The announcement of Amazon’s HQ2 plans for New York City has brought about important questions about the origins of this deal. How could our leaders pledge $1.5 billion to Amazon at a time when libraries and schools lack funding, the subway is in dire need of improvement, and one out of seven New Yorkers suffers from food insecurity?
Skepticism about the deal has come from all corners. After Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted her “extreme concern” on Twitter, the Wall Street Journal and National Review both published pieces agreeing with her. It’s remarkable that HQ2 has brought about a moment of bipartisanship during this polarized season.
Still, I don’t think these questions address the full scope of what’s happening. New York isn’t being taken over by Amazon, it’s being taken over by Big Tech. Consider:
– Google has just announced its intent to secure another 1.3 million square feet of Manhattan office space, which, when added to the company’s real estate in Chelsea, gives the company more square footage in New York City than in their northern California headquarters;
– Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs has installed over 1,600 LinkNYC kiosks throughout New York City, each outfitted with three cameras and dozens of sensors, collecting unknown amounts of data on New Yorkers (listen to my thoughts on this);
– Facebook, according to a New York Times story on November 14, called on Senator Schumer to help deflect the Senate’s investigation of Russian meddling on the social network (Schumer was happy to help – also, his daughter works for Facebook);
– Facebook was also the target of a walkout last week by Brooklyn high school students, who protested the Facebook-designed curriculum that their school forces them to sit through.
These are just a few of the many indicators that something is changing in New York. When viewed alongside the corruption of the HQ2 deal, they clearly point out the direction that Big Tech wants to take our city.
I can say with confidence – having worked over two decades in the tech industry – that these companies are optimized for one thing: launching platforms to crush all opposition. For example, Google’s Gmail has become the dominant email service in the world, despite nagging privacy concerns. Amazon is steamrolling the entire retail industry. And the worldwide effects of Facebook – propaganda, rising authoritarianism, even genocide – are all made possible by its dominance as the leading social network.
This domination, across the Big Tech platforms, is largely driven by continuous extraction of our data, usually without our knowledge or consent, and quite often without any legal basis (and accompanied by hypocritical slogans like “connecting the world” or “don’t be evil”). This data allows the companies to manipulate markets, elections, and social groups to behave in ways that further benefit Big Tech. Hence Google’s interest, for example, in those LinkNYC kiosks drawing down as much data as possible from New Yorkers. The citizens of New York serve as valuable data sources for Google’s algorithms.
What all this points to is Big Tech’s interest in turning New York itself into one of its platforms. Imagine: a city where all the students are forced to study a Facebook-designed curriculum … where all transactions go through Amazon … where all the sidewalks are fully surveilled by Alphabet sensors … and above all, where our mayor, governor, and (at least one) senator do the bidding of their west-coast benefactors! Once Big Tech achieves its dominance of New York City, we’ll be nothing more than their satellite state, useful for our physical footprint and some residual financial talent remaining from our past days of Wall Street pre-eminence. Our infrastructure may crumble, and our schools may continue to fail, but at least we’ll officially be in the care of Big Tech as one of its favored platforms.
New Yorkers still have an opportunity to resist this outcome. First, we must gain better awareness, paying attention to Big Tech’s increasingly strong claim on our commerce, our streets, and our real estate. Most people I talk to, for instance, have no idea who’s behind the LinkNYC kiosks. And many New Yorkers can’t say who owns popular services like Instagram or Waze. (Facebook and Alphabet, respectively.) The more we’re informed about Big Tech’s influences on our day-to-day life, the less likely we’ll be caught off-guard by their next attempt to take over our lives – or our city.
Second, and most importantly, we must actively support the people who are working to expose and counteract Big Tech’s plans for New York. Here I refer to the journalists, researchers, and politicians who – like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – are willing to stand up and tell the truth about the corrupt HQ2 deal. With this sort of pressure, our elected representatives will be forced to demonstrate where their loyalty lies: with the tech billionaires, or with the citizens of New York City.