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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I am an employee of Amazon.com, but the opinions expressed here are my own, and no other party necessarily agrees with them.

A full disclosure of my professional interests is on the author page.