Competition can fix Big Tech, but only if we don't make "bigness" a legal requirement

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I see society’s insistence on viewing outcomes as individual not systemic and the refusal to consider that the wealthy and successful might not deserve it as the overarching problem.

We try to address narcotics by punishing corner dealers but not importers. We try to address undocumented immigrants by punishing the worker while ignoring the companies that hire them. We try to address political disfunction by blaming individual officials without any mention of the systemic failures in corporate electioneering and lobbying. And we try to address problems of the internet at the level of individual behavior not the systemic problems of engagement maximization and anticompetitive practices.

This invariably has lead to massive invasive surveilance. If you insist on addressing problems at the individual level you have to watch every one. In turn this requires concentrated power to conduct and review the surveillance. In the realms of policing and immigration its a state run surveilance, which is awful. In the internet we are building private surveilance states, which is worse. Citizens at least have a minimal say in the behavior of the government. Only the shareholders have any say in the corporate surveilance.
As Cory points out we are now codifying the concentrated privatized surveilance state as a permenant aspect of the internet.


In passing, I would argue that it started before the GDPR stuff; the EU “digital VAT” regulations effectively gave a lot of microbusinesses a choice between closing or moving onto a platform that was large enough not to need to worry about the complexities of monitoring where one’s customers were based.
It was a good idea in principle since it stopped Amazon from pretending that everyone bought everything from them in Luxembourg. But it was a disaster in the short term and it still hasn’t properly shaken out.

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I love your point about interoperability. Luis Zingales wrote an op-ed that proposes one way to do this with social networks. FTA:

The same is possible in the social network space. It is sufficient to reassign to each customer the ownership of all the digital connections that she creates — what is known as a “social graph.” If we owned our own social graph, we could sign into a Facebook competitor — call it MyBook — and, through that network, instantly reroute all our Facebook friends’ messages to MyBook, as we reroute a phone call.

If I can reach my Facebook friends through a different social network and vice versa, I am more likely to try new social networks. Knowing they can attract existing Facebook customers, new social networks will emerge, restoring the benefit of competition.

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There are open social media platforms such as Diaspora and many open messaging protocols, but the ecosystem lacks capital and/or state support. That support lacks in part, I think, because if everyone has access to, and control of, the information in question then the advantage of information asymmetry is lost, along with (moral questions aside) the value that can supposedly be extracted from it.

Which brings us back to the Economist article, where Cory points out so well that to be interoperable is to lose control of the key “value” proposition. Bit of a “hole in my bucket” situation until a higher power intervenes…

Really good article, thanks for writing it. What we want is not to bring Big Tech under the control of the state, where it can be put to work advancing the agendas of politicians. I think we want the internet and high technology to be ungovernable, a space where common people have meaningful freedom and agency. We want to destroy the power of Big Tech so that nobody has that power.

Agreed. That higher power should be the U.S. government. Perhaps some baseline of interoperability can be mandated and the platforms can lure users with other features.

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