The vice is tightening. The walls are closing in. The wolves are circling.
Choose your phrase, but no doubt about it — the pressure’s on big-time for Facebook and Google. And it’s about time.
In September, Attorneys General from eight states, as well as Washington D.C., opened an antitrust investigation into Facebook. A few days later, the probe party turned into an all-out rave fest as 50 Attorneys General opened a separate investigation into Google. Then, even though the FTC already has its own investigation of Facebook in progress, the Justice Department joined the fray as well.
According to The New York Times, that brings us to at least 16 total investigations (not counting the DOJ’s more recent addition) into these two internet platforms, across the federal, state, and even local levels. In addition to antitrust, the cases address privacy, discrimination (for Facebook’s housing-related ad-targeting practices), and cryptocurrency (for Facebook’s Libra project). Both companies have already paid billions of dollars in fines – mere pocket change for these behemoths — and new laws have been passed or are being considered from California to the European Union to Australia that promise to make Facebook and Google change their unaccountable behavior.
The #PlatformAccountability movement is gaining momentum like a snowball down a hillside. Facebook had to clean up yet another data spill in September. They continue to psychologically scar thousands of contracted content moderators, while Google seems to be abusing not just its contractors in general, but its entire workforce. Google also just got handed a $170 million fine because they just can’t seem to stop collecting children’s data on YouTube. And beyond that, they’re playing an active role in “hacking” our kids’ minds.
We have to hold these companies accountable for what they have done, and what they continue to do. Now is the time for us, the consumers of Google and Facebook’s products, to push back, and it’s good to have the governments of the world on our side.
Here are 11 more reasons to add fuel to the fire, culled from across the spectrum of political, cultural, and sociological discourse.
1. Because Facebook only cares about privacy when it benefits Facebook.
“For nearly a year, Facebook has fought to shield information about improper data-sharing with app developers… If only Facebook cared this much about privacy when it was giving away the personal data of everyone you know online.”
– Maura Healey, Massachusetts Attorney General
2. Because Google’s own employees think the world would be better if they were broken up.
“If regulation occurred, instead of being virtuous, we’d be required to do it… I wouldn’t necessarily expect Google to make a whole lot more money as a result of these changes, but it wouldn’t take a huge hit in profits. It’s a small price to pay for having a better world.”
– Max Kaehn, Google senior software engineer, speaking with Recode
3. Because Google is “abusing” independent contractors – while their CEO collects hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Recent reporting by The New York Times indicates that Google has more temporary and contract workers than full-time employees, and that workers in those categories remain in them long-term, even if the work they are doing is permanent and equal to that of directly employed workers. Temporary workers and independent contractors are by definition intended for short-term and non-core work, and we urge Google to end any abuse of these worker classifications and treat all Google workers equally… Google is valued at more than $100 billion, and your personal compensation topped $400 million in 2018, which makes it that much more difficult to stomach the mistreatment of these workers.”
4. Because if you’re abusing your workers, you’re abusing all of us.
“Our fortunes are tied together… If the [tech companies] can’t even treat the people who work for them well, then how can we expect them to have a positive impact on society?”
– Amr Gaber, Google engineer
5. Because Cloudflare admits to servicing criminals and will still make billions from their IPO.
“Although we have implemented, and are working to implement additional controls and screening tools designed to prevent similar activity from occurring in the future, there is no guarantee that we will not inadvertently provide our products to additional individuals, entities, or governments prohibited by U.S. sanctions in the future. ”
– from Cloudflare’s S-1 filing
6. Because tech companies’ “charm campaign” is wearing awfully thin.
“There is nothing inherently wrong with the belief that America’s values are superior to those found in Shanghai and Shenzhen, or that American tech companies should act in the country’s best interest. But lawmakers should be appropriately wary of Silicon Valley’s charm campaign, and they should avoid conflating what’s good for Facebook, Google and other tech companies with what’s good for the nation. Tech executives might be whistling ‘I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,’ but they really just want to be left alone.”
– Kevin Roose, New York Times
7. Because we gave them the keys to the castle, and they locked us out.
“Rather than use the government grant of a broad liability shield to engage in responsible moderation, many platforms asserted 230 as absolute immunity and, therefore, shirked moderation—even where clear harm is being done. Then, to further aggravate matters, the industry promoted this laissez-faire policy as a public benefit.”
8. Because when we fight back, Google fights dirty.
“[In response to antitrust investigations from 50 states, Google will] certainly buy armies of lawyers. They will buy armies of lobbyists. They will buy armies of economists. They will try and purchase echo chambers and think-tanks.”
9. Because the culture fueling the world’s most powerful search engine allows stuff like this to happen:
“I identify as a LatinX female and I experienced blatant racist and sexist things from my coworker. I reported it up to where my manager knew, my director knew, the coworker’s manager knew and our HR representative knew. Nothing happened. I was warned that things will get very serious if continued… I definitely felt the theme of ‘protect the man’ as we so often hear about. No one protected me, the victim. I thought Google was different.”
– Anonymous Google employee, in a leaked document obtained by Motherboard
10. Because they have gotten us into a war we don’t know how to fight.
“Today, we are all actors in a global information war that is ubiquitous, difficult to comprehend and taking place at the speed of light. When I was at the State Department, there were hundreds of thousands of cyberattacks a day. The Pentagon says it thwarts more than a million malware attacks an hour. About 600,000 Facebook accounts are compromised every day. More than 25 million data records are lost or stolen from businesses each day. And all that doesn’t even take into account the rising tide of disinformation, which is impossible to measure. It is a war without limits and boundaries, and one we still don’t know how to fight.”
– Richard Stengel, former TIME editor
11. Because the biggest forces shaping modern life are invisible and unaccountable.
“The digital systems we use every day are dangerous to democracy. This is because the voices that create and monetize them are extremely limited — paving the way for a few tech billionaires to create the empires that monitor us daily, giving them the potential to manipulate our behavior… The influence of these systems is profoundly undemocratic. Big tech’s reach permeates every aspect of our lives, all the while remaining invisible and unaccountable.”
– Ramesh Srinivasan, director of the University of California Digital Cultures Lab
TENTH TIME’S THE CHARM
So concludes our tenth round-up of expert commentary on the need for #PlatformAccountability. All told, they form a sobering testament to the corruption and callousness at the core of a handful of staggeringly wealthy companies with outsized influence around the world.
How have we allowed these platforms to become so central to our lives, and to the lives of our families? How did that happen exactly? Because they offered us shiny, convenient toys for free – and we became complacent.
The time is long past for waking up – we must jump out of bed, take a cold shower, and get to work.
These companies will fight, cajole, and manipulate regulators until the bitter end. They will use every trick in the book to remain all-powerful monopolies with near-sweeping legal immunities.
But though they have bottomless pockets, we are strong together. We must hold them accountable. We have no choice. And, we must take action.
While governments around the world are ramping up their investigations of these companies, Facebook and Google will take quicker action if their users, us, start to mobilize and demand change. You can do that by adding your name to our Platform Accountability petition – already at over 150,000 supporters!
Thank you for standing with us.