Or at least, your employer might be. Over the years we in the tech sector have gotten used to being well-regarded. After all, we make people’s lives better, on balance. That’s changing. At the moment it’s rumblings from thought leaders, not pervasive popular anger. The other thing that’s new is that they’re thought leaders who are progressives and liberals; just like most of us in the tech professions. It notably involves the M-word and those of us on the inside need to be thinking about it.
The general public, by and large, love reading the news of their friends and the world on Facebook, buying stuff cheap on Amazon, using Google maps and mail for free, and using recent Windows releases at work.
But these days, it seems like every other day I read a chilling anti-tech rant, usually written by someone smart, articulate, and (like me) leftist. Here are a few recent offerings:
A Serf on Google’s Farm: About how the advertising end of the business fails to combine customer support and scalability, and what it feels like to be a minor customer: “It’s a bit like being assimilated by the Borg. You get cool new powers. But having been assimilated, if your implants were ever removed, you’d certainly die.” “Google is so big and so powerful that even when it’s trying to do something good, it can be dangerous and frightening.”
You can’t quit Facebook, a Twitter rant by Matt Stoller: “Your data and identity is trapped inside a machine that spends huge $$$ to addict and manipulate you, your friends, and your culture.” “We cannot as individual consumers resist the tens of billions spent to manipulate us. But we as citizens can do so through politics.”
Margrethe Vestager’s growing American fan club, on the savvy Eurocrat who’s been tormenting Google, Apple, and Facebook: “There is growing concern … about bigness and size, and power because power corrupts absolutely.”
There’s Blood In The Water In Silicon Valley: “This sort of political change happens slowly until it happens fast. Uber provided a new model for a transformative tech giant to crash through with a dark, negative brand.”
Facebook’s Heading Toward a Bruising Run-In With the Russia Probe, interesting not so much for the Russian angle but for the visceral contempt for Facebook: “Facebook’s ‘internal policies’ amount to a kind of Stepford Wives version of civic liberalism and speech and privacy rights, the outward form of the things preserved while the innards have been gutted and replaced by something entirely different, an aggressive and totalizing business model which in many ways turns these norms and values on their heads.”
Disclosures · I’m not going to claim my curation is unbiased. I left out Microsoft because, weirdly, nobody seems to hate Microsoft that much any more. I certainly don’t. I left out Twitter because it’s not actually a company, it’s a dysfunctional non-profit that accidentally provides a valuable service. I left out Amazon (although it appears in a few of those pieces) because I’d have no chance of coming anywhere near balance.
The M-Word · It’s “Monopoly” of course. If you follow the links above and read, the authors come at the tech giants from every which direction, but always ending up banging out the monopoly melody. Sometimes they say “corporate concentration” or another euphemism, because being anti-monopoly sounds kind of old-fashioned; and anyhow, shouldn’t you be talking about Comcast or United?
Not any more. A lot of smart people think it’s good economics, good policy, and good politics to aim the anti-trust gun at the tech sector. I’m not saying they’re wrong. I’m also not predicting that they’ll get any traction, particularly in the America where the short-term focus has to be on combating Nazis and pussy-grabbers.
But this is a trend that nobody in technology leadership should ignore.