Breaking up Big Tech PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 22 December 2018 00:00
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Sarthak edit


There have been calls in the West to break up companies like Google and Facebook, over concerns of abuse of dominance and privacy violations. Just recently, Google CEO Sundar Pichai was told by Republican lawmakers at a US Congressional Judiciary Committee hearing that Google’s search service has a liberal bias and buries conservative websites in its search results and amplifies criticism of the conservative policies—a charge that has been levelled against the company by US president Donald Trump and one that the company has repeatedly denied. Given Google’s blackbox algorithm—algorithms that are kept secret for business and intellectual property reasons—the search is particularly vulnerable to charges of bias, notwithstanding from which part of the political spectrum such accusations come from.

At the same time, the conservative outrage over Google stems from a specious understanding of tech and programmers’ human bias infecting algorithms. While Trump’s tweets on Google’s anti-conservative bias relied on a study by PJ Media that said Google News was propping opinion, analysis and news from “left-leaning/liberal” media houses, the study has since been debunked because, amongst other things, it considered nearly all of mainstream media including Reuters, WSJ, etc, as left-leaning/liberal. In stark contrast is Facebook that also relies on blackbox algorithm for its NewsFeed feature—the social media giant was exposed last month for concealing evidence of Russian activity on its platform with an intent to swing the elections that saw Trump become president in Trump’s favour for far longer than the company had earlier disclosed. The Cambridge Analytica exposé and the recent reveal by the UK Parliament are both scathing commentaries on Facebook’s privacy problem—media reports this week suggest that Facebook has even been trading users’ data without their consent with other Big Tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon, etc. Similarly, the EU rulings in the anti-trust matters concerning Google’s comparison shopping advertisements and bundling of Google apps with Android-based smartphone OS make it easy to see how exactly the company can abuse its dominance.

Political bias as part of abuse of dominance may be a harder thing to prove than, say, bundling of apps, but the fact is Big Tech—and not just Google and Facebook—has a lot to answer for. And, despite the belief that Big Tech will self-police, the increasing number of revelations against a Facebook, for instance, suggest this isn’t going to happen in a hurry. The anti-trust issues can’t be wished away either, even if you believe the EU actions were too harsh. It is not clear if the political system knows how to respond or whether it has the right solution, but it is time to start thinking of possible solutions and endgames so that the best possible outcome is achieved.



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