I don’t usually go back to the same subject for my column two weeks in a row, but the big tech debate is too big to handle in my 750-word limit! You would think I would be important enough in my own company to be above the rules, but the kids won’t let me.
Speaking of kids, my youngest daughter just gave birth to our 12th grandchild on Wednesday, the deadline for this column. Granddaughters are great! So I am totally fine with 750 this week. Maybe when the grandbabies take over The Post they will be more lenient on the old man.
Last week we asked, “Are the tech giants too big?” As popular as Facebook and Google are, I figured that many readers would pick, “No, they are great; don’t mess with them.” Surprisingly, only 12 percent did. The other 88 percent felt otherwise. The majority, 54.7 percent answered, “Yes, they need to be broken up” while 33.3 percent agreed, “Yes” but wanted to just monitor them better.
The big tech behemoth has destroyed many industries while it was allowed to grow unfettered and was actually subsidized by the government in many subtle ways – like exemption from sales taxes, tax rebates, etc. Amazon paid no income tax last year, for example.
Many newspapers figured that they would just switch completely from print to digital to compete, but the ad dollars are not growing as fast as they thought. Facebook and Google alone make up over 60 percent of digital ad revenue and growing.But this is just one of the reasons so many in our poll viewed the tech giants negatively. Not the least of which is privacy concerns – big time – on top of predatory practices that preclude competition. Big tech today is the epitome of what anti-trust laws are supposed to be about.
Since most agree that there is a problem, what kind of remedies are actually possible without “killing the golden goose?” The anti-trust hearings that began this week in Congress and separate Trump administration investigations ensure that the subject isn’t going away anytime soon.
Both Republican and Democratic representatives pounded Google and Facebook for their effects on news publishers, described as an “economic catastrophe.” Big tech maintains that they have increased news readership. Truth is that social media companies are “free riding” on news content that they don’t produce; they just get the advertising.
The Judiciary Committee launched its investigation Tuesday, focusing on the impact of the tech giants’ platforms on news, layoffs of journalists and the spread of misinformation online.
“This year alone, over 2,900 reporters have lost their jobs,” said Democrat Rep. David Cicilline, who led the hearing.
These include online-only companies.
“If online news publishers can’t survive, who can?” he continued. “We cannot have a democracy without a free and diverse press.”
Without freedom of expression, can America as we know it survive? Would we want it to?
“If we don’t act now to change the structure of our markets, titans will continue to control speech, journalism will continue to suffer and so will our democracy,” said Sally Hubbard of the Open Markets Institute.
The massive free-riding by online platforms is the culprit. In Europe, they are pushing laws to make Google pay for the news that they steal.
The News Media Alliance, which represents 2,000 news publishers, testified that “they are incredible and powerful advertising engines that do great advertising, often around our content, and they take the bulk of our advertising revenue.” They released a report on Monday asserting that Google took in $4.7 billion last year from news that they essentially stole.
Complaints are flowing from both the left and right. In this divided political world, that is saying something must be amiss. Complaints include predatory conduct, political bias and harvesting of personal data.
Several Democratic presidential candidates and many in the White House think that we flat out need to break up the companies on antitrust grounds. Other suggestions discussed at the hearing included halting any more acquisitions by Facebook and Google or forcing all advertising platforms to share more of their revenue with publishers. The tech giants have mostly declined comment.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that it would hurt the country if his Facebook were to be broken up. He espouses the old GM philosophy “what’s good for Facebook is good for America.” We now see where that line of thinking got America and GM. He and other big tech execs have often not shown at previous hearings. I doubt that will be allowed this time.Allen Grunes of The Justice Department says that “something really useful” could emerge.
“It’s not illegal to be a monopoly,” he said. “But it’s wrong for someone at the top of the hill to kick the people off who are trying to climb it.”
Our Post weekly online reader poll question is: “Will anything actually be done to curb the big tech companies?