Google abandons ‘Don’t be evil’, now a neo-feudal overlord

Google abandons ‘Don’t be evil’, now a neo-feudal overlord. By Joel Kotkin.

The motto ‘Don’t be evil’ was removed in 2018 from Google’s corporate code of conduct. In the words of Ross LaJeunesse, a former head of international relations at Google, this reflected the transformation of Google into a company consumed by the need to ‘chase bigger profits and an even higher stock price’.

Google has morphed into a quasi-monopoly that now controls over 90 per cent of the US, European and UK search-engine market. Gmail, meanwhile, has 1.5 billion monthly users, or about 75 per cent of the market for web-based email. …

Shielded from competition, it benefits increasingly not from innovation but from finding new ways to leverage its dominant market position. … If there is a potential competitor, … the masters of tech simply buy it. …

The new lords of cyberspace may not wear top hats or chainmail, but they rule with the same ferocity as their medieval forebears or the rapacious capitalists of the Gilded Age. Former Apple employee and Wired magazine writer Antonio García Martínez has described the tech oligarchs’ operations as ‘feudalism with better marketing’. …

Politics:

Google’s search engine, once noted for its impartiality and open sourcing, has become increasingly politicised. …

Historically, Silicon Valley tended to be politically disengaged and divided largely between pro-business Democrats and moderate Republicans. But in the 2010s, the nerds — particularly at Google — developed what the Intercept described as a ‘remarkably close’ relationship with Barack Obama’s ‘Android administration’. Then Google CEO Eric Schmidt emerged as a true power player within the Obama administration. And when Obama stepped down, the president’s numerous high-level functionaries found comfy positions at Google and other tech firms.

Since the Obama era, both Schmidt, now retired as CEO, and Google continue to play important roles in the Democratic Party.

Schmidt reportedly helped fund President Biden’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. And Google and Schmidt are far from alone in their involvement with the Democrats. In the 2020 election, 98 per cent of internet-firm campaign contributions went Biden’s way, with Mark Zuckerberg personally donating $350million to the Biden-supporting Centre for Tech and Civic Life.

Removing the toxic Trump, and adopting politically correct stances on everything from Black Lives Matter to gender identity and climate change, has seemingly won the major tech firms some left-wing street cred. …

With Biden in the White House, Google’s political future seems secure. It maintains close ties with California progressives, like current California governor Gavin Newsom and US vice-president and former California senator Kamala Harris. Harris has been one of the staunchest opponents of regulating firms like Google. The ascension of either her or Newsom to the presidency would provide a lovely feast for the tech oligarchy.

But public scepticism towards the oligarchs has grown considerably in recent years. In a Gallup poll in 2021, the proportion of Americans holding negative views of the Big Tech firms had risen from 33 to 45 per cent over the previous 18 months. Support for greater regulation of Big Tech had also risen during that time, from 48 to 57 per cent.

Increasingly, the public sees not intrepid entrepreneurs but modern versions of the Gilded Age mogul, successfully playing the political system to avoid regulation, antitrust action and taxes. During the pandemic, Big Tech firms were able to rake in enormous profits, at a time when Main Street businesses were ordered to shut down.

Besides, the lavish yachts, numerous estates and private planes owned by the likes of Jeff Bezos, Eric Schmidt and Google founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page hardly fit with either their maverick self-images or their supposed passion for fighting climate change.

No longer able to count on genuine public admiration, the tech firms — now the largest political donors among all industries — have also stepped up their lobbying efforts on the right. These efforts now dwarf those of the traditional big players, like oil, tobacco or manufacturing.

The Big Tech firms have certainly won over some conservative thinktanks, who now defend Google and their ilk as the rightful winners of fierce market competition and reject any effort to curb their power. But generally support for Google and its fellow digital lords has faded among conservatives. The tech firms’ often obvious hostility to conservatives — Gmail is even alleged to flag Republican fundraising appeals as spam — has unsurprisingly made them many enemies in the GOP, a party which once worshipped the capitalist elite. …

Google is the world’s biggest censor:

The tech oligarch’s greatest weapon against dissent lies in its ability to control the flow of information. Today’s tech firms seek to monitor thought just as much as the Catholic Church did in the Middle Ages.

They have engaged in widespread de-platforming of largely conservative voices. And Google, through its algorithms, now removes or downgrades publications or individuals as it sees fit. It has become, as US News put it in 2016, ‘the world’s biggest censor’. To make matters worse, Google Chrome is widely cited for tracking its own users with ‘ubiquitous surveillance’ technology. …

The growing confluence of Google and the other dominant platforms with the executive state is even more worrying. This became especially clear during the pandemic, when online platforms engaged in the censorship of those voices, no matter how well-credentialed, who dared to question the official policy on Covid. Tech firms have been engaged in attempts this year to create a ‘disinformation board’ that would work to limit dissent from federally supported orthodoxy.

But this is just the beginning. Last year, Google announced a ‘crackdown’ on climate-change sceptics — including well-known scientists.