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.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Rob (Sep 21 2017, at 05:16)

There is something afoot that I can't find the source. I do want to say it's due to the internet where anyone can say anything. In the past, such sources of information and education would be culled by professional, educated "cullers" but, now, someone may pick up a piece and run with it which turns into a meme, a fight, an affront, a movement.

Then there is the hypothesis that these movements are started by an outside agency, government, or what-have-you to stir up trouble or tear down others. It's easy. Just get on the internet where there are no cullers. Or the cullers have their own agenda and will censor what you say in the interest of protecting others or promote what you say in the interest of "free speech".

The great thing about the internet is anyone can say anything and the worst thing about the internet is anyone can say anything.

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From: Dana F. Blankenhorn (Sep 21 2017, at 05:18)

This is something I've been noodling on at my blog for some time.

I have no doubt that "anti-monopoly" fear of tech can kill the bull market.

But the top 5 tech companies are now worth $3 trillion. They have the power to fight back, politically, if they want. When they get hit, they will want.

Reminds me of what happened to oil under the Carter Administration. They got hit, they hit back, the rest is history

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From: Steve (Sep 21 2017, at 06:03)

"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."

Wrong.

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From: Andrew Reilly (Sep 21 2017, at 06:09)

There has been talk about the Zaibatzu/Feudal overlords of course, but I don't think that's the main issue. The main issue is that legislated protections of speech are subsumed by (pan-national) terms of (on-line) service. These are always narrower than you would have had through any other medium or mode of discourse. When there isn't any other mode of discourse, how are we to defend your right to speech? You and I can say what we like on our home-spun blogs, right up until our ISPs notice...

At least we don't suffer from any of the network effects that make the big four look a bit like monopolies.

I say this as an Australian, in admiration of other people who have actual rights of free speech.

How can we be free and rebellious on-line if misbehavior is against the terms?

The news tonight was all about (anglophone) governments leaning on the very companies you mention, to try to get them to silence a particular brand of crazy dissent.

I have no idea what the right answer is.

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From: Bob Haugen (Sep 21 2017, at 17:04)

Whatcha got here, like it or not, is Google and Facebook competing to be the new world government. Amazon wants to be the new world economic system. Twitter wants to be the new world news organ.

Microsoft is, pleasantly, irrelevant...

And so are, increasingly, the various elected officials...

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From: Rob (Sep 21 2017, at 20:13)

There needs to be a neologism, or maybe I just can't find a word, that combines the idea of monopoly and conglomerate. Because when you look at the big boys, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and yes especially Amazon, what you see is not only are they kinda monopolistic, they are also all engaged in a diverse range of apparently unrelated businesses (hardware/gadgets and software, services and intellectual property, and now even retail books dry goods AND groceries, on top of cloud services, ahem).

Kinda like when department stores back in the day, say 50 plus years ago: Sears used to also sell insurance and credit cards, have a restaurant, medical & dental offices, an automotive garage, and a supermarket scale grocery store in the basement, all alongside their ostensible main business of basically selling clothing and toys. They also all made a ton on commercial real estate development and financing. To say nothing of the whole mail order thing.

There were good logical logistical reasons, from shipping/ receiving, warehousing, and financing in the back end to retail geographic convenience and advertising and purchasing muscle on the front end, to have all this diversity under one roof. But it all eventually did fall apart.

They were pretty nice places, actually, especially around Christmas. But when your choices were limited to Eatons, The Bay, or Sears, there surely wasn't much real competition going on. So what is the word for a monopolistic oligopoly of department stores?

GUM?

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From: Doug K (Sep 22 2017, at 11:07)

if you have not read it already, see @pinboard,

http://idlewords.com/talks/build_a_better_monster.htm

We no longer work in tech. We work in instruments of mass surveillance and social control. The low low prices of Amazon and free free email of Google make for a good public face: behind which ungood things are going on.

Facebook has built an instrument to subvert democracy. This isn't tech any more, this ain't no foolin' around. We have Nazis on the streets.

Tim O'Reilly is optimistic, bless him, but I do not share. We can't rewrite the optimization functions of the economy, since we have lost political control. Turns out all economics is still same as it ever was, political economy.

https://wtfeconomy.com/wtf-whats-the-future-and-why-it-s-up-to-us-c56cbe3cea2b

I loved this story from the better monster talk,

"Every time we went to the supermarket, my mom would give me a quarter to play Pac Man. As a good socialist kid, I thought the goal of the game was to help Pac Man, who was stranded in a maze and needed to find his friends, who were looking for him.

My games didn't last very long.

The correct way to play Pac Man, of course, is to consume as much as possible while running from the ghosts that relentlessly pursue you. This was a valuable early lesson in what it means to be an American. "

To Rob's point about GUM,

https://twitter.com/KarlreMarks/status/910076298516684801

Under communism you buy everything from a single state outlet, whereas under fully-mature capitalism you buy everything from Amazon.

Col. Petrov who saved the world from tech once already,

https://twitter.com/k8em0/status/909982592413294592

“We are wiser than the computers,” Petrov said in a 2010 interview... “We created them.” #IoT #MachineLearning #AI Who will save us now?

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From: eerie quark doll (Sep 23 2017, at 16:32)

Recent Economist op:

https://www.economist.com/news/business/21729455-being-treated-utilities-big-techs-biggest-long-term-threat-what-if-large-tech-firms-were

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From: Dallas (Nov 11 2017, at 04:38)

Silicon Valley spins the M word per Peter Thiel i.e., monopolies are good (see his book Zero to One)! Then again, Peter Thiel also campaigned for the kitty cat grabber. LOL

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