The Trillion-Dollar Chameleon: Big Tech

The Trillion-Dollar Chameleon: Big Tech, by Victor David Hanson.

Today, five companies — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) — have a collective worth of more than $3 trillion. Yet such transnational companies remain mostly exempt from the sort of regulations and accountability faced by most other industries.

Big tech’s products cause a lot of harm. Where is product liability?

Major corporations understandably fear product-liability laws. Oil companies … tobacco companies have paid out billions of dollars … pharmaceutical corporations are often forced to pay millions in fines when their prescription drugs cause dangerous side effects.

Yet every year, nearly a half-million Americans are injured in traffic accidents due to distracted driving involving a cell phone. No one knows how many millions of people worldwide are addicted to the apps on their smartphones — a habit that can be harder to break than an opiate addiction and can leave addicted users in a similar zombie-like condition. Yet unlike Big Pharma, Big Oil, and Big Tobacco, Big Tech is rarely held responsible for the deleterious effects of its products on millions the world over. …

Duopoly:

Facebook and Google are now called a “duopoly.” The two companies rake in roughly half of all Internet ad revenue. Both companies sometimes censor and electronically snoop on their customers, massaging everything from the daily news to what we should buy. Could a Silicon Valley startup company offer an alternative to either Facebook or Google? It would likely be bought out or crushed the moment it became large enough to gain notice. …

How come big tech is exempt?

First, their CEOs wisely cultivate the image of hipsters. The public sees them more as aging teenagers in T-shirts, turtlenecks, and flip-flops than as updated versions of J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, or other robber barons of the past.

Second, the tech industry’s hierarchy is politically progressive. In brilliant marketing fashion, the Internet, laptops, tablets, and smartphones have meshed with the hip youth culture of music, television, the movies, universities, and fashion. Think Woodstock rather than Wall Street. …

Third, the tech industry boasts that it is green and clean. Plastic cords and screens almost magically produce podcasts, videos, email, social media pages, and the Internet. Few in the public worry about how lithium-ion batteries are made, or where and how their ingredients are mined. Pods and pads do not emit smoke. They require no gas, grease, and oil. Smartphones and laptops apparently were spontaneously generated out of the clean air of the cool San Francisco Bay area and will dissolve back into it when they wear out.

Finally, high tech is an American specialty and a huge earner of foreign exchange. Politicians are understandably afraid of turning a golden goose into a sick hen. Without taxable trillion-dollar revenues from Facebook, Google, and Apple, a dysfunctional, cash-strapped California would likely go broke.