In business and government, the bullies are calling the shots
The President threatens to expel hundreds of thousands of young people to countries they've never called home. To do so, he may use information the young folks provided voluntarily to a government that promised to protect them. This is as un-American as it gets. In a September 5, 2017, article, the Guardian's Ed Pilkington describes the threat to the legal status of nearly one million Americans that is posed by the President's DACA decision.
Every time you think it can't get worse, it does. If you're not rich, white, male, and evangelical, you're screwed.
A bully is directing the destruction of our democracy at the behest of rich Republican donors. Two other bully despots run China and Russia with iron fists. The three most powerful countries in the world are ruled by tyrants. Democracy is on life support, and when democracy dies, human rights die along with it.
Tech bullies do a different kind of damage
Does it surprise you that Google has come to rule news publishing? Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall writes in a September 1, 2017, article about the monopoly Google has over news publishing -- a situation that news outlets are hesitant to discuss for fear of ruffling Google's feathers. Marshall compares his site's relationship with Google to the Star Trek episode in which you had to be "assimilated by the Borg" to enjoy the many benefits of being a part of the Google universe.
Google's Doubleclick for Publishers, AdExchange, and Google Analytics are the machinery that drive the online-ad money machine. Factor in Google's leadership in search, email (Gmail), and browsers (Chrome), and you have a closed internet ecosystem. About the only good thing that Marshall can say about Google's monopoly is that it is more generous to publishers than Facebook's ad domination, which benefits only Facebook for the most part -- Facebook shares much less of its ad revenue than Google does, according to Marshall.
An interaction TPM had with Google illustrates the down side of giving a private company such as Google responsibility for enforcing hate-speech restrictions. As Marshall explains, TPM received notice from Google in recent months that "a few" of the pages on its site were "penalized" for violations of Google's ban on hate speech. TPM determined that the pages in questions contained news articles about "white supremacist incidents."
When TPM contacted Google to challenge the violations, the Google representative responded with a message that failed to distinguish between actual hate speech and a news article about hate speech. TPM was "cheerily" told to operate within the no-hate-speech guidelines. The publication faced a dilemma: continue to cover the "banned" topic in a news context and risk being blacklisted by Google's ad machine; or stop covering the subject, thus allowing Google's hate-speech policy to censor the internet.
Marshall concludes that TPM will remain in the Google economy and will "keep cashing their checks," but he states clearly:
"Google is a big, big problem. So is Facebook. So is Amazon. Monopolies are a big, lumbering cause of many of our current afflictions. And we’re only now, slowly, beginning to realize it."
More voices call out Google for abuse of monopoly powers
Earlier this summer the European Union fined Google for preferring its own subsidiaries in search results to those of competitors. In an August 30, 2017, article in the Washington Post, Fordham University Law Professor Zephyr Teachout describes what happened when the Open Markets team at the New America think tank issued a 150-word statement praising the EU's action.
Open Markets is "dedicated to studying and exposing distortions in markets, including monopoly power," according to Teachout, so it makes sense that the group would take an interest in the EU's action against Google. Open Markets' statement recommended that U.S. government officials "apply traditional American monopoily law" to break up Google's various services into "separate ownership."
New America receives a great deal of funding from Google, and has done so for many years, as Teachout writes. Within three days of Open Markets' statement, Google representatives had called New America "expressing their displeasure," and canceled two pending hires for the Open Markets team. The head of New America notified the head of the Open Markets team, Barry C. Lynn, that the group had to leave New America.
Teachout writes that Google is on track to spend more on lobbying efforts in 2017 than any other organization, after spending the third-most on lobbying in 2015, outspending Exxon Mobil, Lockheed Martin, and the Koch brothers. The Open Markets team landed on its feet, according to Teachout, and will continue to work on combatting monopolistic practices such as Google's actions in attempting to silence its critics.
In a September 1, 2017, article on Common Dreams, Jake Johnson reports that Lynn has founded the group Citizens Against Monopoly to document and publicize "the dangers of concentrated private power," according to Lynn. Joining Lynn at Citizens Against Monopoly is former New America fellow Matt Stoller, and the group is said to have the support of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.)
Google responds quickly -- and effectively -- to unflattering news stories
A first-hand account of what it feels like to be an individual in Google's crosshairs is offered by Kashmir Hill in an August 31, 2017, post on Gizmodo. In 2011, Hill wrote an article for Forbes about the negative effects of Google's monopolistic practices. Google was pushing its then-new Plus social network, and it intended to punish in search results any site that failed to post a Plus button on their pages alongside those for Facebook, Reddit, and other services.
In other words, if a site didn't add the Google Plus button, its articles would be more difficult to find in Google search results. Because the company was being investigated by a congressional anti-trust committee at the time, it was sensitve to any indication it was abusing its monopoly in search. Google claimed the information was communicated in a marketing meeting that Hill was invited to, and thus was subject to a non-disclosure agreement.
Hill never signed any such agreement, she was never told the information was not to be disclosed, and she had identified herself as a journalist. Soon after the story posted, Hill heard from "higher-ups" at Forbes who had been contacted by Google representatives. The Forbes managers indicated that if the article didn't come down, it could hurt Forbes. Hill didn't challenge the decision to pull the story, and she remarks that it disappeared from Google search results almost instantly (a version that was scraped by an "internet marketing group" and can be found here).
LinkedIn's attempt to "abuse" a computer break-in law was slapped down by Judge Edward Chen of the Northern District of California, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Jamie Williams and Amul Kalia report in an August 29, 2017, article. LinkedIn had attempted to prevent a company called hiQ Labs from scraping information from the public profiles of LinkedIn users, claiming the practice violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).
In enjoining LinkedIn from preventing hiQ's scraping, Chen stated that he "doubted" LinkedIn could invoke the CFAA to "punish" hiQ for accessing publicly available information. The EFF is hoping the U.S. Supreme Court grants certiorari in U.S. v. Nosal so that companies can no longer use the CFAA to block access to public data.
It's one thing for me to say, "Facebook scares me," but it's another thing altogether when the person expressing their fear of the Social Network from Hell is John Lanchester, noted British journalist and author of the book, Capital. Lanchester expresses his concerns in a very long read in the August 2017 London Review of Books, entitled "You are the Product."
Here are a few of Lanchester's observations: