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Tech Giants, Once Seen as Saviors, Are Now Viewed as Threats (nytimes.com)
176 points by elsewhen 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 123 comments

The wording of that title is very interesting. It's a perfect example of 'bureaucratic style'[1].

First, the passive voice. This is an article about people looking at tech giants, but the passive voice centralizes the companies. That associates the change with companies, not observers, and also makes the claim seem more objective by downplaying the fact that this is about potentially-inaccurate perceptions.

Second, the missing subject. This goes beyond indefinite pronouns to fully absent pronouns; who's doing the seeing and the viewing? Since the best answer is "writers like me at media outlets like this one", it makes sense that it wasn't mentioned.

Third, the acausal and discrete setup. Things used to be that way, now they're this way, these are just states of being without a transition or source. Lest someone notice that David Streitfeld has built his career promoting exactly this transition, and is perhaps not simply reporting on a change he observed, the title directs attention away from what shaped perception.

And to be fair, it's just a pithy title, and there's a whole article here. (Although many of these approaches continue throughout.) But it's an interesting thing to analyze how the distinction between "people see this" and "this is reality" is blurred so aggressively in so few words.

[1] https://longreads.com/2017/04/12/the-elements-of-bureaucrati...

Seriously, this is the first thing I thought when I saw the title.

> Yes, tech giants are now widely viewed as threats, lots of attention is invested into having negative valence about technology companies. Why do you think that is, Journalist For The New York Times?

You can’t deny that these platforms are in an emergent self-winner-takes-all oligarchy of sorts. Take LinkedIn and Google for instance. LinkedIn allows Google to have full search access to the site and that’s beneficial to both LinkedIn and Google. However, if I want to spider LinkedIn to MVP my way to a new application they’ll lock me out. In effect, Google has monopoly as does LinkedIn, which owns the data. Because LinkedIn is already free and ubiquitous it benefits from network effects that create a strong competitive moat from new threats. Both companies have a kind of without either engaging in explicit anti-trust behavior and they even reinforce one another’s monopoly.

"However, if I want to spider LinkedIn to MVP my way to a new application they’ll lock me out."

Can you explain how this is different than how it has always been in the non-tech world?

For example: Home depot has deals with various partners to display their inventory and sell their products. But if i want to go into the stores and track the inventory and scan prices myself, they'll kick me out of the store.

You can even make this purely physical if you like, too. If i start a store that doesn't even compete with costco (different target markets), but start recording their prices/etc, they'll also kick me out.

The usual response is "well, linkedin collected a bunch of data from users that they don't own and is now using it to make a business, and won't let me reuse it". So?

That's also a thing that has happened since time immemorial, it's not like databases of this nature are new. They just got easier. Before you couldn't even make a product at all!

What you are saying applies, IMHO, everywhere. It's basically a complaint that existing businesses won't let you co-opt them to get ahead, and may not be willing to partner with you. That's not special to any of the tech companies, or tech, or, well, anything.

Attitudes like this is why the promise of the Internet since the early days, limited to academic purposes only, has been lost.

Because you're right - secret backroom deals and corruption are so common as to be assumed in the physical world to the point of non-competitiveness. Say I want to start a home improvement supply store. Well there's already Home Depot, Lowes, and OSH, so unless I have a secret and exclusive source for free lumber, I'd be crazy to even try, given all the deals that Home Depot has that guarantees it'll never die.

So? Is moving non-digital collusion between big businesses to the Internet really the best we can achieve?

Strive for better. Stagnation is bad, tech or non-tech. Everyone's noticed how Google searching's gotten less useful, or that Facebook (for the "olds" that still use it) is more annoying than useful these days. The Internet should be enabling better businesses by promoting competition, not stifling it.

Naive? Intentionally so. (Every freemium startup has an enterprise "contact us" plan, but I choose to believe that's because enterprise customers want someone to talk to over the phone.)

Hopeful? In spades, not bought from Home Depot.

> Is moving non-digital collusion between big businesses to the Internet really the best we can achieve?

Unfortunately, yes! Thats because the Internet is just a tool and those who use it (i.e. us) haven't changed fundamentally since the advent of that tool. So why would you expect a tool to achieve a different outcomes?

If you want different outcomes, let's try changing human beings; more specifically, let's devise ways to mitigate greed, envy and jealousy.

Yes, and tech giants used to be seen as 'saviors' from that, is the point. Now they have been revealed to be just like every other business.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss (but with an extra serving of self-righteousness).

This is a terrible argument. You assume that a difference in degree can’t at some point lead to a difference in kind? Yes, this has always been done and that is part of the problem. Big tech companies say, hey there’s nothing new here—but there is. It has now got to a point where you end up with these oligarchies. Small companies simply CANT compete. Before a company could say: we only have so much shelf space or we only have so much material or it will cost $X/unit and is not cheap. That is not the problem because this is just information. There is zero marginal cost. And a whereas before they may have been able to work their way up by getting their product on the shelf of a small mom-and-pop store or get their raw materials from a different supplier, now there is only one distributor, only one supplier and if you don’t have favored nation status then you can’t compete. It’s for these reasons we put anti-trust rules in place because we recognized that it was suboptimal.

Don't forget LinkedIn is Microsoft. The power is in even fewer hands.

Also, the business plan for many startups is getting acquired by a tech giant. So, best case scenario, certain classes of startups are destined for consolation as well.

“consolation” > consolidation, right?

As part of consolidation, you lose your ID.

Yes. Thanks.

I see exactly the same with Facebook, certain APIs they only provide access to Partners and if you fill all the requirements and try to apply they just reject with a different excuse each time.

Without the anti-trust enforcement against Microsoft in the late 90s, tech, the American startup ecosystem and developer wages would probably all be a lot more stagnant.

Unfortunately this time around the DoJ appears to have zero appetite for anti-trust enforcement. Only the EU does.

From the article: "Their amount of concentrated authority resembles the divine right of kings"

Call me when Apple starts exercising prima noctis. I'm pretty sure Google can't wage war, either, and if Oracle could hang you for theft they would've done so by now. So unless I'm missing something maybe we should lay off the hyperbole a bit?

>I'm pretty sure Google can't wage war

No, but such a service can be just be used to help win wars, blackmail politicians in other countries, spy on foreign businessmen and policy influencers, and those sorts of things...

Besides corporations have a long history of meddling with local politics, hiring thugs to kill people (e.g. strikers or union leaders), even helping install dictatorships.

Of course such things happen in such ways as to provide all ways of "plausible deniability" to company executives. It's not like they'll send a fax asking for such things -- "just deal with it" communicated to some local managers implies more than enough.



Right, the whole purpose of war in the first place is to defeat your enemy's will to fight you. There are a huge number of ways to do this without an army, and Google is in a particularly powerful position to do this.

The division of Soft Power vs. Hard Power is well displayed in Trump's current Cabinet.

If you think of the nation state as a dying entity, being replaced by global corporations, then it can sort of make sense. You could argue that they _are_ engaged in cyberwars. The way they can unilaterally change so much of our lives could also be construed as absolute power.

I don’t necessarily agree with the author, as I think he misses out much of the benefit they continue to offer the world. But I think your criticsm is anachronistic - power in the 21st century isn’t measured solely by boots on the ground, or ability to raise taxes.

Power is also the legal system, and corporations don't make, pass or interpret law either, even if they have an undue influence on some of those who do. But even with that influence, they're still at the mercy of voters. It's always possible for an unfavorable administration or legislator to get into power, or an unsympathetic judge to rule against them.

And Governments have broken up powerful companies before.

For the sake of argument, they are at the mercy of voters is only true if voters cannot be influenced by these companies. Today's tech companies can influence voters in subtle ways an run huge PR campaigns to influence voters. In the future, only favourable legislators will come into power and laws, precedent and changing mindset will make it difficult for for a judge to rule against them.

The difference between modern tech giants and erstwhile powerful companies like standard oil is that tech giants are much closer to people's daily lives and occupy some much of their time. This way people are attached and strong feelings about Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc. that they didn't have towards Standard Oil.

> The difference between modern tech giants and erstwhile powerful companies like standard oil is that tech giants are much closer to people's daily lives

That's incorrect. Read the history of Standard Oil. They aggressively sought to get into people's daily lives. In fact, they may have been the first massive corporation to ever do so at an all-encompassing national level. They leveraged every bit of their power and wealth to distribute down to the town -> household level, with their fuels and free lanterns to burn their fuels. They waged Edison-style fear PR campaigns at that micro economic level, trying to get into people's homes commercially (correctly noting their product was mostly safer than the older alternatives). Their distribution channels by design reached into the daily lives of nearly every person in America (this is before the automobile had reached such distribution). Their in-your-home position was drastically more important in its day, as a critical basic needs upgrade, than the position Facebook occupies today. I would specifically suggest you research Standard Oil's numerous consumer oriented businesses.

I wasn't aware of that. Thank you for the info. This was the fallacy of looking at the past from a current perspective.

> Today's tech companies can influence voters in subtle ways and run huge PR campaigns to influence voters. In the future, only favourable legislators will come into power and laws ...

But favorable to which corporate interest or outside agency (Russian hackers)?

The corporate interests won't align on every issue or candidate, so they won't be influencing votes all the same. What's good for Google won't always be what's good for Amazon, or the Chinese government.

It's the various competing interests that somewhat cancel out. And it's not like other interests with power and money aren't aware of the reach of tech companies, and won't seek to use that to their advantage. Consider how traditional media has been used.

Or do you think the news organizations and tv/radio stations had all the power before?

Trump being elected wasn't the will of any of the tech giants. It's more of a platform that's used for whatever interest has the means to abuse it, such as pushing fake news.

> Power is also the legal system, and corporations don't make, pass or interpret law either, even if they have an undue influence on some of those who do. But even with that influence, they're still at the mercy of voters.

Undue "influence" is a gross understatement.

Some people pointed out the more abstract type of influence (this is correct and meaningful); I'll point out the material: the list of, let's say, "indirect ability to make laws" is neverending, and it is directly proportional to a given company size.

Small and random, but significative, sample:

  - Mickey mouse laws
  - HSBC money laundering
  - Massive tax dodging in Europe
The above examples show, each in a different way, that when a company is very very big, the leverage it can exert does not fit in the "influence" definition anymore.

> and corporations don't make, pass or interpret law either

The latter one is about to change, at least for certain non-vital topics. We see privatization in law enforcement for copyright, free speech / personal rights, and so on.

When Facebook marks "fake news" or handles "hate speech", and when Google/Youtube removes "copyrighted material", there is neither the police nor any judge in the loop. Also, there are often false positives such as removing creative commons videos with no clear path to dispute.

There will soon be laws that require companies to interpret the law, which is a very worrying trend.

> We see privatization in law enforcement for copyright, free speech / personal rights, and so on.

Let's not forget forced arbitration. Companies that wrong you can now deny you your day in court if they just add a forced arbitration clause into the fine-print. They are removing conflicts from the justice system into a private system where the incentives are much more murky.

Aren't taxes part of the law? How's that working out for tech giants?

And what about countries that don't have 'fair' laws? Tech giants don't have many barriers if they decide to operate overseas.

And don't understate the influence on governments and voters either, just look at the tobacco industry. It is practically forcing itself on children in parts of the world. If that's tobacco, how much easier would it be for facebook to penetrate markets that don't really want them.

Who controls the voters' sources of information?

As cornet Joyce proved "people with guns" is the defination of power

By that strict definition, there were no powerful people before guns were invented.

David Streitfeld writes almost nothing except hit pieces on tech companies, programmers, and so on. He's been doing it for years. I knew this piece was by him before I even clicked the link. Asking Streitfeld to be fair to tech companies is like asking tabloid newspapers to respect celebrities' privacy; it's just not what they're about.

Yes, but they work closely with government - and moreover government intelligence agencies - so government can leverage their help to do these things. There's plenty of evidence this has already happened.

This just seems like the tech mega-corps have grown to the point that they now command the same level of influence as other massive corporations. How many wars and "covert ops" have we fought for oil, gas, bananas, and sugar? How much influence do the defense, aerospace, petroleum, and banking industries have over government? Big tech is just joining the club.

Wake me up when we go to war for Facebook.

*shakes you while saying, "bro, FB war, wake up..."

+1, Assange's description of his meeting with Google's Eric Schmidt was eye-opening for the then naive self.

Could you give a TLDR?

Was this before Assange went full tinfoil hat lunatic and claimed Page & Brin were working for government from the government.

[Citation Needed]. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

See project veritas and wikileaks as well.

[Explanation needed] that I made an extraordinary claim.

It is interesting that people still think it is acceptable to call people crazy for claiming US government agencies are complicit in corruption.

I made this same point a while back on HN and the response I received was

>people are half a second between 'that's absurd, they're not doing that,' and 'of course it's always been that way.'

In 1994, X-Files Season 1 Ep. 17 introduced the Lone Gunmen, a group of conspiracy theorists:

>"The characters, who were used to help Mulder appear more credible"

If you watch the episode, one of the main 'batshit insane'conspiracy theories they put forward was that the government is recording everyone's phone calls--then Scully rolls her eyes and Mulder appears skeptical.

You have to admit, it is kind of crazy...


Indeed, and I take it you've seen the pilot episode of the lone gunmen series?

I haven't, but now I want to

Search the internet for the following terms:

<your national intelligence service(s)> working with <tech giant>

The many missing-presumed-dead canaries? Snowden?

I appreciate your point, but I thought that I might add that many historians conclude that there is no reasonable evidence that prima noctis has actually occurred.

It turns out that no matter how much power you have, there are still some lines that you have a really hard time crossing. Perhaps because it would cause an all out riot.

Similarly, most countries are unable to wage war or hang people for theft because the social willpower just isn't present to allow them to do such things. Why should it be any different for companies.

I think the question should be, what can a companies do that governments are also doing. Then we can look at what governments do that companies cannot do. If the first set is really big and the second set is really small, then maybe it's not really hyperbole, but just a minor exaggeration.

Also, fundamentally the problem people seem to have with tech giants isn't actually the concentration of power, it's that they're not using that power in precisely the way the people who're complaining want. For example, the complaints about "Russian interference" are a demand to exercise that centralised power. As another example, the activists who've been demanding Twitter crack down on doxxing and harassment are currently organising a 24-hour boycott of the site because it didn't let a celebrity post someone's private number and get her followers to harass them, because what they really meant is that the site should ban other people who they detest, that it should use its power to silence their enemies.

Google has a foreign policy and could easily make hundreds if not thousand of activists killed around the world. It dictates the laws it wants its automated cars to obey.

Apple probably has a better geolocalisation of people than any intelligence agency.

Facebook and Twitter are suspected to have delivered the key to the last US presidential elections.

Uber mocks the laws of several of the richest countries in the world.

Softbank is becoming a behemoth that God knows if it will ever stop growing fat of its robots and AI acquisition.

AI research is driven by web companies like Alibaba or Facebook.

They are not kings, they are king makers.

prima noctis was a myth.

There is no evidence of it ever being practiced.

>prima noctis was a myth.

It is ius primae noctis (still there is no evidence it ever existed) or "right of the first night".

"prima noctis" doesn't make much sense in Latin, it lacks the subject (ius aka right) and prima is not genitive as noctis is. It would make sense in expressions like "hora prima noctis" or "vigilia prima noctis" which translates to first hour (or vigilia, i.e. turn of vigilance, three hours long roughly) of the night and more loosely "just after sunset".

When did prima noctis ever occur? Not "as a right of kings in general" which even the myths don't suggest, but even once, as a specific right of one king?

> Call me when Apple starts exercising prima noctis.


I'm obviously not a medieval expert but how is that even vaguely related to this?


Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The problem isn't that they're ruling the world with iron fists, the problem is that they could if they chose to. The data that each of those large tech companies are able to collect can be used to manipulate populations in ways that have never been seen before.

That's not something to treat lightly.

In all seriousness though, I'm unsure why an Apple or Amazon hasn't raised their own private army by now.

Armies are expensive and difficult to maintain, so you need a pressing reason to have one, such as defending or conquering territory. What would Apple or Amazon need an army for? If you want to see how a company can wield the power of a nation-state sans army, see: Exxon.

They don't need large standing forces ATM because that's handled by nation states who will defend everything within their borders. As for smaller forces, hasn't it been outsourced by now? Can't Apple or Amazon or Google just hire Blackwater, or whatever they call themselves these days?

If they're viewed as threats to soverenty I'm confident the company will disappear

It doesn't work like that. First they fund candidates, then...

> Ross Baird, president of the venture capital firm Village Capital, noted that when ProPublica[click-through link] tried last month to buy targeted ads for “Jew haters” on Facebook, the platform did not question whether this was a bad idea — it asked the buyers how they would like to pay.

Clicking through to read that article[1], it's clear that the categories were created by an algorithm rather than a human, and when reported, were removed without fuss. The way the main article phrases it is highly misleading.

The click-through article also says that while "Jew Haters" was a group that could be selected, it was too small to buy a targetted Facebook ad for by itself. They added a few more 'jew-hating' categories, and a few 'Hitler' categories, and the target demographic was still too small. So they ended up adding the category for a small extremist political party in Germany. At this point, the target demographic was big enough to allow them to buy a $30 ad.

Painting this as "Facebook is facilitating the rise of antisemitism just for a buck" is extraordinarily disingenuous.

[1] https://www.propublica.org/article/facebook-enabled-advertis...

the categories were created by an algorithm rather than a human, and when reported, were removed without fuss.

I think that's the point:

a) Automatic categorization means offensive categories will be created

b) It takes a complaint to have them removed.

The click-through article also says that while "Jew Haters" was a group that could be selected, it was too small to buy a targetted Facebook ad for by itself. They added a few more 'jew-hating' categories, and a few 'Hitler' categories, and the target demographic was still too small.

It is unclear to me why the fact that this particular phrase was too small to buy for means it isn't a problem. The fact is you can target ads based on it, even though currently you also need to buy other groups.


The Daily Beast, which briefly ran its own ad campaign to test the company’s tools, says Twitter’s platform shows 18.6 million accounts “likely” to engage with the word “Nazi,” while another 14.5 million users might be drawn in by the N-word. For Twitter, the process seems entirely automated and there appear to be no safeguards in place — The Daily Beast tried a number of different hateful words and phrases and none were blacklisted by Twitter’s tools.


> The Daily Beast, which briefly ran its own ad campaign to test the company’s tools, says Twitter’s platform shows 18.6 million accounts “likely” to engage with the word “Nazi,” while another 14.5 million users might be drawn in by the N-word.

Keep in mind that "engage with" includes everyone who takes offense to them.

> Automatic categorization means offensive categories will be created

This is like saying that an automatic printing press means offensive literature will be created. And rope causes lynchings.

Someone said this in another thread -- "algorithms" are the new "chemicals".

The most absurd part of this isn't that people are astounded that generic tools can be used for specific evils, which has been happening for many years. It's that people seem to want corporations the likes of Facebook to be in charge of making political decisions.

It's interesting. On the "Our minds can be addicted" story the HN consensus seems to be 'yes and it is a problem'. See https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15421704

Yet transfer the same issue to this context and it suddenly becomes a free speech thing.

Because it's two sides to the same coin. The problem isn't which decision Facebook makes. It's that Facebook, like governments, should not be in charge of this.

So who should be in charge of it?

Nobody is supposed to be in charge of it. A central planning commission is not a thing that should exist.

I guess the point is that Facebook has a responsibility to stop this proactively, not just make money off it until someone complains.

The point is that this is an issue of "slipped through the cracks", not "Facebook facilitating anti-semitism for a dollar". I'm no fan of Facebook and they've done sleazy stuff in the past, but this bit of reporting in the NYT is bad journalism.

I mean, seriously, if you ran a forum and someone opened an antisemitic thread in a minor board on it, which one of your others users pointed out and you then removed, do you really think it would be fair to call you antisemitic? After all, your forum allowed the antisemtic thread to exist in the first place and didn't auto-filter it out, and apparently there's no leniency even though you removed it as soon as you knew.

What if you took the data from Cambridge Analytica and applied it to facebook segmentation, as was apparently done in the last election?[0]

I am unconvinced by a partial recreation of the actual situation by ProPublica.


>"[...] Russian interference"

The amount of cognitive dissonance and double think one must embrace to read, not an op-ed, but news article in the NYT.(1)

I don't even support Trump; I oppose him, but I'm not willing to indulge in the groupthink here. Maybe there was interference, probably even, but how can we be sure when the stories we are being fed keep falling apart? Just another in a long string of "just trust us" claims from the Deep State?

1 - https://theintercept.com/2017/09/28/yet-another-major-russia...

You don't support Trump, but you're willing to swallow the notion that the United States has a "deep state" unironically? Come on. Go find me the mukhabarat or other secret police in the USA.

"Deep State" is another name for bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is a state within a state and its main purpose is to protect itself.


Well, the existence of 'unelected powers which threaten to become more powerful than democratic leaders,' which aare tied to the military and intelligence arms of the US gov, has been "unironically" referenced to by Eisenhower, JFK, Sanders, Chomsky, Snowden and Greenwald, among others. Call it a Military Industrial Complex, Deep State, or just three letter agencies.

It sounds like you have a more inside look at things than these folks do, though?

The West's media cartels are its kingmakers.

"In 1983, 90% of US media was controlled by 50 companies; as of 2011, 90% was controlled by just 6 companies"


>you're willing to swallow the notion that the United States has a "deep state" unironically?

Eisenhower was clearly tripping balls when he warned about the disastrous rise of misplaced power of the military-industrial complex.

Something about repeating propaganda often enough and it becomes the truth. Sprinkling it often enough in different content and it becomes the narrative.

Yea, I mean we've just been through this with Iraq WMD lies. Now with NSA domestic surveillance. Also now with Syria: first they denied funding terrorists, then they called them moderate rebels, now the truth came out. I would be more trusting if these events didn't exist in the past.

It is concerning that skepticism doesn't even seem to be allowed when we have all of these past failings of honesty sitting at our feet.

Subtle but powerful Russian interference on social networks and media of Western countries is a thing whether we like it or not. I'm skeptical of how much that's true for the US, but in Europe it's ubiquitous and there's a lot of hard evidence for it – I'm talking governments setting up agencies to deal with it, not Alex Jones-style hysteria.

some examples of the backlash:



>Subtle but powerful Russian interference on social networks and media of Western countries is a thing whether we like it or not.

So is US interference in Russian politics. Russian spying on the US is also, surprise, surprise, commonplace. US spying on Russia is also, surprise, surprise, commonplace.

The US even has an agency dedicated to interference in foreign politics (the National Endowment for Democracy).

None of this is new.

The fact that an unaccounted for Russian linked $80k budget on Facebook became America's top story has more to do with Democrats grasping at justifications for losing the election that don't involve them being fucking useless.

The really funny part is that that the US became so fat and inept that based on the current "brief" Russia was more successful than the United States in fixing elections. Not using tanks, or deep cover operatives but by using Facebook, Twitter and Google. Companies with a combined market capitalization of 1.3 trillion dollars!

Think about it. How bloody out to lunch we have to be to accept that Russia a country that we claim is ran by a dictator, the country with no technology, the country where people are barely surviving managed to fix the US presidential elections?! I guess it is possible if Google, Facebook and Twitter are ran by pimple-faced teenagers out of parents basement and they were playing against a nation state but come on.

It all only makes sense when remembering that these are the same people who somehow lost an election against Donald Trump.

Governments setting up agencies is not, per se, a good evidence of a problem. See: TSA.

Why can't Tech Giants just deliver, you know ... tech?

Why do they need their prying eyes on our data?

In the old days of the internet, companies provided the hardware, and universities designed the protocols (which were federated), and ran the software.

Because in the 90s, no one knew that all it took was pizza to get people to give up personal data[0]. Hell, a lot of data doesn't even cost them anything. Most people give up their browsing data for free. I guess it helps that the typical user doesn't even know how much info is contained in their browsing habits.

[0]: https://news.stanford.edu/2017/08/03/pizza-privacy-stanford-...

It seems their tech doesn't pay their bills quite as well as advertising?

It certainly doesn't help when people don't give a shit.

Billions use the service that Facebook and Google provide without much of a care about how their data may or may not be used.

It's hard for me to blame Google/Facebook when we voluntarily sold our information to them and continue to do.

Captains of industry become robber barons. The same thing happened with Microsoft, AOL, and Oracle.

How AOL?

That's a pretty far reach re AOL.... However, AOL went from being a small, scrappy upstart service provider to being the 800 pound gorilla that wielded increasingly significant media power, in just the span of 5-7 years. One moment they were subservient to the classic media powers, smaller than a mid-size magazine publisher. The next, they were lording over the media powers as a larger, potentially more powerful corporation worth $220 billion with tens of millions of subscribers (and it sure looked like they were going to get much larger). In the media world, AOL was just starting to become as feared as Microsoft was broadly when they purchased Time Warner. That completely shook the media landscape. This is mostly forgotten now, because that position lasted for only a few years. AOL at its peak, was starting to near Microsoft's financial position circa 1995-1996 or so. Their stock went from $7 to $175 in two years from 1997 to 1999. Their revenue went from $425 million in 1995, to $4.77 billion four years later ($762m in net income, with $1.1b in cash from operations) - nearly unbelievable growth for anything consumer Internet related at the time. Just as they arrived at burgeoning juggernaut status, it all began to unravel.

> In the media world, AOL was just starting to become as feared as Microsoft was broadly when they purchased Time Warner. That completely shook the media landscape.

This, and their 'walled garden' vision of consumer internet was exactly what I was thinking when including them in the list.

Not entirely related, but to comment on how big AOL was: I once heard that AOL sent out so many CDs that more than 90% of all CDs being produced in the world were for AOL

There was a period in the late 90s where every other box of cereal had an AOL CD taped to the box.

I was hesitant to trust a direct competitor of the Tech "giants" about how dangerous they are.

But ten minutes ago, the Google app store recommended that I install Firefox Focus that is a direct competitor of Chrome and that, by blocking ads, may hurt Google main source of incomes. Beat that, non-tech giants!

All centralized power structures will transform into threats. The future of information technology will be in decentralization/anonymity... not centralization and always-public models.

The future of information technology will be in decentralization/anonymity...

That's what they promised us back then: "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." Now, instead of Usenet we have Reddit, instead of email we have Google and Microsoft, and instead of bookstores we have Amazon. Even Bitcoin is centralized.

I think we have witnessed the inevitable dilution of substance that occurs when the middle of the Bell Curve, so to speak, begins to participate in a social phenomenon.

How is BTC centralized? Someone did decent research on this: https://news.21.co/quantifying-decentralization-e39db233c28e

You can get people representing >50% global mining power in the same, small room.

Who are they? The founding fathers of America promised Democracy, yet look at the corporate oligarchy in which we now live. You have to fight for this decentralized future in every decision you make.

Well, the thing is, centralization is always more efficient than decentralization, so everything humans do tends to centralize unless specific measures are taken. Which "evil centralized power structures" will definitely ensure are not.

How are you measuring efficiency? If something is centralized and widely used, are you even capable of recognizing technological progress now defined by the centralizer?

By how much time/energy/effort it takes to deliver a particular service. Centralized solutions win, because a) they can exploit economies of scale, and b) they don't have the communication and coordination overhead fundamental to distributed solutions.

Nytimes sure is posting a lot of literature talking smack about SV

Pyramid schemes?

and their use is purely optional.

I don't understand why so many people feel the need to chime into conversations with these types of comments.

"There's lots of rapes in these neighborhoods at night" -- well women don't need to be wearing suggestive clothes or walking around without males

"There is illegal surveillance" -- well I don't have anything to hide

"There are a bunch of companies who are arguably degrading the fabric of society" -- that's not my experience

"A problem exists" -- it doesn't apply to every person

People who organize self-righteous outrage mobs to ban whatever is "degrading the fabric of society" this week have a habit of doing more damage to society than whatever it was you thought you were protecting it from.

When self-righteous outrage mobs believe they have moral authority and are drumming up support for authoritarian interventions is when it's most important to challenge them forcefully. Even if an intervention is necessary in the end, it should be the product of a healthy debate and not an outrage mob railroading through its initial whims.

So I'm the authoritarian for questioning a platform that censors non-PC content, and whose CEO plans to run for president of the US? There's plenty of evidence that Google has done the same via YouTube.

The specific criticism in this article is that Facebook hasn't done enough to censor non-PC content (i.e. permitted the use of its platform for right-wing activism).

How is "but it's optional" a forceful challenge or a healthy debate?

It isn't - it's lazy and inarticulate - but pokemongoaway is complaining about the general theme of people challenging the scope or severity of a problem.

There is a pretty significant difference between "$villian is doing $bad_thing to people" and "$villian is providing people the option to do $bad_thing to themselves and they are taking it." That's worth pointing out, particularly when $bad_thing is to read opposition news.

It's nowhere near that clear cut.


One of the "unwords" nominated for 2017 is "sozialtot". That's "socially dead" as a synonym for not having a Facebook account. As for Google, when everybody has their email at google I can craft my packets by hand, Google will still slurp them up. But oh, it's all optional, that goes without saying so it has to be said all the damn time.

> particularly when $bad_thing is to read opposition news.

You don't even know if "and their use is purely optional." refers to even one word more than the headline. If it does, you don't get to pick and chose that conveniently. The article also contains sentences such as

> All of them are making decisions about who gets a digital megaphone and who should be unplugged from the web.

Where does people doing something to themselves even figure into that? We're still at that part where someone blamed the victim and you're contorting to excuse that as something noble at heart, if lazy and inarticulate.

Exactly, unwillingness to engage in proper debate is more of an authoritarian strategy than my line or questioning.

I think it's projection of the negative traits of what one is subservient to on those who see through it.

It's the Just World Fallacy again. People want to believe that if Facebook and Google have done something bad to you, that it must somehow be your fault.

You really can't compare being spied on while using a private social network to being raped in public.

Direct comparisons aren't the only reason why words appear next to each other...

Not true at all. Google and Facebook have a profile on you and track you all over the net even if you don't have an account with them.

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