you’re perfectly entitled to believe I’m naive to take the risk of Google going rogue without interference in the market. But by the same token I believe you’re equally naive to trust in a corrupt regulatory system to put your interests before those of other businesses and shareholders, and for exactly the same set of reasons.
I can chose which search engine to use; I can’t choose which parliament represents me (though I do get the illusion of control thanks to a fractional choice in who sits in said parliament, even though I have no way of holding them to account for their voting on my behalf except by waiting another four years for another illusory binary choice).
I know which system I feel more empowered by. 🙂
Dear Paul, I am *not* suggesting that “we must instead ask a rich and powerful hierarchy that feeds on our labour to protect us from The Useful Thing’s creators, and from ourselves!”. We should know better, and act consequently by taking our own decisions and responsibilities. I just do not feel confident that the majority of people are going to do that unless it’s too late; or that the market is going to push them towards anything else than what’s worst for them.
With all its obvious limits, representative democracy does call you to take part in political decisions (however indirectly) once every four years; while multinational companies such as Google (which take part in the world’s politics even more than nation states) don’t even give you back that small sliver of power. You only get the questionable freedom to opt out.
Thanks for the interesting discussion!
“without the patronage and approval of the third party to preselect the hierarchy, they will be forced to compete with each other for your approval. This is a real free market, rather than the rigged game that conservative oligopolists label as such; I’d find the hand-wringing over the horrors of free markets much easier to take if anyone could demonstrate that they were actually living under one”
By the same token, governments were the only thing standing in the way of a return to monarchy via the original megaglomerates that emerged as the oil tycoons and Captains of Industry consolidated a century ago when Big Scary Government actually broke up these mass consolidations of power and wealth via trust-busting. If it were not for government anti-trust mandate, in fact, Microsoft would have been allowed to become that gigantic monolithic Big-Bro Cthulu-corp whose shadow is looking increasingly like Google’s. They’d still be overcharging us 40x what their cash cow systems are worth, and probably would have succeeded in subsuming the burgeoning tech and Web 2.0 industries as they had planned via hostile takeover and overt buyout-demolition of the competition. (Not to mention they’d be overcharging us 40x what their dinosaurware is worth, rather than the current 10x we’re fettered with.)
It’s fair to say that the government has not exactly been the exceptional white knight saving the user-damsels from the Big Actually Evil corporations. Government is often just the public-sector arm of The Money, playing second fiddle to the MotU’s corporations. I’ve blown my fair share of commentspace ranting about that as well. However, government does actually serve a purpose in the world, contrary to the anarchist Tweet-circle dogma.
I also fail to see how your response addresses anything that I said previously, particularly in these paragraphs:
“The “if people don’t like it they can just hop on over to some other search engine” argument is about as naive as the belief that anything like a free market actually exists in the real world. Perhaps in the Ivory Tower where Homo Economicus denizens frolick in ideal worlds hewn of theory, there we might actually have perfect or even functioning competition. It’s nice to theorize about how all inefficiencies and bad aspects of companies get magically worked out by Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”, but in the real world we have to look at how people actually behave. It’s like saying, “If people don’t like Coke, they can always drink Pepsi.” Don’t like eBay? You can always exert vast amounts of your personal time and energy hand-peddling your products to the 3 billion people on the internet for a fraction of the targeted eyeballs you’d get from eBay. Companies in the search business, like companies in the soft drink business, follow a Power Law distribution, that is, the vast majority of market share is inevitably controlled by a tiny minority of companies, and the barriers to entry of any new entrepreneurial venture into an existing mature industry, such as soft drinks or search, are so immense that the free market competition factor is so distorted it becomes essentially nil, ultimately resulting in a universal attractor state of near-monopoly. Oligopoly, if you like. This is why almost all small businesses ventures are in smaller, non-Power Law sectors (What Nassim Taleb calls “mediocristan”) like restaurants, or are inventing some new business niche who has not yet developed a monopolistic stasis (as the venture capitalist who started Google once did).
This effect goes DOUBLY for internet companies who, on top of the business Power Law, have the monstrous advantage of software lock-in and network lock-in. Software lock-in manifests as the substrata of established code, protocols and API upon which new programs are built become exponentially more difficult to dislodge and revamp as time passes. Network lock-in is best illustrated in the eBay example where the user utility of the service (internet auctions) increases dramatically with increase in user base, thus creating a winner-take-all feedback loop causing the company with the most users to become the Master Node for that particular market. The best utility for auctions (most eyeballs, cheapest prices) can be garnered via eBay, so users will naturally continue to flock there until either they shut down for whatever reason or people stop wanting to auction their stuff off (not likely). The Google of the pre-ubiquitous-internet era was of course Microsoft, who controlled 90% marketshare of OS and productivity software (90%… seeing a pattern here? ). So Google dominating the search and online ad market (and recommendation engine market and self-driving cars and libraries, and…) is not some unexpected Black Swan out of left field. Thing is, it gets scary when they start branching out into email, mobile phones, mobile OSes, and via the Google suite of online docs spreadsheets etc. they’re trying to SUBSUME all of Microsft’s necropolising empire. And they’re not stopping there.”
The thrust of your article implied that there was some simple solution on the “free market” end – “just don’t buy the stuff!”, voting with dollars, AKA eyeballs in the case of ad-based and information-manipulation based business models.
My point is: there is no “just do x” panacea solution, as you originally suggested. Any attempt at unraveling the ubiquitous juggernaut of Google will be horribly complex and inefficient, and definitely not simple as choosing Coke instead of Pepsi. the the the legislative and market solutions are both equally illusions of control, smoke and mirrors; on the Left we’ve got the smoke of blowhard politicos taking under-the-table bribes from the paper shufflers, on the Right we’ve got the mirrors reflecting ourselves, saying it’s “you” who have to pull your corporations down by their own market-based monopoly bootstrapping. I’ve already discussed at length the issues with the second fallacy in my previous posts.
In all truth, we need to try to not tie one hand behind our back to spite the other. Google knows, we’ll need both if we want better than the chances of a paper dog chasing an asbestos cat through hell of coming out of this “singularity” of recentralization.
This is going to digress a bit OT but I thought it might bear consideration
“If Google’s massaging of your result based on previous searches concerns you, turn it off; if Google in general concerns you, don’t use it.”
Let’s examine this syllogism: If the oncoming cataclysms of anthropogenic climate change concern you, stop using gas-powered cars. Stop connecting to energy grids utilizing power generated via the burning of fossil fuels. Stop buying products in whose supply chain include massive coal-burning factories. Stop taking 747s. Forget government incentivization regulation in California that has effectively zeroed their energy consumption growth: the free market will sort it out, just like it does in the Foxconn et. al. factories who dump a trillion tons of toxic waste into The People’s primary source of clean fresh water like it was toxic Goldman Sachs paper on the American public. Kick government intervention out of the automotive industry: who needs seatbelts. Don’t like your pay? Go find another job, even if every job in your city pays 10 yuan a day for you to work 16 hours w/out overtime in a room full of cyanide-laced lathes making iPads: that’s just the unfettered free market working its magic “efficiencies” on you. Let’s just get rid of those failed attempts at government intervention known as minimum wage, workplace safety laws, unionization, universal healthcare. Oh wait, you wouldn’t know the joys of showing up at the hospital with a sprained knee and having to sell your house to pay for the bill or being denied care because your cancer was a “pre-existing condition”; you guys have all that terribly inefficient tyrannical government healthcare intervention! What a dystopia! Let’s allow Microsoft to continue to completely skew the software industry playing field in their favor by assimilation and destruction of bright burgeoning young Larry and Sergeis, and creating prohibitive barriers to entry into the business! If you don’t like it, you can all switch all your office machines to Linux, and I’m sure Gates will come weeping to you with cheap, open-souce business productivity software, begging for your dollars as his Silicon Empire crumbles from all the “user regulation”. I mean, that was the story of the 90’s right?
It’s called tragedy of the commons: it’s why we have the resources to nuke ourselves to hell and back 1000 times over but 1/6 of the world is starving to death. It’s why we’re still playing hot-potato and fuck-our-grandchildren with climate change. It’s why there is still massive inequality, human rights violations, a massive banking crisis, and why people still use Google even if in the long run it may not be in their best interests. It’s called tragedy of the commons, and despite all the Ayn Randian hand-waving of the hand-wringing, it doesn’t just vanish in a flurry of Ivory Tower prose.
Both market solutions AND regulatory solutions are not panning out so hot nowadays because The 500 Frat Brother plutocracy owns both channels, for the most part. But any sort of miraculous mass-enlightenment of the citizenry that would lead people to a level of informed activism and consumer power made available via wealth such that huge swaths stopped using Google would also be informed, active, and clouty enough to cut the puppet-master strings and take back their representative democracy. Thus allowing reasonable and prudential regulation across the board.(i.e. a renstatement Glass-Steagal which would be a massive influx of chemo-therapy into the bankster-cancer ridden veins of the shadow financial system). I mean look at Canada, they’re the perfect empirical regulation-vs-free market experiment: where US self-regulation meant no regulation, Canada actually had teeth-laden frequent checks on leverage, derivatives, mark-to-market requirements, the whole regulation shebang, and they came out way ahead, economically, after the Global Near-Apocalypse of 2008. These wise philosopher-citizens would also see that the uber centralization of information collection, dissemination and transmission happening over in Google Town is at best a trust that needs to be fractured into lean competing entities via the Sherman Act, and at worst needs to be seriously regulated by governmental bodies held to strict account by their now very involved citizens who have stamped out the campaign finance corporate loop hole with their newfound empowered intelligence. Hell, if people were actually well-informed and consistently acted in their own best interests all the time, they’d descend in droves, shotguns and pitchforks in hand upon DC, and shut that cess pool down. Hell, we’d probably have near-utopia, as most anthropocentric problems stem from ignorance, laziness, and weakness.
All the counter arguments here seem to be that you should never, ever, ever make a range of products that work so well they become ubiquitous, because their ubiquity could make them well placed to be used for unknown evil purposes in an unspecified way at an unknowable time in the future.
Or in other words, don’t invent the wheel, because someone’s bound to use it to roll cannons around on.
If everyone here seems to prefer unconnected, buggy, unintuitive software products, I guess that makes Yahoo! the ultimate in anti-establishment geek-chic.
To deadmanjones: almost, but not exactly. I would modify your phrase in this way:
“All the counter arguments here seem to be that you should never, ever, ever allow the growth of concentrations of power of any kind that are so well organized that they become ubiquitous, because their ubiquity could make them well placed to be used for unknown evil purposes in an unspecified way at an unknowable time in the future.” Unless, of course, you set up at the same time a mechanism providing direct influence of single citizens on the behaviour of such concentration of power: say, elections.
Products have an election; every time you elect to use them.
Product and power are not synonyms.
They are frequently entangled, frequently ubiquitous because dictatorships enforce a monopoly and destroy competition within all businesses. Like in Russia. Or China. Or other places where Google isn’t.
But if you find yourself fully able to choose from a “range of products”, then there has been no “concentration of power”, and replacing one phrase for the other does nothing to prove otherwise.
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