FANG breakup & regulation – The Force Strengthens?

This month’s UK Institute of Physics member magazine has ‘Digital Technologies: Celebrating 30 years of the World Wide Web’ as its theme. Reading articles in heavily science-based publications can be hard work, but this month it was worth persevering as they provided three reminders for the Badger. First, just how quickly the internet has developed over 30 years. Second, that without physics there would be no internet. And third, just how groups with nefarious personal, political, business and propaganda objectives have deviated the web from its original intentions. When those who created the web feel it’s ‘morphed into a completely out of control monster’ then something’s definitely amiss!

The Badger’s earlier “The Force Awakens’ blog mused on the debate about whether the FANG tech goliaths are too big, too powerful, and too monopolistic to be trusted. Well, it seems the ‘Force is getting stronger’! Politicians are increasing saying something must be done. For example, Elizabeth Warren, a potential 2020 US President candidate, has proposed breaking up the tech goliaths (see here and here), and the UK’s House of Lords wants to rein in these companies with greater regulation.

Warren says that Today’s big tech companies have too much power – too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else’. It’s hard to disagree. In the House of Lords item, a committee chairman says ‘Without intervention, the largest tech companies are likely to gain ever more control of technologies which extract personal data and make decisions affecting people’s lives. Our proposals will ensure that rights are protected online as they are offline while keeping the internet open to innovation and creativity, with a new culture of ethical behaviour embedded in the design of service.’ Again, it’s hard to disagree. Both sets of words reflect the building momentum of the public mood.

The Badger believes that in the right hands, technology focused on solving life’s problems is good for everyone, and that we must remember that the web is used by many individuals, groups and organisations that do just that with a high moral compass. Tech goliaths like the FANGs, however, have had their own way for too long, and breakup and regulation surely benefits society. Such action looks to be some years away. Why? Because with political turmoil in the US, the UK and the European Union, the chances of agreeing any action that starts to make the creators of the web feel it’s no longer an out of control monster are zilch. Inaction by politicians is getting to be unforgiveable…but that’s no real surprise is it?

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