Al Franken's speech on big tech and its surveillance, influence, opacity and high-handedness sometimes lacked coherence (you can't call for "Net Neutrality principles" for Amazon, Google, and Facebook and ask them to police bad speech, propaganda, etc), but the important thing is where he gave that speech.
Franken spoke at an event hosted by the Open Markets Institute, a fearless anti-monopoly thinktank that was expelled from the New America Foundation after they praised the EU's antitrust settlement against Google and Google cut off funding to New America in retaliation.
Technology has many sins to answer for, starting with the list of horrors that Franken spelled out, but these are problems, largely, of monopolism. Tech grew up in the era of financial ascendancy, in which shareholder considerations and casino-style IPO payouts were the main feature of the business world; and tech came of age in the era of monopoly, when Chicago School-influenced regulators stopped prosecuting any kind of anti-competitive conduct or mergers, save those that raised prices — leaving intact the kinds of commercial activity that reduced competition, choice, and the power of other entities in the ecosystem, from workers to suppliers to retailers.
Too often, "technology critics" mistake correlation for causation. They blame search engines and social media for our ills — not financialized, unchecked, rapacious search engine and social media companies, driven by global capital, serviced by tax-havens, encouraged by policymakers.
So Franken doesn't quite have a handle on what tech companies should and should not do, and that means he needs to be educated on this — the important thing is that he's locating his criticism exactly where it belongs: in the unchecked, winner-take-all system of neoliberal, unchecked capitalism.
Franken's proposed solution to tech's power? More hearings, investigations, and perhaps rules that would require Google and Facebook, in particular, not to discriminate in the content they distribute, much as internet providers may not favor some content over others under so-called net-neutrality rules. "As tech giants become a new kind of internet gatekeeper, I believe the same basic principles of net neutrality should apply here," said Franken. "No one company should have the power to pick and choose which content reaches consumers and which doesn't," he said. "Facebook, Google, and Amazon, like ISPs, should be neutral in their treatment of the flow of lawful information and commerce on their platform."
(Image: Вени Марковски, CC-BY)