Facebook and Google are money-making machines, given the monopoly they hold over internet advertising and content. Two of their critics, speaking at the Collision from Home virtual technology conference on June 24, suggest that the internet giants are manipulating the types of content we see, profiting from our personal data, and attempting to minimize or silence certain voices.
They also say that the two big tech multinationals ought to be broken up and that they’re not providing a service for free, even if it might look that way.
“We have been conditioned to believe that our privacy has no inherent value,” said Camille Dundas, co-founder and editor-in-chief at ByBlacks.com, a Black online magazine.
When people pay, they are directly making a choice. But under the current framework or business model of Facebook and Google, no money changes hands. Users don’t pay to use their services and these companies also don’t pay for the information they obtain from their users, which they then translate into advertising dollars.
“They are manipulating us by breaking the price signals that let us decide whether we want to buy goods and services,” said Matt Stoller, research director at American Economic Liberties Project and author of the book “Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.”
Dundas and Stoller agree that either people should be paying upfront for using the services and having their data collected, or Facebook and Google should pay users to collect their data.
Stoller added that the tech behemoths’ business model of advertising should be changed so that they generate revenue based on providing trusted information to audiences and not “intrusively surveil people, manipulate them.”
‘Controls the News of the World’
Facebook and Google wield considerable power via the information they provide to users either in news feeds or search results.
“Mark Zuckerberg is the most powerful editor in the entire world,” Dundas said about Facebook’s CEO. “It controls the news of the world. That in itself is a problem.”
Stating that Facebook is a media publishing company, Dundas reminded Collision attendees that users do not own any of the content they post on that platform.
She says, however, that Facebook is not in a position to manage the editorial and ideological decisions it’s faced with and that the content created by users can be removed or blocked seemingly subjectively by Facebook’s moderators.
The Epoch Times recently reported that a former Facebook content moderator says the company allowed death threats against right-wing personalities it blacklists.
Meanwhile, Google has the eye of U.S. Attorney General William Barr given allegations that it was censoring conservative-leaning news outlets.
Stoller accuses the companies of “destroying” local newspapers and niche publishers that have loyal audiences. Facebook and Google have the ability to prioritize what content—or clickbait—the user sees, and it can be thus very difficult for smaller voices to reach an audience.
He thus adds that the business models of the two companies are fundamentally anti-competitive.
Facebook and Google have repeatedly faced criticism and lawsuits for their anti-competitive practices. The two also reportedly controlled nearly 60 percent of the U.S. internet advertising market in 2018, according to a report from the consultancy PwC.
Striking the Right Balance Between Competition and Regulation
Stoller and Dundas say Facebook and Google need to be broken up with the remnants getting better regulated.
“Can’t rely on these companies to self-regulate,” Dundas said.
The U.S. Department of Justice is calling for legislation to restrict the liability protection of internet companies who arbitrarily censor their users and fail to police illegal content.
Stoller says the companies appear to be receptive to addressing the concerns from policy-makers—including privacy—except to when it comes to their Holy Grail of advertising.
The way forward would move toward fostering more competition over who can provide the services to have a greater semblance of a free market—”disempowering the monopolists,” as Stoller put it.
Dundas and Stoller are championing more transparency over the collection of personal information and greater protection for differing viewpoints on the internet.