Archive for ◊ January, 2019 ◊

Do US Tech Companies Have Too Much Influence?
Sunday, January 20th, 2019 | Author:

If you want to review business and political fireworks that will become front-page news, then take a look at the major US-based technology companies: Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter.  These six behemoths control the vast majority of information flow, which results in tremendous influence over our daily lives.

Based on their business models, each of these companies embraces the notion of centralized control being good — i.e., the success of their business is inherently based on the idea that you give up your privacy and control to them for the promise of a better life.  Since this is very compatible with many of the tenets of Progressivism, all of these companies tend to be supportive of centralized control and a strong administrative state.

Is the momentum of these business giants along with the influence of the large government supporters too much to overcome?  What does this unprecedented influence mean for a Democratic Republic?

The initial reflex from our government is to either regulate these companies or “break-them-up”.  I do not find either of these actions as appropriate.   First, regulation inherently stifles innovation and often results in great reduction of freedoms contrary to our Bill of Rights.  Second, the anti-trust perspective does not take into account the over-sized influence that these technology companies possess.  Thus, a real solution will require the synthesis of a third option.

This cumulative posting started in February 2018, and I will continue posting articles below on this topic for the foreseeable future….

Update

A great quote from Dr. Robert Epstein, commenting on the power of Google search algorithms to sway opinion and influence elections:

“Who on Earth gave these private companies the power to make decisions about what everyone in the world is going to see or not see?  These companies shouldn’t have that power, period.”

 

November 11, 2019

Here is another interesting addition to the stories about the nefarious nature of the big tech companies:

A cache of leaked Facebook documents shows how the company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, oversaw plans to consolidate the social network’s power and control competitors by treating its users’ data as a bargaining chip

Taken together, they show how Zuckerberg, along with his board and management team, found ways to tap Facebook users’ data — including information about friends, relationships and photos — as leverage over the companies it partnered with

All the while, Facebook planned to publicly frame these moves as a way to protect user privacy, the documents show.

Think about that situation.  It sounds like accumulating confidential information about people for the purposes of blackmail…

 

August 15, 2019

Well, there now appears to be a smoking gun.  A Google senior engineer absconded with internal documents that apparently provide evidence that the company institutionalized its strong progressive position on everything large and small:

Among those documents is a file called “news black list site for google now.” The document, according to Vorhies, is a “black list,” which restricts certain websites from appearing on news feeds for an Android Google product. The list includes conservative and progressive websites, such as newsbusters.org and mediamatters.org. The document says that some sites are listed with or because of a “high user block rate.”

“My message to those that are on the fence is I released the documents. They can go in, they can see everything that Google is doing and then they can see the scale of it. Because I think that there’s a lot of engineers that have a hint that things are wrong, but they don’t understand the colossal scale that it’s at. And so for those people, I say, look at the documents, take the pulse of America, see what’s happening and come and tell the world you know what you already know to be true.”

 

August 6, 2019

There are many former Google engineers that are going public with their insider views.  In particular, they recently shared stories about how news sites pander to Google to ensure that they stay in their good graces:

As Silicon Valley seeks to enhance its control over the news consumers are able to view in the lead-up to 2020, experts say many publications are actively shaping their coverage to stay in “Big Tech’s” good graces… “When is the last time you saw an op-ed in The Washington Post that was deeply critical of Facebook or Google? When is the last time you saw Axios or Politico quote a tech whistleblower in a favorable light?” one industry insider asked.

If Google employees look at anything other than “approved” news outlets — or if they even fix a bug for a conservative-leaning outlet — it can cause problems in the workplace, according to a source who worked for Google who wished to remain anonymous.

 

July 29, 2019

Let’s talk about fake Russian conspiracies until we’re blue in the face.  In the meantime, credible sources explain matter-of-factly about the political influence of the big tech companies… and it’s crickets:

Google’s “Go Vote” reminder on Election Day in 2018 gave Democrats at least 800,000 more votes than it gave Republicans; that bias in Google search results may have shifted upwards of 78.2 million votes (spread across hundreds of state and regional races) to Democrats in the 2018 election

 

Any solution that involves Government censorship is not a good idea:

Senator Josh Hawley’s Social Media Addiction Reduction (“SMART”) Act puts the government squarely in the middle of American citizens private business. Government censorship is the Missouri Republican’s answer to the very real issues and flaws with social media. He’s wrong.

 

July 24, 2019

Given the common operating philosphy of big technology companies and Democrats, we certainly should not be surprised by these stealthy manipulations.   The natural entropy of large organizations is toward corruption, and the big US tech companies have the upper-hand like never before.

Greg Coppola, a senior software engineer who works on artificial intelligence at Google’s New York office, said he contacted Project Veritas out of concern that Big Tech and the media have merged with the Democrat party to sway political elections. “…I just know how algorithms are. They don’t write themselves. We write them to do what we want them to do,” he explained. “I look at search and I look at Google News, and I see what it’s doing.”

The whistleblower lamented that the tech industry is not interested in free thinking, questioning and debate, but rather in “calling people names to get them to toe a certain line.” …Robert Epstein, a computer expert (and Democrat) who testified before congress last week, said that the political bias of Google, Twitter, Facebook and other platforms could manipulate up to 15 million middle-of-the-road voters “without leaving a paper trail for authorities to trace.”

As mentioned numerous times in this posting, the big US tech companies have unprecedented influence over American citizens, and it’s power that has to be restrained.

 

July 23, 2019

As noted 18 months ago with the genesis of this posting, these are going to be interesting times.  It is now getting even more interesting: the US Department of Justice is opening a broad-based anti-trust review to determine whether the big tech companies are stifling competition in violation of federal law:

The Antitrust Division will work to determine whether companies such as Facebook, Google, and Apple have “reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers” as they’ve grown dramatically in recent years and begun expanding into various industries by acquiring smaller potential competitors. The Federal Trade Commission is conducting a separate, more limited investigation into potential monopolistic abuses by Facebook and Amazon.

 

July 21, 2019

A great summary observation  from Joel Kotkin:

John D. Rockefeller tried to control energy distribution through his Standard Oil. Later, the Big Three ran the automobile businesses. These were powerful firms, but they could not, like Google, create algorithms that determined what people see, tilted not only toward their own commercial interest but their political predilections as well. In this way, what the techies are doing is oddly reminiscent of China’s efforts to control and monitor thoughts, sometimes assisted by these same U.S. tech firms.

 

July 16, 2019

The hearings have started.  Executives from Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google testified before Congress today in a hearing examining the effect that their size has had on small businesses and their ability to innovate.   Each executive insisted that their platforms help smaller businesses reach customers and that they face stiff competition.

[Congressional representatives] criticized U.S. antitrust enforcers — specifically the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission — for not challenging the tech giants during their years of explosive growth. “In the two decades since the Justice Department filed its landmark monopolization case against Microsoft, there has not been a single complaint filed by either agency alleging anti-competitive conduct in this market,” he said. “Together, these enforcement decisions have created a de facto immunity for online platforms.”

 

June 26, 2019

Many folks that are just now discovering the power that the big tech companies possess are focused on punishing these internet enterprises.  This is not the proper direction for our country.   Indeed, I’ve mentioned about a third option for controlling the power of the big tech companies and I think that Mike Masnick at Techdirt has the right idea when he advocates for requiring open protocols (i.e., enabling users to avoid lock-in to any big tech provider):

A simple “punish big tech because big tech is bad” may get people riled up, but the chances for negative consequences are too great to ignore… 

…an even better solution is not just about forced interoperability, but moving to a world of protocols instead of platforms. In such a world, interoperability would be standard, but would also be just one piece of the puzzle for making the world more dynamic and competitive. If we relied on more open platforms, then third parties could build all sorts of new services, from better front ends, to better features and tools, and users could choose which implementation(s) they wanted to use, making switching from any particular service provider much easier — especially if that provider did anything to hurt user trust.

This concept may be a little difficult for the average Congressman, but it’s similar to the idea of advocating for 120-volt alternating current (AC) as the standard for electricity in the home (even after Edison killed the circus elephant with AC power).  This led to tremendous business growth for electric tools, fixtures, and appliances based on a standard of interoperability.

 

June 25, 2019

I suppose many people are not surprised by the overt political agendas that have been hidden by the big tech companies.  These are now becoming exposed.  For example, it appears that Project Veritas has uncovered documentation about Google’s plans to control the political process in the United States:

The Project Veritas video reveals that instead of merely doing its job as the world’s leading Internet search and archiving tool, Google is using its power over what Americans see on the Internet as a partisan political weapon to force extreme, un-American leftism on all of us.

Meanwhile, Apple is now playing God by defining acceptable apps in their store based on “social media membership”:

Apple threatened to kick Parler off its App Store if the social media website did not ban content they deemed inappropriate… Matze said they were told they had to change their community guidelines so they reflected Apple’s. They were also told to remove certain kinds of individuals.

 

June 17, 2019

Instead of regulation or anti-trust, I’ve talked about a “third-way” to enable an internet grounded more in free speech.  This proposal by Alec Sears is a decent start for some potential innovative approaches:

Here’s one simple solution to hit tech companies where it hurts. Any person who is banned from a platform must be paid whatever money that platform made from their activity, and the banned user must also be provided with a list of places their data was sold.

If these social media companies are banning people out of some moral “indignation,” then they should have no problem giving back the money they made off of them.

This legislation would circumvent any terms document and give users more insight into the money-making aspect of social media. It would also allow companies to continue banning users but at a tangible cost.

This policy is inherently bipartisan. Anyone who is banned would be entitled to compensation.

 

June 9, 2019

This topic on the oversized influence of Big Tech in the US started on this blog almost 18 months ago.  If you read the many postings here in chronological order, you will get the impression that there has been a rapid evolution and discovery about the pernicious nature of these companies.

Well, now the US government has decided to intervene.  The House Judiciary Committee is launching an antitrust investigation into big technology companies and the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also appear to be joining in the investigations.

 

June 3, 2019

Here is the latest video from Prager University on selective censorship by the  Big Tech platforms (ironically it’s on YouTube in restricted status).  It’s narrated by Brent Bozell and titled “Big Tech is Big Brother” and focuses on how Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc., behave in a manner akin to Big Brother in the Orwell novel “1984”:

 

May 19, 2019

This issue concerning the power and influence of the major US tech companies continues to grow.  It’s the top topic for many folks pondering the economic and political future of our country.  At the Points and Figures web site, Mr. Carter clearly identifies that most pundits are in one of two camps (illustrated by the many postings on this topic here):

I would tread lightly and wade into the regulatory/antitrust water slowly.  It’s pretty clear there is a problem.  It’s very unclear how big it is and what we should do about it.  

 

May 3, 2019

It appears that the pressure on the technology companies is starting to make a mark.  Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post urging governments to regulate Facebook and other technology companies. Naturally, Zuckerberg is promoting this action in his own self-interest, which is to avoid the inevitable — that is, the forced breakup of Facebook.

Well, today the co-founder of Facebook, Chris Hughes, has his own editorial.  This time in the New York Times.  Mr. Hughes indicates that it’s time to break up Facebook.

 

April 9, 2019

An interesting article in the New Republic that details how Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are starting to compete with one another (does this throw cold water on the anti-trust angle?):

The tech giants were once content to stay in their own lanes. Facebook had social media, Google had search, Amazon had e-commerce, and Apple had hardware… Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook want to make it unable for users to live without them.

We created antitrust laws out of concern that monopoly corporations could rewrite laws, hoard profits, squeeze suppliers, and dictate the structures of daily life from their lofty perch. It may seem positive that these companies are taking on one another, with consumers poised to enjoy a surplus in any war for their attention. But when it concludes, the outcome could be a kind of digital tyranny, where participation in society demands signing up with a giant corporate overlord. At stake isn’t simply market competition, but the very notion of freedom.

 

March 30, 2019

Does the appointment of a new Attorney General usher-in a more aggressive approach in dealing with the technology behemoths?  There is a good chance that William Barr will pursue the antitrust route:

Big Tech is on a “lobbying spree,” spending money on influence peddlers in a manner that has shocked many veteran DC insiders. Big Tech’s money will be going head-to head-against Barr, who bluntly stated at his confirmation hearing that, “people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the antitrust enforcers.”

De-Platforming, discrimination, and improper data collection continue unabated by the nation’s biggest tech giants as their influence gets more significant than ever before. 

 

March 3, 2019

Republican Senator Josh Hawley has taken a position:

“We need to end the sweetheart deal between big tech and big government,” 

Hawley is starting to brew thoughts that technology companies are controlling information, and the government is actively encouraging it.

 

February 10, 2019

You know freedom and liberty are going in the wrong direction when the lines between tyrannical government and big tech companies start to blur:

Google has reportedly started censoring its search results in Russia, in order to comply with the country’s laws. Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, publishes a blacklist of banned websites that cover illegal topics such as drugs and suicide, and that publicize corruption investigations conducted by the opposition. Google has apparently now deleted links to around 70% of the sites on that blacklist.

 

January, 25, 2019

A good article at Wired that furthers the discussion about the evolving symbiosis between Big Government and Big Tech Businesses.  The author contends that they both benefit from one another:

If anything, measuring the flood of tech dollars pouring into Washington, DC, law firms, lobbying outfits, and think tanks radically understates Big Tech’s influence inside the Beltway. By buying The Washington Post, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos took direct control of Washington’s hometown newspaper. In locating one of Amazon’s two new headquarters in nearby Northern Virginia, Bezos made the company a major employer in the area—with 25,000 jobs to offer.

The 2008 election of Barack Obama, a well-credentialed technocrat who identified very strongly with the character of Spock from Star Trek, gave the old-time scientistic-progressive religion new currency on the left and ushered in a cozy relationship between the Democratic Party and billionaire techno-monopolists who had formerly fashioned themselves as government-skeptical libertarians.

A national or global surveillance network that uses beneficent algorithms to reshape human thoughts and actions in ways that elites believe to be just or beneficial to all mankind is hardly the road to a new Eden. It’s the road to a prison camp. The question now—as in previous such moments—is how long it will take before we admit that the riddle of human existence is not the answer to an equation. 

 

January 9, 2019

A great article at Red State that starts to put a new perspective on the relationship between Big Government and Big Business, and how it’s starting to align both the Left and Right against the big tech companies:

The old political paradigm into which DC has spent the last many decades cramming the country – is coming apart at the seams… the Left has all along the way loathed business of any size or kind.  Unless it’s really Big Business – and really Big Business is giving the Left massive amounts of money.  At which point the Left becomes the political arm of – and shock troops for – Big Business. 

As government’s power shot through the stratosphere and beyond – so too did the allure for Big Business to bribe Big Government to bend the latter to the former’s will… That’s $6 trillion per annum of just federal government muscle.  Flexed over a nation of 320 million people – whose entire economic output is $18 trillion.

Big Businesses saw what a powerful crony Big Government could be – and started bribing their way in.  Creating an unholy alliance between two massive forces – the old DC paradigm pigeonholed as enemies.

Bezos [Amazon] has been using his Big Business’ massive money – to buy Big Government.  And utterly unsurprisingly – it has worked like a charm.  Over and over and over again… What’s interesting is, the accumulation of Big Government-Big Business Amazon cronyism is piled so high – the Left is now protesting too.

 

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Category: Business, Politics  | 5 Comments
Reality and Politics
Saturday, January 12th, 2019 | Author:

If we didn’t have information disseminated to us via the internet or over the airwaves from radio and television, what would we really know about the rest of the world around us?   I’m willing to wager that we’d wake up in the morning look outside the window and decide what the weather looked like and then dress accordingly… And that’s about it.  We essentially would have no insights about other challenges or successes occurring elsewhere in our country or on our big green/blue planet.

As a result, our impressions of what is happening — that is, our notion of reality — in the Middle East, or in Europe, or in China — or for that matter — in Washington DC or on the Southern border of the United States, are all highly influenced by the tone and content selected by the media sources.  That is, for good or bad, the Associated Press, New York Times, CNN, Huffington Post, and the other organizations that exist to share information, all have an undue influence on our perception of existence.

Unfortunately, controlling this information provides tremendous ‘leverage’ to nefarious groups.   Those that favor tyranny (Fascists, Communists, etc.) in particular, use this selective pipeline of information to take a very simple position:

  • Reality?  You don’t know reality…  Reality is what we tell you it is!

Of course, this is closely aligned with their primary political position:

  • You don’t know what’s good for you.  We’ll stay in control and take care of you.

 

Category: Politics  | Leave a Comment
An Indian, a Black, and a Mexican Walk Into a Bar…
Sunday, January 06th, 2019 | Author:

The Leftists are so enamored with identity politics, they just can’t help pretending to be part of one of the designated classes of victim-hood.   In just the last year or so, there have been three cases of Caucasian Leftists passing themselves off as victims deserving of your sympathy and special consideration (with Leftists, it’s never about meritocracy).

The worst is Elizabeth Warren who has built her entire academic and political career based on the notion that she is an American Indian.  The next Democrat charlatan is Rachel Dolezal who passed herself off as an African American.  Finally, there’s the pretty boy who changed his name from Robert O’Rourke to Beto so that voters in Texas would think that he is Hispanic.

Hat tip to Joe K

Category: Humor, Politics  | Leave a Comment
Redford and Eastwood
Wednesday, January 02nd, 2019 | Author:

We recently saw two movies that are likely the last for these two great acting icons that are now in their early to late 80 years of age: Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood. The movies were both very similar in tone — that is, the pace of the stories was a throwback to movies made 50 years ago when careful character development was more important than special effects.

Mr. Redford’s movie, The Old Man & the Gun (portions of the movie were shot near my old office in Dayton, Ohio), tells the story of an elderly bank robber that enjoys robbing financial institutions with panache and style. Since Mr. Redford always liked to play roles where he is the calm and super-intelligent protagonist, in some ways, the role in this movie was expressly written for him.

Robert Redford Picture

Mr. Eastwood’s movie, The Mule, depicts the actor as an accidental and oblivious deliveryman for the drug cartel. Since the protagonist in this story is individualistic and a curmudgeon, this role also appears to have been written for Mr. Eastwood. Many of his roles over his career seemed to cater to these traits.

Clint Eastwood Picture

Neither of these movies is bound to be considered a hit, but they both are decent-enough quality to positively cap-off the careers of two very successful Hollywood mainstays.

Category: General  | Leave a Comment