Neal Sedaka sang it first, in 1962. Breaking up is hard to do.
And yet. Difficult though it may be, it's time to break up Big Tech.
(Need a second opinion? OK, here's the Boston Globe: "Break up Google.")
Some people throw up their hands. "It's too difficult. Someone else should do something. What difference can I make, anyway?" That's the attitude of technofatalism, and we have to fight it.
As tech historian Marie Hicks writes, "Technofatalism isn't logical; it's a highly destructive failure of imagination and unwillingness to resist the status quo. It's the sullen twin of technophilia. Both assume tech can and will determine society. It's not that simple. We have a fighting chance. But we have to fight."
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(Tip: Listen either in the podcast or on the pages below, click "Pop-up Player".)
- Felix Salmon, financial journalist: Listen (click "Pop-up Player"):
- Meredith Broussard, author, "Artificial Unintelligence" (incl. why self-driving cars are way more dangerous than you expect): Listen
- Andrew Keen, author, "How to Fix the Future": Listen
- Brett Frischmann, co-author, "Re-Engineering Humanity": Listen
- John Keating, director of the new documentary on esports, "Gamechangers: Dreams of Blizzcon": Listen
PODCAST version: Get these interviews on the Techtonic podcast.
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• Break Up Google, says the Boston Globe: "Never in the history of the world has a single company had so much control over what people know and think . . . [and] Google’s power is bound to grow still more. Last year, it spent more on federal lobbying than any other company. By tweaking the way information appears on search pages, Google can already promote its own websites and banish competitors to digital oblivion."
• Google’s Selfish Ledger Is An Unsettling Vision Of Silicon Valley Social Engineering (The Verge, May 17): an "internal video from 2016 shows a Google concept for how total data collection could reshape society." Nightmare material, courtesy of Google.
• Alternatives to Google: past Techtonic guest Gabriel Weinberg (listen to the show) and his search engine Duck Duck Go are featured here: This Search Engine Is Profitable Without Tracking You Online. And Google and Facebook Could Do It Too. See also this list of non-Google services, by David Pierce (May 8), published of all places in the Wall Street Journal.
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• It's not too late to delete your Facebook account: easy how-to at deletefacebook.com.
• "Zuckerberg lied to Congress," says David Carroll, professor at Parsons. My suggestion is that we just charge them the $3.4 trillion they owe for violating the consent decree (see Jason Kint's calculation), liquidate the company, and use the proceeds to build a citizen-owned, non-addictive, democracy-respectful social network.
• Speaking of which, project I need to look into: Platform.coop, supporting platform co-ops.
• Conclusion: We need to break up Big Tech, starting with Google and Facebook. Axios reports that the left (and the right) are turning up heat to break up Facebook.
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Amazon and surveillance:
• Venture capitalist Fred Wilson has unplugged his Amazon Echo. "If anyone in our house is uncomfortable with devices listening to our conversations, I don’t want to subject them to that. . . This raises a broader question about these voice devices which is whether the value they offer outweighs the creepiness they create in the home. For us, the answer has been a resounding no."
• Amazon’s Facial Recognition Fans Big Brother Fears (WSJ, May 22): "The retail giant has been selling the technology as a means to help authorities identify suspects in surveillance footage . . . The ACLU and other civil-rights organizations sent a letter to Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos expressing 'profound concerns' about the potential misuse of the technology, which Amazon calls Rekognition."
• Alexa listened to a couple's conversation and sent it to the husband's employee without permission (BoingBoing, May 24): Complaint from a Portland woman that Alexa "listened in on a conversation and sent it to a random contact of theirs – one of her husband's employees. . . When KIRO-7 questioned Amazon, they responded with this: 'Amazon takes privacy very seriously. We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future.'"
• How to make sure your Amazon Echo doesn't send secret recordings (CNN, May 25) - almost unbelievably, CNN actually suggests that you "live like everyone's watching": "You can unplug them all until you are confident in the tech industries [sic] privacy protections, or you can go about your daily life avoiding doing or saying anything embarrassing (or illegal)." Thanks, CNN, we'll try to be more compliant from now on!
Above: rental car shuttle or prison bus?
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• Spot-on video about Facebook from The Daily Show, imagining Facebook as a bar.