"Should they get away with it?" Carole Cadwallr calls for an all-out fight to regulate tech giants



Is this what we want: to let them get away with it, and sit back and play with our phones as this darkness falls?

But OK, regulate. How would it work? Does anyone have any clue?


Regulators will regulate (once they get started)

Mmh, “regulate”, really? I really hope there are enough outspoken tech-libertarian and crypto-anarchist users of the early Internet left, who will not fall for regulation as a solution. As we have just recently seen in the lost fight against upload filters in the EU, regulators have an unsatiable appetite to churn out more regulation, in favour of whoever lobbies them around, once they discover another domain that is responsive to regulation. Innovative cryptocurrency and blockchain projects are doomed as well once governments discover ways to regulate there. (That space is admittedly a bloody Wild West scenario right now, but why not. At least it’s innovative!)

Too big to exist

So if regulation can not save but only destroy the Internet we loved, what then? In very short: everything that is large enough to cause serious social issues (like, well, Facebook in this case) should either (1) not exist at all or (2) be public infrastructure, preferably distributed and open source, and certainly not in private hands or (3) consist of small federated units so it cannot cause such serious problems.

The case against advertising

And while we are at it: most issues with tech giants somehow revolve around the use and abuse of advertising. Both in the case of Facebook and Brexit, and in the conflict between publishers and Google over the share of Internet advertisement revenue (which is behind the whole upload filter and link tax debate of the EU copyright reform). Now advertisement is organized bullshitting and misleading of people anyway, and the Brexit campaign example makes the hypocrisy of political leaders blatantly obvious: in their eyes, organized bullshitting of people for economic growth is fine (even though overconsumption means ecological destruction, but who cares) but organized bullshitting of people for other causes is “a threat to democracy”!?

So if we want to save the Internet, and a good part of the natural world alongside, let’s get rid of advertising altogether, both online, in print, on TV and in public space, whether for products or political parties. It will create some disruption, but the Internet will find other business models, no worries. To get rid of advertising online, I am even willing to accept a tiny bit of regulation: all major browsers must come with an ad-blocker enabled by default.


(P.S.: Re-reading this, I like my style of writing when I’m angry :laughing: It sounds a bit like @hexayurt now, and I always wanted to know his secret of writing.)


1 is regulation. In fact it is the regulation, the nuclear trigger under the finger of antitrust authorities, since 1890. The concept is that of “dominant position”. Once a company attains a dominant position in a market, it can be forced to break up into smaller companies. This is what happened under the Carter administration in America to AT&T (“Ma Bell”), forced to decompose into regional companies (“Baby Bells”). That does not happen by chance, or divine intervention, but by a court applying a piece of legislation.

2 is nationalization, and also requires regulation. 3 is just a solution applied after 1.

I asked “how to do it” because antitrust regulation evolved in a state context. It is not clear if, say, a German court, could order Facebook (an American company) dismantled. It could, in theory, forbid it to operate on the German market, but that would require a Great Firewall of Germany or some non-existent technology. At the very least there would be some creative implementation to do, even if the political will could be found.

For this to be viable, we need a clearer idea of how it would work. History might hold some clues: prior to 1993 it was indeed illegal to use the Internet for commercial purposes, and it would be interesting to look at how things might have evolved from there. I would be eager to have this discussion on this platform, as a part of NGI Forward!


1 is the absence of regulation.

Regulation is what made companies as big as Facebook possible in the first place, with stuff like companies as legal persons, publicly traded companies, the basic concept of transferable debt with govt enforcement and so on. I prefer they would not make any big business possible and develop standards for cooperation instead. The W3C is actually a good model.


Well that can be applied to all media nowadays unfortunately (or 95%). Can we talk about free and fair elections when they spend hundreds of millions of dollars/euros to have someone elected or manufacture public opinion/consent for various horrible decisions being made in the name of the people?
We also now know that silicon valley giants abuse of their position very much and in so many ways, from privacy issues over rigging the search results/filtering information we can see to silencing people by removing their ability to make money or to be heard via their platforms.

As far as regulation is concerned, well I have very bad experience with regulation and standardization. Seems to be used mostly by big company, who actually finance our policy makers, to reinforce their position on the market or eliminate smaller players.

Maybe a combination of banning advertisement & funding political campaigns could bring some improvements. In our democracy money wins…


And that is actually a really good question to discuss and solve around here: how to break up Facebook (or annihilate it altogether) when there is no global agreement about it. I don’t have an idea right now, because for sure we don’t want Great Firewalls or national “splinternets”, which would surely be used by governments for all kinds of anti-democratic purposes once they would have them implemented …