My latest Locus Magazine column is Big Tech: We Can Do Better Than Constitutional Monarchies, and it’s a warning that the techlash is turning into a devil’s bargain, where we make Big Tech pay for a few cosmetic changes that do little to improve bullying, harassment, and disinformation campaigns, and because only Big Tech can afford these useless fripperies, they no longer have to fear being displaced by new challengers with better ways of doing things.
No. The priority today is making Big Tech behave itself. Laws like SESTA/FOSTA (the 2018 US law notionally concerned with fighting sex trafficking) and the proposed new EU Copyright Directive (which would require anyone providing a forum for public discourse to invest tens of millions of dollars in copyright filters that would block anything potentially infringing from being published) are the kinds of rules that Big Tech’s winners can comply with, but their nascent future competitors can’t possibly follow. Google and Twitter and Facebook can find the hundreds of millions necessary to comply with EU copyright rules, but the companies that might someday knock them off their perch don’t have that kind of money.
The priorities of the techlash are handing Big Tech’s giants a potentially eternal monopoly on their turf. That’s not so surprising: a monopolist’s first preference is for no regulation, and its close second preference is for lots of regulation, especially the kind of regulation that no competitor could possibly comply with. Today, Big Tech spends hundreds of millions of dollars buying and crushing potential competitors: better for them to spend the money on regulatory compliance and have the state do the work of snuffing out those future rivals in their cradles.
The vision of the “techno utopia” is a democracy: a world where anyone who wants to can participate in the shape of the future, retooling, reconfiguring, remapping the systems around them to suit their needs.
The vision of the techlash is a constitutional monarchy. We start by recognizing the divine right of Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and the other giants to rule our technology, then we gather the aristocracy – technocrats from government regulatory bodies – to place modest limits on the power of the eternal monarchs.
Big Tech: We Can Do Better Than Constitutional Monarchies [Cory Doctorow/Locus Magazine]
(Image: Heralder, CC-BY-SA)