Last week the US House Judiciary Committee took time out from their busy schedule of impeaching Donald Trump to actually do something useful. They held a field hearing about the power of online platforms and spoke to witnesses specifically about Facebook, Google and Amazon. This was the title of the hearing:
Date: Friday, January 17, 2020 – 10:00am
Location: 01/17/2020 10:00 AM MST
If you want to watch the whole thing, you can here (link). Fox had a good write up. All of the witnesses told compelling stories of how difficult it is to innovate in a market dominated by companies that have grown so huge. Throughout I heard a clear tension between business people who clearly want government to get out of the way and let them innovate, but a recognition that Google, Facebook and Amazon (in particular) have grown unnaturally large and are now a threat to innovation.
I pulled out the following clip by the CTO of software service provider Basecamp, David Heinemeier Hansson. He has decided not to use Facebook for advertising and he explains how that is so difficult to do. It is entirely analogous to a news site or prominent individual who choses not to be active on Facebook or is banned from it for whatever reason.
He’s arguing, and I completely agree with him, Facebook and Google managed to collect and gather a trove of personal information in an early gold rush. Most people had no idea they were handing over something this valuable in aggregate because individually they thought it a fair exchange for shiny beads and services. Amazon is also sitting on a similar power.
I no longer have access to Facebook and I absolutely know that for the kind of blog posts I write, I would receive something like 70% of my traffic from there if I merely had a Facebook mirror of my blog posts. Whether you’re buying adverts using their astonishingly intrusive targeting data, or just trying to have your thoughts heard, Facebook is the giant you can’t ignore. That’s one of the reasons why their ban on crypto advertising had such a devastating effect.
America doesn’t really have the same anti-trust regulations we’re using in Australia for our suit. Which is a pity, they don’t seem to know what to do. Toward the end of the hearing the politicians ask the panel what they suggest: the short version is they really don’t know what to do about it!
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