Google, Ama­zon, Face­book, Twit­ter are a men­ace


The Sunday Guardian - - & Comment Analysis -

In 1949, Ge­orge Or­well wrote the book 1984, in which he ac­cu­rately pre­dicted the fu­ture with Fran­cis Ba­con’s phrase “knowl­edge is power”. This is true to­day more than ever.

Face­book, Google, Ama­zon and Twit­ter ac­tively con­trol in­for­ma­tion flow through their oli­gop­oly of all read­ily avail­able con­tent on the in­ter­net. Ama­zon has even moved be­yond the in­ter­net, not that it needed to be­cause print is dead, and now owns the Wash­ing­ton Post. Ad­di­tion­ally, Ama­zon seeks to dom­i­nate our drug and food sup­ply. This un­reg­u­lated oli­gop­oly, which was ini­tially nar­rowly fo­cused on friv­o­lous so­cial me­dia and con­sumer prod­ucts, has grown rapidly and amassed the abil­ity to de­cide what is “fake news” and what isn’t. And Face­book and Google have both been caught us­ing al­go­rithms to make those de­ci­sions via the ma­nip­u­la­tion of search re­sults.

The old fo­gies in the US Congress do not understand the power of the in­ter­net or how suc­cess­ful the pro­pri­etary al­go­rithms utilised by Face­book, Google and Twit­ter can be at ma­nip­u­lat­ing pub­lic opin­ion, while suf­fo­cat­ing op­pos­ing views. The sit­u­a­tion is a mil­lion times worse than the sit­u­a­tion de­picted by Or­well. For ex­am­ple, US Con­gress­man Mar­sha Black­burn’s US Se­nate cam­paign ad­ver­tise­ments were blocked on so­cial me­dia be­cause the can­di­date is pro-life.

Google and Face­book’s in­ter­net supremacy has far reach­ing im­pli­ca­tions; ar­guably, they en­deav­oured to ma­nip­u­late the re­cent pres­i­den­tial elec­tion by pri­ori­tis­ing, and some­times al­to­gether bury­ing, con­tent. Google’s founder was even on Hil­lary Clin­ton’s elec­tion com­mit­tee. Face­book goes a step fur­ther than Google in in­di­vid­u­ally cu­rat­ing con­tent, seg­re­gat­ing its users into po­lit­i­cal bub­bles by show­ing them ar­ti­cles they would like, with­out ever show­ing dis­sent­ing view­points. This drip-feed of the “nar­ra­tive” breeds group­think among its users (i.e. ev­ery­body with in­ter­net), who then re­gur­gi­tate that nar­ra­tive to the ex­treme, os­tracis­ing all who dare to dis­agree. (Who else lost friends as a re­sult of the 2016 elec­tions?) How­ever, the pub­lic was aided by sub­red­dits such as r/ The_Don­ald and r/Hil­lary­forPri­son, in spite of Red­dit’s at­tempts to quiet its users, and saw how search re­sults were ma­nip­u­lated by Google dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. I’m sure that by the 2020 elec­tions, Google and Face­book will have suf­fi­ciently honed their al­go­rithms to ma­nip­u­late con­tent that could de­liver the can­di­date of their choos­ing.

Through­out the his­tory of hu­man civil­i­sa­tion, in­clud­ing pe­ri­ods of ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal rule, no en­tity has had as much power to in­flu­ence and con­trol the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal ideals of bil­lions of peo­ple with zero over­sight or reg­u­la­tion as these tech giants. This is ex­tremely dan­ger­ous and can end very badly. These com­pa­nies pose a danger to demo­cratic so­ci­ety’s lib­erty and the West’s en­tire way of life. Google and Face­book will never re­lease or dis­close how they are tweak­ing their al­go­rithms to im­pact so­cial move­ments or in­flu­ence and sup­press demo­cratic process and lib­erty. The tech oli­gop­oly swal­lows up any and all po­ten­tial chal­lengers, elim­i­nat­ing com­pe­ti­tion in a man­ner that the Sher­man An­titrust Act was drafted to pre­vent. Will any­body, gov­ern­ment or oth­er­wise, try to en­force those pro­vi­sions and pro­mote the free mar­ket?

It ap­pears un­likely, as the tech oli­gop­oly has al­ready grown out of con­trol. This is David vs an army of Go­liaths.

Mi­crosoft, at the time of its break up by DOJ pros­e­cu­tors, was smaller and far less in­flu­en­tial than Face­book, Google and Ama­zon are to­day. Iron­i­cally, Google sup­ported the breakup of Mi­crosoft be­cause of Mi­crosoft’s mo­nop­o­lis­tic prac­tices around op­er­at­ing sys­tems that were hos­tile to­wards com­peti­tor soft­ware. Google and Face­book cur­rently do the same thing with their search engine and news feed re­spec­tively, but it’s about a thou­sand times worse— Mi­crosoft con­trolled the mar­ket for soft­ware, Google and Face­book con­trol the mar­ket for in­for­ma­tion. While the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion has been charged with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of pro­mot­ing con­sumer pro­tec­tion and pre­vent­ing co­er­cive mo­nop­o­lies, no reg­u­la­tory agency has been pro­vided the nec­es­sary fire­power to ef­fec­tively reg­u­late or over­see the al­go­rithms that con­trol and cen­sor Google’s search engine or Face­book’s con­tent. Per­haps hell has frozen over, but this might be one sit­u­a­tion where a grant of greater au­thor­ity and re­sources to gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors to re­view al­go­rith­mic trade se­crets might ac­tu­ally ben­e­fit the gen­eral pub­lic.

Don’t count on politi­cians, es­pe­cially in the United States, to en­force the ex­ist­ing an­titrust laws, be­cause these in­ter­net be­he­moths are too big, too con­nected, and con­trib­ute too much to the con­gres­sional cof­fers to have laws ap­ply to them. Google and Face­book are two of the big­gest com­pa­nies in the world, and their lob­by­ing dol­lars con­trol the cor­rupt po­lit­i­cal sys­tem in Wash­ing­ton, DC’s swamp.

Re­cent dis­clo­sure forms show that Google spent $ 5.93 mil­lion be­tween 1 April and 30 June 2017, more than any other cor­po­ra­tion in Q2 2017. Af­ter wast­ing tens of mil­lions (per­haps hun­dreds) on the Clin­tons, all of these Sil­i­con Val­ley play­ers need to buy new in­flu­ence in Wash­ing­ton to pre­vent an an­titrust ac­tion. Google will be this year’s top cor­po­rate lob­by­ing spen­der in the US. Ama­zon’s spend is not far be­hind, and Face­book’s spend­ing is right up there as well.

Wash­ing­ton’s pay-to-play gov­ern­ment de­fines some mo­nop­o­lies as good and some mo­nop­o­lies as bad— and it has cho­sen to de­fine these mo­nop­o­lies as good.

Un­for­tu­nately, the US Supreme Court won’t be much help ei­ther. With­out a David to bring the Go­liaths to task, the Supreme Court can­not opine on the le­gal­ity and the fright­en­ing con­se­quences of al­low­ing the al­go­rithms of these in­ter­net com­pa­nies to ma­nip­u­late and con­trol our lives, be­hav­iour and so­cial val­ues. When will our courts be able to act? As usual, they will de­cide to close the barn door af­ter all the horses have bolted. Is democ­racy’s only hope that the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice will rule against this too con­nected to pros­e­cute army of the “Sil­i­con Val­ley Go­liaths”? Face­book, Google and Ama­zon dis­sem­i­nate deep-state pro­pa­ganda, while crush­ing op­pos­ing view­points with im­punity. Google and Face- book have both teamed up with na­tional se­cu­rity agen­cies to spy on the pub­lic to con­trol pub­lic sen­ti­ment, as well as po­lit­i­cal, mo­ral and so­cial val­ues. Ama­zon has even en­tered into a $ 600 mil­lion part­ner­ship with the CIA and NSA to pro­vide “cloud ser­vices”. Sim­i­lar to the psy­cho­log­i­cal op­er­a­tions im­ple­mented by the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency in the 1960s, when they cre­ated the con­spir­acy the­ory pro­gram to ma­lign, dis­credit and make un­founded al­le­ga­tions, any­one who takes on the es­tab­lish­ment is a pro­pa­gan­dist work­ing for the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment.

Thanks to Wash­ing­ton’s swamp of cor­rup­tion, the deep state’s in­ter­fer­ence and part­ner­ships with these in­ter­net- based providers to col­lect Or­wellian data points on Amer­i­cans, in­for­ma­tion flows are con­trolled and di­ver­sity of thought is sti­fled.

To be clear: the big­gest emerg­ing ex­is­ten­tial threat to l ib­erty, democ­racy, and free­dom is Face­book, Google and Ama­zon and the money they pump into Wash­ing­ton’s swamp, al­low­ing them to grow even big­ger and giv­ing them con­trol of all in­for­ma­tion flows. Is this free­dom? Not on your life. It’s time to break up and reg­u­late Face­book, Google and Ama­zon. Mitchell Feier­stein is CEO of Glacier En­vi­ron­men­tal Fund and au­thor of Planet Ponzi: How Politi­cians and Bankers Stole Your Fu­ture.

Through­out the his­tory of hu­man civil­i­sa­tion, in­clud­ing pe­ri­ods of ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal rule, no en­tity has had as much POWER TO IN­flU­ENCE AND CON­TROL THE SO­CIAL and po­lit­i­cal ideals of bil­lions of peo­ple with zero over­sight or reg­u­la­tion as these tech giants. This is ex­tremely dan­ger­ous.


Google’s of­fice in New York City.

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