Thursday, July 18, 2019


I've heard the argument made that free market forces, tech startups, and/or the open source movement will whittle away and eventually significantly curtail tech giants like Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Apple, and others without the need for the federal government to intervene.

  1. How so?

    Of course, free market forces and tech startups have always been around too. In fact, these tech giants started out as tech startups. They simply outcompeted other tech startups in their market to become tech giants. So I'm not sure how free market forces and tech startups are supposed to significantly curtail tech giants when tech giants were forged in the midst of free market forces and in competition with other tech startups. Maybe there's more of an argument to be made, but I'd need to have it better spelled out for me.

  2. Open source.

    The open source movement has been around forever too. In fact, I remember a time when the language of "open source" was opposed by Richard Stallman and the FSF who favored "free software" (free as in free speech (libre) rather than free beer (gratis)). Again, I don't know how the open source movement is supposed to significantly curtail the tech giants or even proprietary software in general. At best, I could agree open source companies have "whittled away" at big tech, but that's like saying one or two guys with an ice pick are whittling away at a behemoth iceberg.

    For example, I think LibreOffice is a fine office suite and probably does 95% of what the average person needs, but it doesn't seem to have done much to dent Microsoft Office.

    Another example is operating systems for home users (to say nothing of operating systems for smartphones, commercial servers, etc.). Good Linux distros have been around since, well, Linux Torvalds came on the scene, and are even more mature today (e.g. Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora), but most people still use Windows or OS X.

  3. A more fundamental issue.

    Besides, the fundamental issue over tech giants isn't company size, market share, or the like. Rather, the more fundamental issue is over ethics such as business ethics. Or at least over legality.

    Sure, it helps to be the 800 lb. gorilla in the room. It's easier to make an impact on society and culture as Google than it is as DuckDuckGo because Google is so big and strong.

    However, if a company is behaving unethically or illegally in the market, no matter what its size or market share, then shouldn't someone do something to keep it in line? Is a small company that's behaving unethically or illegally less culpable than a big company that's behaving unethically or illegally due to its smaller size?

    At the same time, a bigger and stronger company would pose more of a challenge to keep in line than a smaller company since it is so big and strong.

    Take Google. It's been shown Google has violated its legal obligations by how it treats conservative or anti-liberal content (e.g. here). Likewise take the brouhaha over Google firing James Damore for what he did in his now famous or infamous Google memo ("Google's Ideological Echo Chamber"). In any case, Google is legally regarded (under section 230 of the CDA) as a provider of content, not a publisher of content. But the problem is Google is really a publisher of content, not a provider of content. As such, Google deserves to have its legal immunities under section 230 revoked. As such, wouldn't that be true regardless of Google's size or market share or the like?

    Suppose a small and unheard of company fires an employee solely due to that employee's race/ethnicity. That would be racism, wouldn't it? Regardless of the company's size or market share.

  4. Limited government.

    I think the fear among conservatives is we don't like to see the government interfering with the free market. I agree with that, and it's true the government can unduly interfere in the free market.

    However, as conservatives, we subscribe to small or limited government, not no government. As such, I don't necessarily have a problem with the government regulating the market in some limited capacity. It depends on the specifics in mind.

    Perhaps a case can be made for independent agencies taking care of some abuses in a capitalistic market. However, when it comes to tech giants like Google and Facebook, is it possible for an independent agency to blunt them?

    If not, why shouldn't it be the federal government's responsibility (on behalf of the American people) to break up monopolies? That's what happened in the past with Standard Oil, Ma Bell, the robber barons, etc. Should the federal government have stayed out of the way of Standard Oil, Ma Bell, the robber barrons, etc., and instead let the free market take care of their monopolistic practices?

  5. Solutions.

    With regard to big tech, Ted Cruz offers three solutions:

    In brief, Cruz's solutions are:

    a. The federal government should revoke big tech's section 230 immunities.

    b.The federal government should pursue anti-trust laws against big tech.

    c. The DOJ should investigate big tech for fraud or breach of contract.

(I realize the irony in saying all this on Blogger which is owned by Google.)

1 comment:

  1. To be clear:

    1. I think we should fight against big tech. I think we should promote true free speech as guaranteed in our Constitution and the Bill of Rights, viz. the first amendment.

    2. At the same time, let's consider the long tail model of social media.

    a. Currently, most people don't want to join a small social network with a few thousand users when they could sign up with Facebook or Twitter and have access to potentially millions of other users.

    b. At least that seems to be the prevailing thinking in the tech industry (e.g. Silicon Valley). However, there may be an alternative.

    First, let me back up a step or two. There are many people who are increasingly annoyed or fed up by social networks with millions of users and millions of conversations happening. It's often hard to keep up with every conversation. It's often tiresome to keep up with many conversations. Often conversations are simply banal.

    Enter the long tail model of social media. The idea is that, as people mature in their internet habits, then the same people will tend to prefer smaller social networks with people whom they can have interesting or meaningful conversations with. They don't necessarily need to be involved in or even be distracted by every latest trend.

    In short, the premise behind the long tail model of social media is that many people will want their social media use to be interesting or valuable. Or at least more often interesting or valuable than not. Over and against keeping up with the latest news, conversation, or trend, and reaching out to wide audiences, broadcasting one's opinions everywhere and everywhen with everyone overhearing and commenting on everything. Getting away from that and coming back to grass roots sorts of communities.

    c. As such, smaller platforms which aim to provide valuable discourse like Jordan Peterson's Thinkspot might, in fact, "whittle away" and "curtail" the influence of these tech giants. It's still too early to tell, and I don't think they'll ever totally replace tech giant social media companies like Facebook or YouTube or Twitter simply because there are always going to be people who do want to reach huge audiences as "influencers" and the like, but at least I think there's some hope for a significant niche where many disaffected Americans (among others) can have interesting or meaningful conversations with one another without feeling like they have to watch what they say or else the elites will censor them. (By the way, I'd also consider reforming upvotes/downvotes or likes/dislikes in social media.) Anyway that's how I'd argue for "startups" blunting the impact of big tech. Something along those lines. Of course, who knows if any of this is at all realistic, but I suppose time will tell.