Sunday, 7 February 2021

"Facebook, Google and Amazon are a bad thing and must be smashed up". When did Tory MPs get to be this stupid?

The Face of Evil

Well I suppose it is popular.  But there was a time when Conservative Chairmen of Select Committees didn't indulge in such populism:
It is a lesson today’s great monopolists – Bezos, Zuckerberg, Brin and Page – should heed.

For their businesses exert ever more control over our everyday lives. They believe their power is unlimited. And, what’s more, the authorities, in the main, are letting them get away with it.

These tech giants give the impression that democratically elected governments can be ignored, that they can use the most private information about millions of us for profit, without our knowledge and all the while treating the obligation of paying tax as optional.
Literally nothing in this quotation is accurate and a good deal of it isn't true. Yet Tobias Ellwood can get a whole column to present us with a populist diatrabe of spectacular an dmonumental ignorance, one that will have the Daily Mail's readership waving tiny Union Flags and nodding along in agreement that we should stick it to these evil (*checks lists of evils*) Californians.
Never underestimate them. The power of these big tech companies is almost limitless. They know everything about us: not just our name, age, date of birth and spending habits but also the identity of our friends, our private online search interests and our political and sexual orientation.
We could, of course, point out that they know these things because you gave them that information freely in exchange for access to services that add value to your lives. Just as you pay a mortgage to a big, anonymous multinational bank, and heat the home it funds with energy produced by a distant company owned by a foreign government. The power of those tech businesses is limited by their continuing ability to sell advertising not by an essentially mythical belief that Facebook and Amazon thrive on the back of their users being "the product".

For Tobias Ellwood, the solution is a different sort of monopoly, a national one:
Why couldn’t Britain have a search engine of its own, or a British Facebook? The case is overwhelming: it is time to tame the Wild West of the World Wide Web.
The fireworks explode, the flags wave - a British Facebook!

It should worry us that a senior member of parliament, from the party that claims to understand business and markets, can put forward an argument that is little different from those peddled by the loopier supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. Mr Ellwood tells us his ideas (quite how Britain 'breaks up' companies owned and managed in a different country isn't explained) are needed to save democracy, protect newspapers and make a better world where wise men like Tobias oversee the international regulation of the Internet.

There are a lot of things a Conservative government could be doing post-Covid such as supporting families and marriage, reforming the planning system, investing in schools, improving further education, building more houses, planting lots of trees, fixing local roads - a hundred or more simple practical actions to make for a better country. And none of them involve arbitrary decisions by government to smash up successful, value-adding businesses like Facebook and Amazon. None of the good things a Conservative government could do involve slapping taxes on business for having the audacity to make it easier for us to find things online. None of the good things we could do are about attacks on free markets simply because Twitter banned Donald Trump and lots of (largely self-interested) newspaper publishers believe all news was true prior to Facebook.



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