The famous quote from Lord Acton—“Absolute power corrupts absolutely”—is a good guide to compiling a list of the companies that are likely to need policing. The list is pretty short—Amazon, Facebook, Google (including YouTube), Twitter, and Uber (perhaps). And the effect on humankind (especially children) is pretty severe. Amazon is now so large and powerful that it is in danger of being prosecuted under the antitrust laws.
Fortunately, a handful of Silicon Valley notables have become activist vigilantes. And they are aiming at kids to use their smartphones for healthy purposes rather than wasting time on useless social apps.
Every major new technology brings with it not only fascinating new capabilities, and in the case of electronic technologies also some potentially-dangerous new challenges. So many auto accidents have been caused because drivers were distracted by their gadgets that it has been proposed that those drivers be punished as if they were driving under the influence of alcohol (or other substances). And it isn’t only driving. Focusing on the small screen while walking not only puts one in harm’s way but in cities like Montclair, CA crossing a street while distracted can result in a sizable fine.
We have twice before posted strong pleas for the giant tech companies—especially Alphabet/Google/YouTube, Apple, and Facebook—to stop expanding their Silicon Valley facilities rather than creating/expanding sizable operations in other cities. They’re mostly software companies, which could be located anyplace with high-speed data transmission capabilities!!! Are these companies afflicted by cases of hubris?
We wonder why all those cities who were campaigning for the Amazon HQ2 aren’t similarly campaigning for expansions of other tech giants.
We also wonder why Silicon Valley communities have not been able to either (1) extract enough money from these companies to compensate the many victims (long commutes, wasted time in traffic jams, inability to find housing, homelessness, etc., or (2) tax the companies so much that it makes it uneconomic to expand there.
This sizable business has been made possible by the advanced software and hardware that underlie the Worldwide Web. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, so as early as 1959 a couple of Stanford undergraduate electrical engineering students—Jim Harvey and Phil Fialer—used paper questionnaires and an IBM 650 computer to pair up 50 men and 50 women. Today’s computers are 1,000,000,000,000 times as fast as this 1954-vintage computer, so it would be easy to work with Facebook’s 2.2 billion members, which are only 22,000,000 times as many as people as took part in the Stanford matchmaking.
As might be expected of bright and fun-loving young men, the full story is very amusing. Back in 1959, the shortage of dormitory rooms had led to their (and a few electrical engineering and KZSU friends) having to live off-campus, namely in the Los Trancos Woods community in Portola Valley. This location was perfect for a date-matching party. It also gave its name to the unconventional and entertaining Los Trancos Woods Community Marching Band.
Taking the venerable quote from Harry Truman,” If you cannot convince them, confuse them”, Facebook will change its coverage so that three-fourths of its total user base (including those in the United States and Canada) will not be able to file a complaint in Ireland, where Facebook’s international headquarters lies. So European Union residents are covered by the GDPR rules. This change will continue to keep Facebook in the news as being untrustworthy, and could cause the U.S. congress to add more stringent laws.
Facebook and other tech giants have been fortunate that they had been essentially unregulated … until now. On April 11 we received an email titled “[Action Required] Important updates on Google Analytics Data Retention and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)” from ‘Google Analytics’ firstname.lastname@example.org that presumably was received by billions of people with gmail email addresses or other Google associations. It alerts all of us of this data protection law affecting users based in the EU (European Union) that will be effective May 25, 2018.
We suspect that the vast majority of Internet-connected individuals had no clue that such a law was in the works, though they could hardly have missed the fact that Mark Zuckerberg was testifying in Washington, DC. Likely this mass email was intentionally timed to coincide with his testifying.
Though some other observers have scorned the technology naivete of some of the legislators, we were generally impressed with the thoughtful questions that in general dug into the key issues—most notably privacy—that had forced Mark Zuckerberg to testify.
Doubtless the large majority of Facebook users never read Facebook’s Terms of Service (TOS), just like the user agreements of other memberships they pursue. When Technology Bloopers debuted, we carefully read the TOS and included some commentary under the “Social Networks” subheading of our “Villains” heading. We pointed out two notions that have turned out to be hugely important in the current dust-up: “Users of these social networks have accepted the Terms of Service (TOS) for them, giving them permission to do many things that, upon reflection, those users might actually not want done.” and “But it is hugely one-sided in that it talks about all the things that Facebook can do and not much about the things the Facebook customer can do. And it is hugely open-ended in that it cites examples of things that Facebook can do today or might do in the future, but places no limits on them. “
The tech giants are so powerful that they feel they can get away with taking actions without asking permission, then apologizing later. Again, we had reminded in our “Villains” subheading the famous quote from Lord Acton: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
We admit to being generally anti- to social networks. In our view they are an unnecessary sugar coating of basic functionality already provided in a range of websites. Our views were included when we originally uploaded our TechnologyBloopers website in August 2014, which included our critical analysis of Facebook’s “Terms of Service”.
Among the tech giants Facebook has recently has become the poster child for taking the notion of “if something is not forbidden by law, then it is allowed”, replacing Google (which did things like copying millions of pages of books in the name of making knowledge available, but violating the copyrights of the authors). This behavior earned a “command performance” for Mark Zuckerberg with congress as the audience.
This club is pretty exclusive today, with American members including mainly Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Netflix. They are so big that to grow significantly they have to look for other big markets (like cloud computing or self-driving cars or Hollywood-type movies) to enter, and most of those big markets are already occupied by other club members or non-member already-large specialists. What are the bloopers here? A classical one would be monopoly/oligopoly pricing and/or restraint of trade. But perhaps more important might be the opportunities lost by a failure to allocate capital to creating useful NEW-AND-DIFFERENT products and services.
Mark Twain’s 1897 quote had it right: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” One possible Truth in the current fracas involving Russians, Trump’s campaign team for the 2016 presidential election, and social network companies including Facebook, Google, and Twitter is that this is an early example of wars that are fought by hackers and the Internet rather than soldiers and guns. Numerous semi-fiction books could be written or movies created about this craziness. One possible plot is that the Russians knew how unusual (AKA weird) Donald Trump is, and preferred him to Hillary Clinton as president because they could exploit that unusualness (AKA weirdness). A bunch of congresspeople are calling for regulation of these giant Internet-based companies. So are the media, who are far more regulated than Facebook, Google, and Twitter. These are crazy times, and the Russians and other enemy nations must be enjoying all the gyrations that the US is going through.