It’s time for lawmakers to start reigning in the growing power of tech titans like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, according to Ev Ehrlich, the former U.S. undersecretary of commerce from 1993 to 1997.
Ehrlich, who heads an economics consulting firm, laid into the Silicon Valley giants and public officials in a Thursday USA Today op-ed, arguing that such companies should no longer be shielded from criticisms and calls for regulation.
“Our society has always protected itself from monopolists, be they utilities, railroads, oil companies, or financiers,” he wrote, but so far policymakers have dragged their feet on the big three.
Companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon are often referred to as “edge” providers, which are entities that offer apps, services, or content through the internet. Such a distinctive, albeit somewhat lesser known, classification of an industry doesn’t seem to upset the populace as much as cable and telecommunication companies. This apparently troubles Ehrlich, who wrote that “those other industries and businesses become little more than grist for the monopolists’ mill,” a bucolic analogy meant to illustrate the tech companies’ ostensible exploitation.
“The edge giants dwarf the cable, telco and satellite companies who spend billions on faster networks that the edge companies then commandeer, free riding off the value created by this ever-improving connectivity,” he wrote. “Features like home assistants, 4K television and virtual/augmented reality exist not because Google or Apple invented them — they’ve been science fiction staples for years — but because ultrafast wired and wireless infrastructure has been built to support them.”
One suggestion he outlined included breaking up Google’s search and advertising functions — something that would likely be more than welcomed by many, like the media industry, which alleges that Facebook and Google hog all of the advertisement revenue from traditional news publishers. (RELATED: This Startup Wants To Take Some Power Away From Tech Giants)
Another of Ehrlich’s recommendations is crafting “a new privacy Bill of Rights to demystify the algorithms that track and tag you and shape your on-line experience,” which would help “deny safe harbors that protect the tech platforms if they turn a blind eye to sex trafficking or commercial piracy.”
As he noted, reform appears to be more possible than ever as the disproportionality of the tech giant’s power is growing more stark. Both sides of the aisle have now started to question if Facebook, Google and Amazon have too much control and influence.
And any reticence from legislators or officials may soon end, as their respective power swells practically and publicly.
Amazon has been reaching its hands in a multitude of diverse industries, including cloud computing technology, film and show production, both brick and mortar and delivery services for groceries, and electronics. It is even dipping into the pizza-ordering and prescription drug businesses, according to multiple reports. And the aforementioned digital dominance of Facebook and Google, as well as their own ambitious endeavors, add to the many examples.
Scott Cleland, former Deputy U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy in the George H.W. Bush Administration, also wrote a BuzzFeed op-ed in early September that stated “Facebook, Google, and Amazon Wield Power Over Us All, And Everyone Should Be Worried.” Like Ehrlich, he says “the economic and social problems caused by the exceptional unchecked power of three companies — Google, Amazon, and Facebook — has created a rare bipartisan opportunity for the right and left to come together around common interests: holding abuses of unaccountable power accountable.”
He also lays out his diagnosis of the overarching problem, and provides telling statistics and evidence that supports his contention that “this is not a free market, but a favored market.”
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