The Sil­i­con Val­ley back­lash is heat­ing up

Muscat Daily - - BUSINESS -

San Fran­cisco, US - Big tech is fall­ing out of po­lit­i­cal favour. This week, Buz­zFeed’s Ben Smith con­vinc­ingly ar­gued that the tides are turn­ing against Google, Face­book and Ama­zon. The ar­ti­cle, ‘There’s Blood in the Wa­ter in Sil­i­con Val­ley’, is worth a read. As Ben points out, Steve Ban­non is lead­ing the charge from the right, call­ing for Google and Face­book to be reg­u­lated like public util­i­ties. Bernie San­ders is help­ing to push the anti-tech charge from the left. Pop­ulists on both wings want to kneecap big tech.

Un­for­tu­nately (or for­tu­nately) for the tech­nol­ogy gi­ants, there isn't a co­her­ent, uni­fied cri­tique of their be­hav­iour. The griev­ances come in many forms and from many camps. They in­clude:

Sim­mer­ing 99 per­centers an­gry over tech’s grow­ing power Mount­ing an­titrust con­cerns An­imus from ad-de­pen­dent me­dia com­pa­nies

Bias charges from rightwingers with­out a seat at the ta­ble in Sil­i­con Val­ley

Com­plaints, es­pe­cially from Democrats, about Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the election, par­tic­u­larly via so­cial me­dia

An ef­fort to reckon with gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion and ha­rass­ment at male dom­i­nated en­gi­neer­ing com­pa­nies

Ac­cu­sa­tions of fake news and click­bait all around.

The sit­u­a­tion keeps get­ting worse.

This week two ma­jor prob­lems broke open for Face­book. ProPublica re­vealed that the so­cial-me­dia com­pany took peo­ple’s money in ex­change for help­ing them run anti-Semitic ads:

Un­til this week, when we asked Face­book about it, the world’s largest so­cial net­work en­abled ad­ver­tis­ers to di­rect their pitches to the news feeds of al­most 2,300 peo­ple who ex­pressed in­ter­est in the top­ics of ‘Jew hater’, ‘How to burn jews’, or, ‘His­tory of ‘why jews ruin the world’’.

Pierre Omid­yar, eBay’s founder, face­tiously tweeted: ‘Let’s build a com­pre­hen­sive data­base of highly per­sonal tar­get­ing info and sell se­cret ads with zero public scru­tiny. What could go wrong?’

Face­book said it had ‘more work to do’. That’s for sure.

At the same time, Face­book is be­ing im­pli­cated in the Rus­sian ef­fort to at­tack the election. Last week, we learned that fake ac­counts that were prob­a­bly run from Russia spent about US$100,000 on ads to drum up po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions in the US. This week, the sit­u­a­tion wors­ened. ‘Mueller Probe Has ‘ Red-Hot’ Fo­cus on So­cial Me­dia, Of­fi­cials Say’: That head­line from Bloomberg News on Thurs­day can’t be re­as­sur­ing to the pol­icy folks over at Face­book. The so­cial-me­dia gi­ant of more than 2bn users is at the cen­ter of the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

If you want a taste for the po­lit­i­cal re­ac­tion, here’s Josh Mar­shall writ­ing in Talk­ing Points Memo:

I think the po­lit­i­cal juice of the Russia story is push­ing Face­book to­ward a bruis­ing en­counter with the re­al­ity that it’s not God, not a govern­ment, not the law. It’s just a web­site. It can’t hap­pen soon enough.

That's just Face­book. On Thurs­day, for­mer Google em­ploy­ees filed a class ac­tion against the com­pany, ar­gu­ing that it pays women less for sim­i­lar work. Google prob­a­bly faces the big­gest an­titrust back­lash. The search provider lost a US$2.7bn rul­ing from the Euro­pean Union in June. Yelp, which has been on a mul­ti­year cru­sade against Google’s be­hav­iour, feels like its mes­sag­ing is fi­nally break­ing through. Yelp’s pol­icy chief Luther Lowe told Ben Smith, ‘An­titrust is back, baby’.

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