Can Washington Stop Big Tech Companies ? Don’t Bet on It - The New York Times
The tech giants are too big. They’re getting bigger. We can stop them. But in all likelihood, we won’t.
The history of American business is one of repeated cycles of unfettered, sometimes catastrophic growth followed by periods of reflection and regulation. In previous eras of suffocating corporate dominance over our lives — when industrialists gained an economic stranglehold through railroads and vast oil and steel concerns, or when rampant financial speculation sent the nation into economic paroxysms — Americans turned to their government for a fix.
In the last half-century, lawmakers and regulators set up a regime to improve the safety of automobiles and other manufactured goods, to break up a telephone monopoly that controlled much of the nation’s communications and to loosen the fatal grip that tobacco companies held over American society.
We are now at another great turning point in the global economy. A handful of technology companies, the Frightful Five — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon, the largest American corporations by stock-market value — control the technological platforms that will dominate life for the foreseeable future.
Yet despite their growth and obvious impact on the economy and society, technology has long been given a special pass. For nearly two decades, under Republican and Democratic presidents, most tech giants have been spared from much legislation, regulation and indeed much government scrutiny of any kind.
J’avais parlé de ce phénomène en 2007 sous le vocable de #Vectorialisme pour désigner la nouvelle forme de monopole qui émergeait du numérique. Devant le scepticisme de mes collègues, j’avais laissé cette approche de côté. J’ai eu tort (de l’abandonner) car j’avais une belle intuition.
Part of what has hampered governmental action against the Five is the unusual nature of their power. Much of what they do now, and will soon have the power to do, exceeds what we’ve ever expected from corporations. In different ways, they each collect, analyze and mediate our most important public and personal information, including news, political data and our relationships. They’re being called upon to police free speech, terrorism and sex trafficking, and to defend nations and individuals against existential digital attack.
But in other ways, the Five do not cleanly fit traditional notions of what constitutes dangerous corporate power. Only a couple of them enjoy monopolies or duopolies in their markets — Google and Facebook in digital ads, for example.
Then there is our own complicated relationship with the tech giants. We do not think of them in the same way we think of, say, the faceless megacorps of Wall Street. The Five’s power comes cloaked in friendliness, utility and irresistible convenience at unbelievable prices. We hooked our lives into them willingly, and then we became addicted to them. For many Americans, life without all but one or two of them might feel just about unlivable.