Big tech and social media companies are under attack daily by an ever-expanding circle of opponents.
The big tech companies involved are so big that they are shrugging off these attacks on many different fronts. Antitrust suits are piling up against Amazon and Google across the globe. Social media platforms are defying Governments and, in the words of one of Joe Biden’s team, ‘playing judge, jury and executioner’ to the people on their platforms.
The latest call for ‘sanctions’ comes from the central bank umbrella group, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). This group has serious concerns that the amount of data held by Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba and Google ‘could allow them to reshape finance so rapidly that it destabilises entire banking systems.’
The question is (and has been for a while): how do you regulate such enormous power?
While Governments ponder that conundrum and try certain things, there are also revelations from inside big tech companies that point to corruption that could poison the giants from the inside.
Whistleblowers are now appearing in big tech companies and getting a lot of airplay. AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru was fired by Google in 2019, which got a lot of attention, and she was followed by Margaret Mitchell earlier this year. Gebru was allegedly fired because of a paper she wrote warning that using AI in language could marginalise countries and populations that were not ‘mainstream’.
Meanwhile, over at Facebook, data scientist Sophie Zhang is blowing her whistle about the platform’s political influence, warning that not enough is actually done to stop politicians and regimes using the platform contrary to its own rules. She witnessed one administrator creating hundreds of fake pages supporting the Honduran politician Juan Orlando Hernández who was allegedly using them to bombard Hernandez with praise, in the form of ‘likes’ and ‘shares.’ She also found politicians from several countries across the world who were connected to fake pages, doing the same thing, or the reverse, using them to criticise their opponents. As it stands, owning multiple pages is OK; owning more than one profile is not.
It is not that these big tech companies are necessarily doing something that is actively wrong. It is more that they do not seem to be doing enough that is actively right.
If the power of big tech gets any stronger, then it is a big question as to whether anyone can do anything about it.
Radical measures are required to avoid being dragged further into a swamp of misinformation, fake news and the manipulation of our world. China is very publicly curbing the power of her big tech companies with more and more draconian regulation, but at huge cost to itself and the companies involved – at least in the short term. Capital is fleeing the country, and only time will tell whether the long term goals of such a strategy will win.
It will be interesting to see if other Governments adopt this policy against big tech, knowing that they will take a serious hit in the short term, but for the greater good in the long run. It is difficult to see an alternative that works, particularly in these incredibly delicate times.