Google Is The New Evil Empire
24th April, 2015 —
This week’s roundup looks more closely at the EU vs Google antitrust battle, and how the world is wising up to Internet.org’s misleading offerings.
The Joy of Tech comic featured at the top of this post shows how our attitude towards the Internet of Things, and quantifying our bodies and homes, is likely to change as we realise the privacy implications.
An article in The Guardian on health apps covers the dangers of tech companies having access to all your health data. People’s privacy and human rights are being chipped away where companies are starting to require their employees to wear health monitoring devices. It’s one thing to say we opt in to the quantified self, but what if opting out costs us our jobs?
And so now is the time to familiarise ourselves with our human rights. Rights Info is a fantastic site about human rights, including easy-to-understand infographics. The section on the 14 Worst Myths about Human Rights is particularly good for dispelling the rubbish being spread by some politicians looking to scrap human rights in the UK.
More background on Google’s monopoly and antitrust battle
James Ball warns us that we must challenge Google while we still can, as the US and EU are probably the only states big enough to effectively question Google’s monopoly in so many areas. James points out that “Google is just the start, as the business models of the internet lend themselves to monopoly.” And worryingly:
“We are entering an era of near-stateless global giants, several of which will gain the power to act as a monopoly.”
Therefore it’s not a surprise that Steve Tobak has put the case forward that ‘Google Is the New Evil Empire’. Not just in their extraordinary reach, but also in their lobbying power. Business Insider has shared the near-record amounts that the largest tech companies spent on lobbying lawmakers in the first quarter of this year, with Google spending over twice as much as Facebook, the next biggest spender.
And why even bother lobbying, when you could get a powerful position alongside the presidential candidate? Stephanie Hannon, Google’s director of product management for civic innovation and social impact, has been hired by Hillary Clinton as chief technology officer for her presidential campaign. On top of the existing ex-Google employees hired by Obama, this leaves Google with even more valuable relationships inside the US government.
These connections may not be strong enough, as Google hasn’t made enough friends in the EU, leaving some people expecting Google to suffer more at the hands of the EU antitrust investigations than it did in the (short-lived) US investigations.
Looking back at Google’s power in technology, The Guardian considers how ‘Google dominates search. But the real problem is its monopoly on data.’ This piece further supports James Ball’s assertions, drawing attention to the fact that Google’s dominance is self-reinforcing: “Larger audiences improve Google’s data and make its products more accurate – as well as ever more impossible to avoid.”
However, John Naughton’s article on the antitrust case is less positive, saying that it’s too late to challenge Google’s dominance. Google already monopolises search, and has three advantages in “astonishing computing horsepower, distributed globally in huge server farms; smart algorithms; and the possession of colossal amounts of data that can be mined for machine-learning and generate further refinements in Google search.” John is concerned these strengths mean that legal challenges are unlikely to make much of an impact, or dethrone Google from their position of power.
What are those cheeky corporations up to this week?
Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner is already the EU privacy regulator for Facebook and Google. Now it’s also going to be regulator for 300 million Twitter users, with new EU-based Twitter users having to agree to terms under notoriously lax Irish privacy and data protection law. It means any user who wants to make a complaint about their privacy or data protection has to complain to authorities in Ireland first. However, the European Union does have plans to create a cross-continental super-quango, the European Data Protection Board. The Data Protection board would help users who are unhappy with rulings given by Irish, or other European, boards.
Meet the lawyer taking on Uber and the rest of the on-demand economy for the treatment of the drivers, and other people, who provide their services. The way that Uber and other on-demand companies use these people is akin to the standard trappings of employment, but it doesn’t give them the benefits of employment. Calling themselves a “software business” shouldn’t make them exempt from treating people properly.
“If Uber had indeed misclassified its drivers, the company’s entire business model was built on a legal mistake.”
Facebook is now collecting phone-related data (contacts, call data, blocking data) through its new Hello app. As John Paul Titlow explains on Fast Company, “Facebook switched to a much more subtle approach: infiltrating your phone by releasing one standalone app at a time, and even providing development and advertising tools for other app developers.”
More on Facebook, Internet.org and net neutrality
Issie Lapowsky writes on Wired about how Mark Zuckerberg can’t have it both ways on net neutrality, as Internet.org will have to be distinctly un-neutral by deciding who gets to be zero-rated on their platform, and users will only have access to a tiny fraction of what’s available on the world wide web. Doc Searls counters Zuckerberg’s response to Internet.org criticism in India, also detailing his major problem with the misleading nature of the Internet.org name.
A very powerful article from Mahesh Murthy goes even further, telling how Facebook’s Internet.org amounts to economic racism:
“In every way, from exploiting the poor, to being a restrictive trade practice because startups will not have a chance to be discovered by users via word of mouth because they cannot afford the placement fees, to simply denying the wonder and the width of the internet to the young and knowledge-hungry – this practice is terrible.”
Reading this far into the roundup, I wouldn’t blame you for feeling disheartened. But I want to end on a positive note. Jonathan Dawson writes about how the commons (our communities and community resources, not owned by business or government) are threatened by appropriation by Google and Facebook, and this threat is supported by commercially-minded governments. However, thinking in economic terms, Jonathan is hopeful that a “a wave of disruption is sweeping in to challenge neoliberalism.”