Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Vince Cable calls for break up of online monopolies

Embed from Getty Images

The Liberal Democrat leader made an important speech last week:
Vince Cable has compared Google, Amazon and Facebook to the US oil monopolies that exploited their market power more than a century ago – and called for them to be broken up. 
In a speech in London, the Liberal Democrat leader said a series of recent scandals, including revelations about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, meant the “tech titans” had “progressed from heroes to villains very quickly”. 
“Just as Standard Oil once cornered 85% of the refined oil market, today Google drives 89% of internet searches, 95% of young adults on the internet use a Facebook product, Amazon accounts for 75% of ebook sales, while Google and Apple combined provide 99% of mobile operating systems,” he said.
Exactly right. In fact I think I tweeted something to the same effect last week before I read about Vince's speech.

Why have the online giants been allowed to get away with it for so long?

One reason was given by John Harris in an article published back in 2011:
The computer industry came of age in the 1990s, that giddy phase of American and European history when authoritarianism was assumed to be on the wane. 
In those days when the coming of the internet seemed of a piece with the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the end of Apartheid. It was a new, more liberal world and the new online entrepreneurs were a different, cuddlier breed from their meat world equivalents. Didn't they eat jelly beans and go snowboarding?

But as Harris went on to ask:
For sure, it's still nice to live in a liberal democracy, but given that the world has since moved in no end of sinister directions, isn't our unthinking embrace of the cloud (and just to recap: our medical records could soon be up there) an ill-advised throwback? 
And what of the long view: looking ahead 50 years, how certain are we that the surveillance state will not have extended its tentacles; that nasty, illiberal politics will not be all the rage; or that Google, Microsoft et al. will not have learned dangerous new tricks?
And even if liberalism is able to fight back, we now know that online entrepreneurs can be as rapacious as any other.

1 comment:

Phil Beesley said...

John Harris misunderstood the computer or micro-computer industry. The business created by Apple and Microsoft and forgotten companies was about building computers for individuals. People bought micro-computers for themselves or for companies using a departmental budget -- so that they could compute without having to deal with an IT department.

All developments -- mini-computers, micro-computers, PCs, LANs, tablets, phones, computer language interpreters -- have been taken over by people who wanna control computers and their users. All of them have been combined into the system of big IT -- with some resistance.

It is hard to beat.