Oh Sure, Big Tech Wants Regulation—on Its Own Terms

from NYTs

Last week, a global gaggle of billionaires, academics, thought leaders, and other power brokers gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum’s signature annual event. Climate change! The global economy! Health! The agenda was packed with discussion of the most pressing issues of our time. True to form, much of the musing ventured away from root causes.

Climate change—barring strong words from Greta Thunberg and other activists—was customarily discussed in the context of financial markets and the economy. Rising inequality was predictably repackaged as a threat to “already-fragile economic growth.” It was an echo of Davos 2019, when in a viral clip Dutch historian Rutger Bregman compared the event’s silence on corporate tax avoidance to a firefighting conference with a gag rule about water.

Davos is hardly known for its modesty—nor its favoring of government solutions to publicly shared problems. Hence why it might seem unexpected, even counterintuitive, that companies like Microsoft and IBM spoke at this year’s summit about the need for technology regulation.

But this perfectly captures the US tech industry’s shift toward talking regulation—just in a way that benefits itself—and the related risks of allowing private corporations to set the American (or even global) agenda on technology governance.

More here.

Posted in Business, Law, Technology and tagged , , .


  1. This article by Justin Sherman highlights a very concerning issue that we are faced with today. Are big tech companies going to be able to control the regulation that is placed on them by the government? I believe it would be incredibly unethical and corrupt for big tech companies to pose as being pro-regulation when they are in fact using the fears of the U.S. government to control the regulation being placed on them. Sherman brings up a great point when talking about facial recognition. He says that, “when a corporation calls for regulation, they can nudge the public to over-focus on a technology itself and under-focus on the nature of the technology’s development and use” (Sherman). He uses the example of facial recognition to show how a corporation will influence the public to focus on the technology itself and not how it is used. Sherman brings up how facial recognition can be used in security cameras, or other ways that may violate human rights. It is very unfortunate that big tech companies can put up this facade about how much they are pro-regulation.
    Later in the article, Sherman brings up the discussion about data regulation and Mark Zuckerberg’s take on the issue. He writes that, “Zuckerberg expressed an openness to data regulation, caveated quickly by arguing for only limited-scope rules that allow Facebook to compete with Chinese firms” (Sherman). By arguing for limited rules to allow Facebook to compete with China, Zuckerberg is using the U.S. government’s fears about censorship in China to ensure little regulation for Facebook. Facebook has its own issues with data privacy, misinformation, and political information. This is a way for it to deflect the conversation from itself and to other big tech companies around the world. As a country, we need to make sure big tech companies are held accountable for how they use data and what is published on their platforms. We cannot allow them to be influencing the government to be lenient with regulation. Now, I don’t think that big tech companies should be silenced by the government, but their activity should be regulated so that our privacy and information is safe.

  2. I found it very interesting how big tech companies want to regulate technology, especially AI. When reading this, I knew there had to be an underlying meaning behind these monster companies trying to play government. I agree with Marietje Schaake’s statement, “beware of tech companies playing government.” Companies like Apple, Microsoft, IBM, and so on, know the importance of ESG. Reading the article carefully, these companies are trying to boost their ESG ( Environmental, Social, Governance). According to a Forbes article, The steady growth of ESG investing was greatly accelerated around 2013 and 2014 when the first studies were published showing that good corporate sustainability performance is associated with good financial results”(Kell). ESG has become big criteria of interest to investors. These tech companies are public companies that thrive when their stock prices go up. Moreover, these big companies are looking at how they can control the market. The tech industry can be classified as an Oligopoly (where the industry is dominated by a few key players and has a barrier of entry. I believe these companies are solidifying that barrier of entry by trying to regulate technology. All these big companies need to side with technology regulation due to the abuse of it and privacy rights it is violating. If the companies can be at the forefront and be able to take charge of the regulation they can just use it to their advantage.
    In addition, this brings the topic of outside entities hacking elections and manipulating numbers. “The challenges include increasing concerns about how private data is collected and used; the spreading of false information that could influence the 2020 election, by both foreign and domestic actors on social media; and whether behemoths like Facebook, Google and Amazon should be split up”(Tugend). This puts pressure on the actual government to make federal regulations and not let the companies take control. I believe it would be too much power for a billion-dollar company that has data on everyone and works as the government.

  3. In the past decade, the use of AI and its facial recognition have been the subject of controversy. This concept of the internet and different programs is becoming an increasing concern as technology becomes more integrated with society. As a member of the general population, it concerns me. With the tech industry becoming more prominent, they want to influence the regulation their way. This direction likely being a path where they can maintain and utilize the information, they receive however they please. Like I said, this is something we should be weary of, seeing as this can directly affect us. As Satya Nadella says in the article, regulation is something that we should be thinking more about. Support for a temporary ban on facial recognition has been cited.
    We also must be careful about the apps that we use, because we can’t be certain of what information they are gathering from these applications. Apps like TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company possess political complications too. China is limiting what information is available, censoring signs of the Hong Kong protests. The Chinese government has also posed threats to the American government. As these companies develop new technologies that block websites through a firewall, America sees this as a threat. With all the abilities that the Chinese government has, this prompted the American government to set up barriers to stop the Chinese companies from taking this information.
    Conversely, by limiting information beyond facial recognition, that will disrupt the access of major search engines due to regulations. It is precisely due to this that companies want to be in control of the regulations that take place, so that the regulations won’t interfere with the company’s business model. By limiting access, the general public wouldn’t be opposed to this because that means their information is safer.
    The article sites Mark Zuckerburg claiming privacy is a dying social norm. Personally, I am very opposed to this. Despite much of our information being available online, I don’t believe that we should dismiss our personal privacy. It is what draws the line of what belongs to us and what is available to everyone.
    Technology will continue to evolve as society progresses, and as displayed in the article, the people who have control of it will want to control it to their liking. But as part of the general population, we shouldn’t let companies have a crystal-clear look into our lives.

  4. Regulating big tech has been on the minds of many it seems, but the sudden push from big tech for more regulation begs the question if they are just trying to gain leverage over government regulation. With facial recognition technology becoming more and more advanced with each passing month, many have raised concerns about the regulation of this dangerously powerful technology in order to protect privacy. But many who are proposing said regulation are moguls of technology and research. Facial recognition is a dangerous tool, as it’s obvious upsides of being able to identify and record individuals with ease. It’s unlike a password or phone number which can be changed easily and because of this, sanctions should definitely be placed of it’s general usage by private corporations and government agencies alike.
    The general fear of Big Tech in this particular situation is highlighted by Facebook’s one and only shining star Mark Zuckerberg, who has always been criticized for allowing hate speech, discrimination, ad targeting, misinformation, and much more to spread and linger on the platform. Zuckerberg has always aired on the side of free expression; whether that’s a nice excuse for ignoring problems and opposing regulation or the truth is another story but doesn’t change the fact that Facebook has done other shady things in the past. Zuckerberg also pushed for data regulation but then quickly made it clear he did not believe Facebook met the requirements for the big tech business and operations that should be regulated. This type of behavior should be a red flag to policymakers and officials, who are not keen on having the companies that use and potentially abuse the technology to have leverage over it.
    It’s hard to attack facial recognition technology without going for the mass data collection issue as a whole. Big corporations have been collecting massive amounts of data on millions and millions of individuals for almost a decade now, and this now systematic process is still unchecked and unregulated. Mark Zuckerberg himself allegedly said that privacy was a dying social norm, which goes to show how integrated and unchallenged this type of data collecting, and privacy-infringing behavior is with these large corporations. It would require big changes from firms and business’s and how they operate, but many are calling for their private information to finally be just that: private information.

  5. These three big tech companies are mainly focusing on doing business and gain profit. It’s understandable if they’re talking about how regulation is a big thing and the main thing they’re concerned about. For instance, Bill Gates; mentioned that the government needs to get involved in regulating big tech companies, even when he’s one of those big tech companies. In the article, Gates expects that there should be that one area where additional government regulation of tech companies is around the issue of data privacy. Since Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft have been rocked “by a series of privacy scandals in recent years that affected millions of users’ personal information.” There are people who more concerned about their privacy, such as establishing reasonable and consistent parameters for data privacy and monetization. I believe this big tech company should follow these regulations by reinforcing an agency to judge if these tech companies are complying with rules. If they’re not cooperating with an agency, therefore, they should be empowered to carry out a specific range of disciplinary measures for them to comply.


  6. This article, while excellent at explaining the dangers of having companies drive the conversation on regulation, has another topic that is explained momentarily but holds massive consideration for how digital companies interact in a global geopolitical environment. The issue I speak of is simple: the international competition of technology encourages governments to keep regulations to a minimum. What this practically means is that technologies and companies that should be regulated for the common good are able to remain unregulated due to the fear of a foreign competitor. The elephant in the room when talking about technological competition is China, the foremost threat to American supremacy in the technology market. Over the last several years there has been increasing concerns about China’s tech companies taking away from the success of American products by performing “intellectual theft” where the technologies would be leaked to Chinese tech firms via the Chinese communist party and re-packaged and optimized for mass-consumption. This process has caused American tech companies to demand further and further regulation, tariffs, and banns on these tech firms claiming that Chinese competitors are stealing technologies and utilizing it to collect information on their citizens. There is always a big discussion about how china seeks to steal data from its w consumers and forcing such action to cease without consideration of why American companies shouldn’t be held to the same standard. The fear of this competition from competitors like China has effectively put a halt on American regulation on American tech, because the international economic battle comes before the domestic policy war. While this might be a hyperbolic comparison, the whole contest of tech is reminiscent of the nuclear arms race. Both sides of the conflict don’t believe the other is would act in good faith to regulate their technologies (to be fair, China likely wouldn’t) and thus refuse to regulate their own in order to not fall behind, leading to an ever-escalating race on both sides to win, no matter what is created to do so.
    Governments simply follow along with the suggestions of technological companies, as the article describes, out of fear of the economic recourse that would be the cost of the regulation but ignoring the greater cost of what may be created if this regulation is neglected. To only use one example, in 2019-2020 the Hong Kong protests erupted in response to the Chinese extradition bill. These protestors went up against a fully equipped state with surveillance and legal retaliation ready for those who were seen supporting the protests. In the west, there was horror in response to the towers of surveillance that covered the city and viewed each and every citizen, as well as the government surveillance of social media sites to gauge dissenters. But despite all of this concern at technologies being used and abused, there was nothing done to regulate the data-collection done each day by major US technology firms. While there is a notable difference between a private company and a government utilizing these technologies, the concern for them extends only up to a localized border, and then is forgotten in favor of economic concerns. This article is capable of warning us about the danger of following the regulation suggestions of those regulating themselves, a warning that should be heard loud and clear.


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