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Microsoft President: Democracy Is At Stake. Regulate Big Tech (npr.org)
192 points by rahuldottech 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 231 comments

> that governments need to put some "guardrails" around engineers and the tech titans they serve

The evil engineers! Not the managers, CEOs and so on, but engineers. The true root of evil.

Finally someone recognizes who's really at fault </sarcasm>

Stop pushing the blame upstairs. If you knowingly build software that hurts people, you share the blame. The job market for programmers has never been better. "My boss told me to do it" is not an excuse.

I, for one, hope more engineers involved in fraud (eg VW), privacy breaches (eg Facebook) etc get tried and punished. It might help make programmers realize that yes, your work actually affects real humans and yes, you're partly responsible for getting it right.

If your boss makes you write evil crap, quit and get a better job. No need to be all courageous and write an angry blog post, most of us are wimps and that's fine. But that doesn't mean you can't vote with your feet. We need engineers to stop being willing to work anywhere as long as the pay is good and the tech is cool.

The moment you open that door you have created the ultimate scapegoat in every corporate decision. Now every engineer is personally responsible for corporate decisions. It's easy when you look at VW and Facebook, but the more nuanced these things get, the more that what your advocating for is that programmers have to be lawyers as well.

This horrible precedent and pushes the blame for everything downstairs. Meanwhile, corporate execs have the very corporate shielding you're advocating that engineers don't. Maybe you think they too shouldn't have such protections, but how you can advocate for personal liability for programmers without first implementing personal liability for executives is beyond me.

This so incredibly short-sighted.

> This horrible precedent and pushes the blame for everything downstairs.

It’s already been set in other industries, the financial industry springs to mind.

Everybody in a bank is responsible for detecting and preventing money laundering. Failure to report money laundering if you suspect it is a criminal offence (this is true in the UK, I assume similar laws exist in the US). If your boss refuses to acknowledge your report, then you’re obligated to whistle blow.

There is no reason why a similar framework can’t exist elsewhere. A requirement that engineers report abuses of data, or corrupt behaviour, and an obligation to whistle blow of management refuse to acknowledge the issue.

These laws of-course place a heavy burden on C-suite execs, making it clear they can be held criminally liable for the misbehaviour of their organisation, even if they weren’t aware of. The simple act of not being aware of criminal behaviour is criminal.

Neither engineers not execs really make decisions to be good or evil. They implement the will of major shareholders who actually run the company. Satya Nadella has maybe 100s of millions, while the capitalization of MS is 1 trillion. This means that Satya isn't the decision maker. Only in small companies CEO and the owner is the same person.

this is complete nonsense that denies the factual agency these people absolutely have.

This is plain truth, not nonsense. You can go and start a corporation any time. If it appears successful, you need to hire a CEO and a bunch of other people. At that time you'll own nearly all preferred shares that give control. Despite CEO will get maybe 5% and will run the company, according to laws, preferreds will give you a final say in everything and you can fire that CEO at any time. This is even more true with big execs: they hold nowhere near 5%.

I don't advocate that corporate execs have shielding and the engineers don't. Where did you read that?

It sounds to me that you're misreading my comment on purpose, to make an us-vs-them argument that I fundamentally disagree with. This isn't about engineers vs bosses, it's about doing the right thing no matter what's on your business card.

The argument "if we can't shift the blame up, it'll automatically go down" simply doesn't make sense to me. You, and you alone, can choose to stop building evil shit.

I read that by the fact that you only talked about punishing engineers.

And I'm not misreading your comment on purpose, trust me I had to read it 4 times just to make sure I wasn't crazy and I was actually reading what I thought I was: someone advocating that bottom of the food chain employees be criminally liable for code they write.

You are making an us-vs-them argument, to be sure. Your "us" is consumers and your "them" are employees, rather than corporate executives that make the decisions.

I'm not a lawyer. I expect if I'm being asked to do something, it's been vetted by our corporate legal team. I should not be expected to know every aspect of criminal and civil law to protect myself from my employer.

What you are suggesting is absurd, but fortunately, I think most would agree with me on that.

Disagree. The idea that whatever you are asked to do has been vetted by others is an abdication of ethical responsibility. At present, a lot of what tech companies do is still legal, but that doesnt make it right. It's still legal because the maps of cyber law are largely still uncharted. An engineer working on a project that tracks user behavior without consent (for example) shouldn't be absolved or responsibility because their manager said it was okay.

Sometimes it is not clear cut.

Getting the same result in different ways can legal or not:

Obvious example:

Saving a x amount of money from taxes using a legal loophole is legal.

An exact equal company trying to save the exact same amount of money by lying to is doing something illegal.

Far less obvious example:

Around here (and possibly elsewhere, I don't know) if you make a drink from wine and spirits you have to pour the spirit first because increasing the strength of wine is illegal, but decreasing the strengt of spirits are OK.

Last point is hilarious! Can't upvote that enough.

A curious alcohol law with an interesting side effect. Where are you located?


I thought it was an old joke, but someone I have reason to believe said it was true and you could get in trouble for it.

I'm not sure that moral responsibility for investigating the legality of instructions should rest with the employee, in cases where the instructions aren't clearly repugnant.

Consider the example of engineers getting the details of tax compliance in a payroll system wrong because their boss provided the wrong instructions. To my mind, they should not be at fault for this unless they demonstrably knew what they had been asked to do was illegal.

The top comment referenced a line in the article criticizing both 'engineers and tech titans' and then only addressed the first half with a 'poor me' argument, which seems to have distorted this entire thread.

I'm not a lawyer. I expect if I'm being asked to do something, it's been vetted by our corporate legal team. I should not be expected to know every aspect of criminal and civil law to protect myself from my employer.

That's you. I've quit jobs before because I was not willing to do something that went against my principles. I think it's pretty simple to ask yourself how you'd feel if you were on the opposite end of some questionable corporate action and later found out that you had been deceived or exploited.

I made no mention of my personal ethics. I said vetted legally. Rest assured your principles almost certainly do not align exactly with the law. You may do something illegal without the knowledge you have. You may have contributed to some illegal because you weren't privy to the sum of the parts.

Which is exactly why this is such a horrible idea.

Yeah but there are a ton of protections for that legal situation, and there's lots of things that are legal but deeply unethical because laws are unjust. This is an primarily an ethical issue.

if you read it 4x and don't see his point, consider reading it another 4 times. you seem to be advocating that certain employees, "bottom of the food chain" in your parlance, aren't culpable for their actions whereas the parent was saying everyone is culpable for their actions

If that was your take away from what I said, I'd guess you could read my comment infinite times and fail to understand it.

[I expect if I'm being asked to do something, it's been vetted by our corporate legal team. I should not be expected to know every aspect of criminal and civil law to protect myself from my employer.]

"I have been only following orders" had stopped being a valid defense quite a long time ago.

It's kinda like asking all the ICE (internal combustion engine) engineers at ford, toyota, nissan, dodge, etc... to stop working on ICE right now because of climate change. Now they can do that, and ask to be re-assigned to EVs, but you can bet they can't replace all those jobs with EV jobs. (at least immediately, maybe in 10 to 20 years)

First off, I'm referring to significantly more unethical stuff than making an ICE.

But even then, the programmers working on ICEs can find a different job in a heartbeat.

I'm not asking the other people working at these, or any, companies to do the same. I'm asking people with top in-demand skills to start considering the ethics of their jobs.

>But even then, the programmers working on ICEs can find a different job in a heartbeat.

Not even close.

As a former embedded software engineer for the automotive sector, moving to another industry was a very difficult task, as in automotive you pidgenhole yourself in some tech that's specific to this industry and is outdated or not used everywhere else.

Thank God I got out in time.

No. Programmers don't have to be lawyers but they do have to make ethical decisions and be willing to enforce them (by walking away from money offers to do something that violates their principles).

Sure, executives will always try to push the blame downstairs. That's why you should be willing to sell them out if necessary.

There is an enormous difference between making ethical decisions and being prosecuted which this advocated for.

There’s a reason we have vocabulary for this kind of situations, ie. Nuremberg Defense.

>Now every engineer is personally responsible for corporate decisions.

This is the entire point. If the "corporate decision" involves doing bad things, and then you go ahead and implement those bad things as an engineer...you deserve to be held responsible for your part in it.

Because making the crowbar is part of the crime?

No, I don't think that makes a lot of sense. Many young engineers can't see societal potential in what they do. They see solving the technical problem and completing the task.

Senior engineers with a lot more experience have insight into "why" but that's often the point when they're given responsibility to guide others.

The "should we do this?" question rests on the shoulders of those with insight that faces the outside world, and not just the programmer's editor on the screen. That's management.

What do I know about it? Was an engineer (programmer), and now I run teams of engineers. I often have to direct them on how not to solve a problem, for reasons of customer privacy, security, or responsibility, as much as to what problem we must solve.

Responsibility increases the higher up you go in the management chain.

My spouse is an engineer and we often talk about the engineering ethics module where students were taught to think about such things using examples like the Ford Pinto, the O-rings on the space shuttle etc.

If you had worked at Ford and designed, say, the steering wheel or transmission of the Pinto, you might well be excused for not appreciating the flaws in its design. But if you were one of the engineers that was asked to put the gas tank up near the rear fender where it was much likelier to rupture in the event of a wholly foreseeable collision, then you had a responsibility to consider and push back against cost-saving measures that were likely to jeopardize riders' safety.

In general, if a manager is telling you not to worry about something, it's shady.

> Many young engineers can't see societal potential in what they do.

Then they are defective citizens. Citizenry before a job is just not that complicated.

Everyone is complicit in dirty work and I've very happily fired clients and quit jobs for being dirty. Do thou likewise or have your fellow citizens find you wanting for it. It's not hard.

The problem here is dirty isn't well-defined. You are playing the moral superiority card without knowing what your particular moral/ethical line is.

Seems HN is primarily comprised of people without families that can just quit their job and it's not big deal, all in the name of their particular set of moral standards. You can tell when they say things like "it's not hard" when deciding to quit their job.

For the fast majority of people, it is hard. Most peoples ethical guidelines shift rapidly when the alternative means harming their loved ones.

It's definitely not hard to proclaim things aren't hard. Reality is often different.

Yup. We could argue every bit of marketing is evil. So much of it is targeted at children or people that are otherwise easy to convince to buy shit they probably don't need, and based on US retirement savings, probably can't afford.

I worked in free to play games for a time and I rationalized you could get entertainment value up to a point and if you wanted more you paid. However, we all know certain people can't stop at that point. Same reason why casinos flourish.

Ethics CAN be clear cut but even things like drones or surveillance equipment can have both good and evil applications.

> you deserve to be held responsible for your part in it.

... as long as you are aware of it or should have been aware of it.

Not very realistic for people who need to put food on the table and where the evil vs non evil is not that clear. Especially if you work on a very small cog in the machine, which most engineers do ofcourse.

Where do you draw the line? Maybe your company makes software that is nice but it is sold to companies using it for evil? I think this is too vague and not solvable by engineers unless in clear cut cases like you mention; not many of those really.

There are not infinite jobs either; most companies will, at some stage, do things that you might consider evil.

It is generally management that should be blamed; they have the oversight and make decisions about client base etc. In rare cases where an engineer knew they were wrong very clearly but still did it, then sure, punishment is ok.

Edit; I see you are from Eindhoven; I was born close to there and studied at the TUE under Dijkstra pupils. We had a little group at the time that believed in Dijkstra like thinking; software has to be proven correct and we added that it has to be ethical. It was an idea to somehow make software dev a gild. Then we grew up and saw nothing like that is possible unless you want the world to grind to a halt. The Netherlands would be a likely candidate for this kind of experiment though; you cannot really die of poverty there unless mentally ill, so it is easier to ‘just quit’ if you think your boss went satan on you.

FWIW my opinion on this isn't actually as black and white as my earlier comment might make it seem. I'm well aware that not everybody is in a position to quit their jobs over something as vain as ethics. That's classic Bertolt Brecht right there, "Food comes first and then morality".

I'm mostly just frustrated that vast swathes of developers, most of them like me living a comfortable life in a comfortable place with plenty of options, are happy to condone and support the evils their employer commits. Plenty of people look at me like I'm an alien when I say I refuse to work for a weapons manufacturer. So I get worked up when people hide behind their bosses and pretend that developers, perhaps the most influential people of the next few decades, are nothing but amoral code machines. No we're not, we're people and we have a choice.

It's not very black and white at all. I personally wouldn't work for Google of Facebook for moral reasons, but I understand that some people say "well, we're targeting ads, not cluster bombs" and they have a point. I'm asking that people consider whether their work fits their own personal ethics. I'm asking that people look around for better jobs when they discover that, deep inside, when they really think about it, no, their current job does not fit with their own ethics. I'm convinced that large numbers of developers would go and look for alternatives if we make it common to just do this thought exercise. I think many people simply don't consider it. After all, there's a fun team and exciting tech!

I don't think that's too much to ask. But when we propagate the idea that developers are mindless robots that turn money into code, we're letting psychopaths take more advantage of us than necessary. Let's try to move the needle, just a bit.

Sidenote: yeah TUE with the Dijkstra apostles was fun, loved the handwriting :-) When were you there? 2002-2008 here. I recognize how the Dijkstra ideals could be extrapolated to ethics by a particularly zealous crowd, but I agree with you that it doesn't hold up to the real world for a long while :-)

>>Not very realistic for people who need to put food on the table and where the evil vs non evil is not that clear.

Evil vs. non-evil being not that clear is not a problem. That's why we have the court system: to sort those types of things out.

As for "needing to put food on the table", how far are you willing to take that logic? It seems you could use it to justify virtually any behavior, as long as you get paid doing it.

> Evil vs. non-evil being not that clear is not a problem.

Evil isnt the same as immoral, excepting a subjective interpretation of equivalence. Whats worse is a lack of standardization (or even distinction) between terminology to describe behaviors (eg pernicious, evil, immoral, corrupt, dangerous, et al). What is evil to you is certainly not the same as what is evil to me...much less how a legal doctrine is worded. It is a HUGE problem that people dont agree on what constitutes undesired action.

I don’t think the court system is a panacea for solving moral dilemmas. Especially in tech where things move much quicker than our laws can keep up with.

>I, for one, hope more engineers involved in fraud (eg VW), privacy breaches (eg Facebook) etc get tried and punished. It might help make programmers realize that yes, your work actually affects real humans and yes, you're partly responsible for getting it right.

You can't do this without a lot of ethical backing, supportive law resources, whistleblower protections, and better controls on letting people into the industry.

It will be an utter disaster if you don't have those protections.

The halting problem shows that it is impossible to verify a program is bug free. Therefore anyone could say that some feature X that harms the user is actually just a bug and you would be hard pressed to beat reasonable doubt

Edit: I love downvotes without rebuttal.

Yeah how do we ever find fault in auto accidents since we don't understand all of physics

Some guy named Newton solved the physics problem you’re referring to. He never got around to computational theory though.

By construction, there's at least one program whose behavior is undecidable. But there's a big subset of all possible programs that always halt (and others that never do), and we can choose to only ship decidable programs and avoid the weird edge cases as unreliable.

> anyone could say that some feature X that harms the user is actually just a bug and you would be hard pressed to beat reasonable doubt

That would fall under criminal negligence then.

Ahh, so you see, additional regulation is not required.

The same way that harming people intentionally via software engineering is not regulated now, negligent harm isn't regulated either. I'm not expressing my support either way because this is a complex issue I haven't explored nearly enough - I'm just pointing out that current laws have stipulations for unintentional action or inaction as well.

Claiming ignorance, incompetence or other factors that might lead to unintentional harm does not get you off scot free.

There isn't a single software engineer alive that hasn't made a negligible error. It's like penalizing doctors if their patient dies. The halting problem specifically prohibits a programmer from ever even knowing if they are without negligence or simply one iteration away from complete negligence. (ie integer overflow that occurred because the system was used longer than the original developer intended).

Also, I would wager that about 75% of bugs come from the seems of integrations where two peoples duties overlap. In that case who's fault is it if they both built half a bridge that doesn't line up?

> It's like penalizing doctors if their patient dies

Doctors should be punished if their patient dies for reasons caused by doctor's own fault or by some unintentional action or inaction. That's why malpractice insurance is a thriving industry.

> In that case who's fault is it if they both built half a bridge that doesn't line up?

The chief engineer or the architect, the ones who signed off on the project. And again, that's why those industries have professional liability insurance.

Actually 'my boss told me to build it' is an excuse. if you dont build it, you breach contract. you get fired or possibly sued for damages or breach of contract (as a contractor or external consultant).

The job market isn't exactly great for recently fired engineers either. Nobody is above the law, and it is more than likely that some unlucky 'git-blamed' junior is going to face such a case some day instead of the boss who ordered it. But i hope in that case a judge will take the migitating circumstances into account.

Agreed. I dislike how every time we push for the "hot market for programmers" meme that only exists in the SV-like bubbles.

Everywhere else around the world, it's just a regular job people do to put food on the table.

Should we boycott people who work in the defense industry as well?

I've never lived in Silicon Valley. And I've been fired from jobs before. The longest I was ever unemployed not of my own volition was twelve days.

The poor benighted developer--engineers have expectations upon them that participants in this thread are clearly all too willing to abrogate, the term is invalid--will be just fine.

Not to contradict you, but your experience does not a rule make, and as with real estate, it's all about location, so, living in Europe, YMMV.

Sure it's impossible to be unemployed as a developer one could say by the number of search results from the keyword software in the job portals in my area, but after closer inspection, if you've been around the block a few times, you can easily tell that over 90% of those jobs are shitty micromanaged fake scrum-driven burnout meat grinders where you wouldn't last more than a couple of months.

So, the remaining 10% of jobs worth applying for are incredibly picky, and, without a prestigious resume (top companies, top school) you're not getting your foot in the door, even though you might master leet code.

Therefore, it took me 6 months on unemployment to find a quality workplace that would take me in and only because I invested in some certs in that time.

That sucks. I empathize. But I don't sympathize. It remains incumbent upon you, me, and every tech worker to prioritize decency of output regardless; our fellow humans shall demand it of us, morally first and legally if morally doesn't work.

The machine stops when we say "no". It's what we must do.


The entire adtech industry, which happens to dominates both tech and the economy, is a giant privacy violation machine. Looks like everyone is happy to cash in a fat check, fatter as you move up the totem pole. Après nous le déluge.

If you think salaries are high now, just wait until every engineer needs a personal lawyer to review every change request their boss makes of them.

You can train them enough to not be helpless without a lawyer. Doctors don't need one for every medical decision they make. You do need larger support systems to make this work though and that doesn't get built overnight.

It certainly does limit new engineer throughput for society because of training times and increase salaries though.

Uh, Doctor example isn't the best seeing as there is an entire industry in existence to handle the possibility that a doctor in the course of doing their job may end up causing harm, unintentional or not. I.e. malpractice insurance.

I find this push of responsibility to the engineers encouraging. Finally may come the legislative framework through which I can shoot down an employer's design knowing that in all odds anyone else with a license at stake won't cave to mere financial coercion.

We would need a similar-in-principle industry for engineers if they are legally and professionally responsible for code. It would likely be smaller and cheaper since most of us are not responsible for lives though.

You definitely wouldn't need a lawyer on retainer.

If you work at a place like Facebook or Google it would probably be more expensive. You would be looking at liabilities in the hundreds of millions for a single bug.

> Stop pushing the blame upstairs

Why? "follow the money" is a time tested and highly reliable heuristic.

I am with you on an individuals responsibility despite embedding within systems designed to provide legal shielding for amoral choices.

Is the fast food worker responsible for thinking about American dietary health? Is the logger responsible for thinking about ecological health? Is the coal miner responsible for thinking about clean air?

In some ways the fast food worker is even more directly responsible for the end-product. Burgers require regional labor; software can be made by somebody in Australia or China.

Sometimes you can be checkmated in your job and personal life. It's not that easy to quit a 150k job and find another when you've got a family and a mortgage. In those situations, your only option is to follow orders.

In my experience, it really is the managers who often are to blame for a lot of evil practices. To generalise, I'd say 80% of engineers are rarely evil, but 80% of managers are rarely not evil.

> In those situations, your only option is to follow orders.

It is the only option for the morally compromised. The solution is to refuse to be so compromised--and we can do it in this industry.

That's not a "for thee but not for me" judgment; I've left a six-figure deal on the table because the client was scum. It requires some grit but is within (almost) all our grasp--and we would be in a better place as an industry (and as people) were this behavior the norm, not the exception.

Of course I don't want people to have their families starve...but if you have a $150k job you're really very well off notwithstanding the financial obligations you may have taken on that would make it hard to quit. If it's really a problem, then start looking for ways to delay the project or leak the truth. It's important to protect your family, but also to be able to look them in the eye later on.

Oh cool, so as an engineer I'm expected to know instantly if what I'm working on is legal or not, although most of these cases take years of legal battles or involve huge working bodies from EU, etc.

Maybe since engineers are expected to have such good judgement, companies should strip their legal and HR departments and just put related matters for vote in Jira.

>>> Stop pushing the blame upstairs. If you knowingly build software that hurts people, you share the blame. The job market for programmers has never been better. "My boss told me to do it" is not an excuse.

It is an excuse. If my livelihood depends on it, my children's health insurance depends on it (especially if you have kids that need continuous care), my kids university tuition depends on it, etc, etc... So, personally that's a very narrow view to take. Unless there is a support system that can maintain comparable quality of life for engineers who speak up and quit it's not going to happen. I know I wouldn't care unless someone really made it worth my while to do so.

Don't want to open up a whole other can of worms but this is very clearly the role of a union in quite a number of industries. Such a body would offer both legal and financial support in a situation where an engineer was being asked to do something they felt was illegal or sketchy.

If you don't care about anything beyond your convenience then why should I care about what happens to you?

>I know I wouldn't care unless someone really made it worth my while to do so.

This mentality is appalling.

Your and your children’s well being depend on your having a job. They don’t depend strictly on your current job. Approximately all engineers at big tech companies could put in their 2 week’s notice on Monday and find another job above the 95th salary percentile during that 2 week period.

That is a very optimistic view about how easy it is for the average engineer (many of whom are not even in software) to land a new job. Especially one that doesn't require them to move or otherwise make significant changes.

My comment referred to engineers at big tech companies, not the average engineer more generally. The job market is still really strong for engineers across the board, not just SWE. Experience at big tech companies still looks great on a resume, and those companies tend to be geographically concentrated in areas with lots of other tech companies.

To be clear, those engineers' quality of life may be dependent on working at big tech companies. But their ability to make a living and support their families is not. They have made the decision to contribute to abuses of human rights in exchange for a larger salary (and prestige, among other factors), and at least in my eyes, they're just as responsible for the consequences of that decision as their managers are.

I agree with your basic point. I'm just saying you may overestimate the ease with which engineers, whether older ones, those in some more specialized area, etc, can leave one job and start another similarly compensated one (or even one at a lesser but still ballpark salary) in a couple weeks. Or indeed a job in their general area at all.

100 harmless modules can be built by 100 developers and be easily pieced together to form something devious. Also, a program can be harmless and even useful if used for personal/internal purposes but be pure evil when locked down and distributed.

I’m ok with prosecuting software developers individually if we first require them to adhere to a set of standards in a similar fashion to real engineers.

It is interesting, but isn't the software organization, in general, the responsible party? If that software company and the sole developer are the same person (a one man company) then you already have that.

There's no software equivalent of a software engineer coming to someone's house to fix the code in an Alexa controlled light bulb - the responsible party is the lightbulb company.

Mostly true. I will note exceptions. There's some companies like Altran Praxis that warranty their high-quality software. Far as visits, folks with AS/400's told me IBM techs would occasinally show up to do maintenance on the systems before they fully broke. I think the managed appliances are the closest thing to your analogy, though.

At Greece we have a saying. The fish smells from the head. While engineers share some of the blame if their corp does something evil/unlawful putting them on the spotlight instead of the people actually making the decisions is disingenuous.

Agreed. Doesn't work in the military. "Following orders" is not a reason to do something unlawful. You only have to follow lawful orders. IMO the same principle applies here. Knowingly doing something wrong is not okay because you were paid to do it and someone else made the decision.

100% agree.

The problem of course is that most people paint themselves into a corner from which it becomes incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to actually act as a free agent (and therefore a moral being).

I don't really know how they can live with themselves - I guess I'm just not wired that way - but they do.

As far as software devs go specifically.. If you're 21 or whatever, fair enough. If you're 30, in good health, and you're still using this excuse that you just can't survive without always taking the maximally profitable job and sucking up to whatever bossman says, sorry, that's just not right.

> If you're 30, in good health, and you're still using this excuse that you just can't survive without always taking the maximally profitable job, sorry, that's just not right.

After 30 you're probably looking to settle down, get a house and have kids and unless a generous inheritance is waiting for you, there is no way you can afford kids and a mortgage in any major city without constantly taking the highest salary because other people will, pricing you out.

> The problem of course is that most people paint themselves into a corner from which it becomes incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to actually act as a free agent (and therefore a moral being).


I think your example is a bad one because to be honest most people are priced out of that anyway. I don't know anyone who has or expects that life any more. The economy broke.

Amongst my "old friends", I'm the only one that could even theoretically afford it, and I've noped out of major metropolitan areas entirely, at least for the time being, because it precisely means either living in a microscopic shoebox or conforming to an economic system that is deeply flawed.

Ultimately, you own the consequences of what you're doing. If you don't care about the ethics of what you do because it feeds your family and that's what you want, great. I don't have to respect that; and in fact I reject the premise.

Good point. Doing your job has never been an excuse for ethical failings.

There is a type of person who will always walk right up to the line of what is legal and peer across. Too often these types hold leadership roles in companies.

It is important to guard against these types, by ensuring our laws reflect our shared norms to those who will ignore norms unless compelled.

>It is important to guard against these types

Don't doubt for a second that MS knows what it's doing when it adks for this. Facebook as well is doing the same, asking for more regulations. They're trying to capitalize on what is called Regulatory Capture, which will entrench their market power through government force.

Sometimes this is more obvious, such as the case in finance where industry leaders smoothly swap roles as both profiteers and technocrats, and sometimes it is less obvious, as is the case now with big tech.

Yes which is why I will also continue to push for strong consumer legislation as a private citizen.

I am a resident of a swing state and I vote in primaries.

A lot of MSFT management are engineers (including the CEO) so that’s probably not what he meant.

Disclosure: I work at MSFT.

It probably is what he meant, because this is not a casual email but written for publication. If he used the word “engineer”, I will assume he meant “engineer”, and it is not necessary that you speak for management to correct perceived misunderstandings.

(NPR could have misstated Smith’s intent, but imma need a citation.)

During a bid to offer, I was asked to give a good review of one of the prospects by my N+2. I gave the honest bad review this bidder deserve and left immediately after. No other engineer has wanted to replace me. Later the call to offer got cancelled, my ex-N+2 let go.

I understood that if I refuse to do something, there is a substantial possibility that nobody else will do it. If I accept contributing to something malevolent, it makes me complicit.

What we know is rare.

This is interesting, I think engineers often take the naive approach and stance when it comes to morals and ethics, like this comment here highlights.

Many engineers are not at all familiar with privacy and security laws. When there are hackathons for instance I always wonder about the amount of legal oversight in organizations.

Engineers want to build cool things. The Internet made it possible that anyone's small app can have worldwide reach and impact.

That impact however also has consequences and responsibilities that the builders can't hide from or transfer to someone else either.

The 'tech titans they serve' bit presumably refers to higher management, so he's not leaving them out...

I would say it refers to the corporations, encompasses all of the company. Only engineers were called out by title.

The threats to democracy arguments are so overblown. We're about to have a huge election. There is no literal threat to democracy. Hmmm...it must be some kind of metaphor.

So what do people mean when they say this? The NPR piece says Smith suggests "the Internet giants will cannibalize the very fabric of this country". This metaphor seems hyperbolic as well. To use "cannibalize" means that something will eat itself. So, they Internet giants are the fabric of the country and they will eat the fabric. Something is missing there.

The next paragraph then negatively describes Smith's regret of his previous calls for deregulation. This seems firmly unrelated to democracy, as all forms of government have regulation, and regularly adjust regulation to get better effects. However, it does seem related to the power of government over organizations such as Microsoft. Is the "threat to democracy" really meant to indicate the loss of the power of the government over individuals relative to increases of power of other organizations?

"For one, he argues, it's time to reform the U.S. law that says Internet platforms are not liable for just about any of the content running through their pipes" This would dismantle the Internet. Did he forget to read https://www.amazon.com/Twenty-Six-Words-That-Created-Interne... ? It would force your ISP to become a censor. It's the complete opposite of the idea of moving power towards an elected government and away from corporations.

Anyway, I was worried for a bit reading the headline, but it looks like our elected government is safe for the time being and this is just more hyperbolic bullshit.

Elections are only a small part of democracy. Things like free speech and privacy are also very important components of a functioning democracy.

I thought the basic definition of a democracy was a government where the members are voted on by the general population?

More generally, democracy means rule by the people. It's possible to allow the population to vote without actually giving it any power. Eg.

- If the elected government punishes people who voted the wrong way once it gets in power, then it's not really a democracy.

- If the elected government doesn't have any real power, and all the important decisions are made by warlords or corporate heads, then it is not really a democracy.

- If your boss can stand behind you while you cast your ballot to make sure you vote the right way, under threat of being fired, it's not really a democracy.

- If the only information you have on which to base your vote is the official state-run news, then it's not really a democracy.

- If all the government's power is concentrated in one person, who is elected for life, it's not really a democracy.

> There is no literal threat to democracy.

What would you consider a threat to democracy?

New limitations on which candidates can run for election.

New limitations on which citizens can vote.

Interference with the vote collecting and counting processes.

Not respecting the outcome of an election.

Those would all be threats to democracy. What isn't a threat is Google, Facebook and Amazon trying to guess which ads you'll click on.

Overt and covert censorship. Training ML models with ideological biases. Covert subversion of the concept of justice. Weaponization of cultural symbols. Promotion of histeria and false allegations to increase cultural subversion.


> We're about to have a huge election. There is no literal threat to democracy

Elections may be necessary to democracy, they are not sufficient. Most authoritarian states have elections, too.

Democracy is not there one day and gone the next, it is eroded over time.


Trump (and the presidency in general) is used as a distraction. Its also probably the only legitimate election that happens - its the only one that the candidates are thoroughly scrutinized by the voters and whose platforms, personalities, etc are laid bare in a way most people actually doing the voting are able to comprehend.

Senators and governors might be in a very distant second and third place for legitimate scrutiny by the electorate, house representatives in fourth, maybe in some very rare circumstances someone pays attention to state house or senate races, and maybe you care about your mayor once every other decade.

Every other race is simply pay to win. You pay the most, get the most ads in front of constituents faces, and get yourself political power for as long as you can afford to keep it. The voting public does not have the patience, time, or willpower to scrutinize a dozen+ races per election cycle in a way paramount to preserving the institutional integrity of the government. Its why people are always so pessimistic about government solving problems - they really aren't practically electing the people writing the laws or testing their legitimacy. You vote for judges on paper, but in aggregate the elected judge is almost always the one with the most donors.

Its all intentional and structural, of course. It helps preserves the two party duopoly and lowers the cost of buying legislation for private interests. If voters only had one person to elect whose job it then was to do all the other appointments and elections they would otherwise do, but whom the electorate scrutinizes as much as the president and whose conduct is all over their personal media feeds every day, we might actually have something reminiscent of the will of the people showing up in government again.

The claim that big tech itself is a threat to democracy needs to be debated. While they do manipulate their customers and sell their personal information for profit, the companies themselves have also been manipulated by the various groups in the world that are the actual threat to democracy.

The political polarization might not be caused by technology but instead only amplifies it.

One example where the tech companies are "guilty" is by having everyone live in their own confirmation bias bubble which is enabled by the algorithms they created. What we seem to forget is that we all lived in confirmation bias bubbles before the internet.

We all believed our own local version of what the United States was until the various points in history where the dissonance was interrupted.

Now globalization and social media have shown people how different their respective views happen to be, feeding the polarization even more, and we find it easy to put the blame on technology.

> The political polarization might not be caused by technology but instead only amplifies it. [..] What we seem to forget is that we all lived in confirmation bias bubbles before the internet.

Yes, and doing the same as always just more efficiently can be reason enough for regulation.

Consider fishing. Mankind pretty much always did it. Over time we got more efficient, but the core mechanism of extracting fish from the sea always stayed the same. Along the same line of reasoning there should not have been any need for fishing limits. But if we look at all systems and mechanisms interacting, just pushing this one variable at some arbitrary point can make the system collapse.

Afaik fishing is a lot better understood than filter bubbles. But the history examples of strong political polarization I can remember usually heave lead to bad outcomes (as in bloody), thus we probably want to stay on the safer side for now.

Kind of sad that the Chinese way of dealing with this might actually produce better outcomes, if our western "free societies" won't find a way to deal with it.

Abramowitz and Sanders (2008)[1] is a good article showing the debate going on 10 years ago over whether or not we were even seeing polarization, which supports the possibility that tech is a spurious factor.

A really cool causal factor (e.g. Green, Palmquist, and Schicker, 2002, [2]) is the effect of civil rights and voting rights acts in the 60s. Essentially, young conservatives subsequently started primarily joining the Republican party and it took 30 years for the effects to really be visible (kind of like messing with pH levels where the color eventually just changes).

[1] http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jcampbel/documents/AbramowitzJO...

[2] http://www.uvm.edu/~dguber/POLS125/articles/green.pdf

> the companies themselves have also been manipulated ...The political polarization might not be caused by technology but instead only amplifies it.

There are claims that Facebook staffers directly help political campaigns micro-target specific audiences using "dark posts" [1].

[1]: https://www.wired.com/story/free-speech-issue-tech-turmoil-n...

I don't like the term "polarization" because the reduction to a spectrum, much less a one-dimensional one with two poles, doesn't represent most issues well or at all, and even where it might be applicable, the reason why someone is "at one of the poles" matters a lot more than what opinion they have. Someone is adamantly against the death penalty as a result of a lot of weighing and reflection, and is able to argue their opinion, is very different from someone who just holds it because their peers do, and is unable or unwilling to think things through for themselves. So I'd say where people get "more radical" just by being exposed to different views that kind of shows there is something more than just deliberation going on, and that issue seems orthogonal to the world seeming more confusing and confused because we see more of it (which I agree plays a role).

And though I agree without reserveration that technology doesn't cause that per se, the way we use it for the most part (and which we seem to have accepted as the way to go, or at least as somehow unavoidable), turn things into headlines and TLDR and memes, and those into things to "share" or "like", seems like an already existing problem put on steroids to me.

The only part of your argument that's relevant is the part about selling personal information for profit. The rest is immaterial to the problem with unregulated industry, and in fact incorrect when it comes to the end-result of things like "political polarization". Governments and private companies are more than happy to see the mass organization and demonstrations of the 20th century turn into yelling at auntie on Facebook. Social media is the /dev/null of critical thought; a pressure valve for grievances that can be quickly assuaged by faves. The polarization of views online just makes us more silent IRL, much to the delight of our employers.

The article itself barely touches upon the titular "stake." NPR inserts "election interference" and Smith is quoted in reference to personal data acquisition as a potentially dangerous wealth transfer/concentration.

Since election interference is widely reported and understood to have been an intel operation aimed at polarizing U.S. public opinion with legitimate and illegitimate information, I dont see how treebeard is irrelevant.

Sidenote: It's still unclear, to me anyway, just how effective the influence was. In these crazy times, I should clarify that I'm not denying it occured.

Even beyond how effective the election manipulation was or wasn't, no one is asking whether the vague 'regulations' (by the US gov?) will do anything useful at all.

I suspect not but this all sounds reactionary "something must be done" where the utility of the something is always downplayed.

Agreed, of course. And, thanks for bringing my sidenote back onto topic (:

The subject of the article is not too well-defined, which reflects our inability to come to terms with the associated Big Issues. So, yeah, it's difficult for me to imagine forward thinking regulation coming out of the current conversation--such as it is, in main editorial media and government.

In my personal life, having a productive conversation about the current and future impacts of data (non)privacy is next to impossible due to the inherent complexity of integrating the subject with pre-existing ideological frameworks. I do not think I'm brighter than them, just happen to have a long-standing interest. Based on observation, politicians seem no better equipped.

“Social media is the /dev/null of critical thought”


Make no mistake, this is just MS calling for regulatory capture so they have few people to compete with their products. They are in it for their profits, not the good of mankind.

Any time I see a statement put out by any of the tech incumbents, I ask myself, "How does this statement benefit the company?" And usually, there is a clear path to an answer. It's for profits, it's never for the public good. These are companies after all. If they're asking to regulated, it means buying a seat at the table, creating the illusion of regulation, with none of the downsides imposed by actual regulation.

From the 80s until the 90s Microsoft never lobbied the government, and they dominated. They got hauled in front of congress and were chastised for not lobbying, then a year later were hit with their infamous antitrust suit. The government bullied Microsoft into paying them off - just like the damned Mafia, except it's legal. Now we see Microsoft begging the government to basically do this AGAIN. It's sick, corrupt and a perversion of capitalism and democracy.

Nothing more than a cynical play by Microsoft to get a seat at the table for the inevitable avalanche of regulation coming.

Tech incumbents have an incentive to argue for regulation since they typically his small companies harder.

You know they are hoping they get looked at last since they already had to endure the anti-trust lawsuits before.

It sounds like he wants to require tech companies to ban speech that the US is constitutionally forbidden from banning itself.

This is a two way street. They may dictate not only what is banned, but also what can not be banned. Clearly, depending on which political party or points of view held by those with the most influence at a given time will dictate what types of speech rules are enforced.

One should look at the various democracies in power across Europe and the various regions of the United States and consider just how much control they wish those governing bodies to have on what is allowed to be said, not said, and how it should be said. Additionally, consider what sorts of governance may potentially be in power in the future as well.

Yeah its not really about protecting democracy it always boils down to protecting monopolies from competition.

Money does not care about democracy :)

Once upon a time public opinion was manipulated by TV and the big newspapers; now it is manipulated by new media companies. My stupid question is: where is the big difference?

We had something like a consensus reality when big newspapers framed the terms of debate. Now we're retribalizing. Different groups are working not only with different beliefs, but also different sets of facts to cement their beliefs.

By the time that a society recognizes that a new medium has changed them, it's too late.

"We had something like a consensus reality when big newspapers framed the terms of debate. Now we're retribalizing."

Looking at newspapers prior to (let's say) WWII and that statement might be worth reconsidering.

Radio was rising up at that time. It made everybody nuts. Orson Welles demoed that quite clearly 1938 with his War of the World's fake emergency broadcast depicting a Marian invasion. It helped Hitler get his message across as well.

Too late for what? To change it? The people who have a problem with this are the ones who cling to the consensus reality la-la-land. If their worldview was so fragile, then maybe they don't deserve to be the ones who dictate it for everyone else.

Functional societies are founded on trust, shared beliefs, and shared goals. You can reject the consensus reality la-la land, as a great number of people have in the last decade, but you're just trading in for a non-consensus reality la-la land.

We don't really do objective reality well beyond the scope of our own immediate shit. We're like the six blind men and the elephant. We each have our own little fact about the elephant, but no one is able to see the elephant as a whole, and trying to paint a complete picture out of the disparate bits of information can yield outcomes very different from objective reality.

The post war consensus seems to have been a very complex thing. Part if it came from the New Deal, part of it was a shared goal to win the cold war. Goals change, i dont know if values also change.

Interesting thought, but then everything else is much more fragmented: entertainment is more fragmented, consumer products more varied and cars with lots of customizations. Now politics are alsomore fragmented. I really hope we find a way to adjust democracy to these realities.

I've been using NewPipe for a few months now instead of the Youtube application. I tried the Youtube application the other day and the app is one big advertisement. You get more ads than traditional TV now between sponsored Youtubers, ads every 5 minutes, full page ads in the Youtube app, dark patterns to make you click ads, except Google has all of the live analytics and demographics where traditional TV didn't.

Things really went south and nobody noticed.

The people who used to be able to manipulate public opinion are really, really pissed off that others are doing it and they’re even more pissed off that manipulating public opinion has become more difficult and people who aren’t respectable members of the elite are being listened to by the public.

Before the internet Sanders, Trump, AOC, Yang, they would never have gotten anywhere. The ruling class is pissed off that people aren’t doing what they’re told and they want to stuff the communications revolution genie back in its bottle.

To tell you the truth, I think that Trump would have done well in any political era, particularly those where unflagging public speaking was necessary to get the gig.

Good political instincts, ability to speak extemporaneously (a rare ability in the modern era). I expect that he could have picked up a House seat fairly easily on the way to a Presidential campaign as sort of a Williams Jennings Bryanesque character.

I do agree though that the internet has changed the character of politics (painfully obvious). Anything that breaks the back of newspapers and broadcasters as gatekeepers isn't such a bad thing, the trick is to avoid having youtube/facebook/etc. become activist successors to the NYT and CBS.

Yeah, pretty much this.

And to be honest, as someone who's both done independent journalism and known people who do the same, it's honestly kind of worrying. I suspect the old guard despise the new media sites and creators the internet has brought about, and the competition it's giving them, and are trying everything they can to try and make them go away.

There were plenty of outsider demagogues in politics long before the Internet.

I dont know about Trump, but this makes some sense. Thanks.

Stories echo around the internet like a game of telephone to the point where you can't trust much of them at all. It's amazing how often authors on large publications like Yahoo blatantly copy and paste without attribution.

Because newspapers and TV at least had somebody in the country. Facebook et al make it available to foreigners and despite what you may think, Western democracies are still a lot better than dictatorships or authoritarian leaders.

I didnt say that dictators are better than democracy. Why did you turn personal?

TV was/is heavily regulated. And starting a newspaper was much easier than starting a Google or FB competitor is today. IOW, big tech dominates in a way that is more complete, closer to total, than TV and newspapers did.

Newspapers are responsible for what they publish and the owners can be sued for defamation or held to account.

Big tech companies off-load that burden by saying "our users are arseholes and it's impossible to police what they say". The most extreme example are the lengths BackPage went to in order to keep taking money to place ads for children that had been kidnapped and drugged and were being offered for rape.

Newspapers in the US have extremely strong protections against defamation lawsuits. This is especially true when the falsehoods in question are targeted against politicians they disapprove of, but even spreading partisan lies about kids that lead to the kids in question receiving a torrent of death threats and a large number of people plotting to make them unemployable for the rest of their lives is not sufficient grounds for a defamation lawsuit. The anti-big-tech folks, for the most part at least, seem to have absolutely no problem with this.

In terms of celebrities/politicians, it's worth glancing through late 19th C. newspapers. They make the modern version look positively unbiased and polite.

And in addition they can can claim to be unbiased and blame it all on the ML modell.

There is actually a pure free market solution to this problem.

Microsoft should sell their stake in Facebook and publicly announce they are distancing themselves from FB. The dominos will just start falling automatically, one by one. For sure, it will start some serious soul searching among the companies whose primary business is data exploitation.

But of course, this will not happen, because Microsoft desperately needs Facebook to be strong so that its AI team can actually challenge Google's dominance in AI (Tensorflow).


So we keep hearing these weird platitudes by folks who probably are never going to be affected in any big way by this so called "cannibalization of the fabric of this country".

If they pass a law requiring platforms to be responsible for content their users post, it'll be easy for big incumbents like Facebook to fall in line.

It will be much harder, however, for new platforms with less resources to comply. They may have to shut down instead.

Yea but that would kill Facebook by a 1000 lashes overtime.

So killing any startup’s chance of hosting user created content is ok as long as it kills Facebook?

You are most certainly putting words in my mouth. The words on the internet should be protected under the 1st amendment no matter how disgusting and no one should have to shoulder that burden except the members of society themselves in how they go about their conduct. In my opinion, it is not people's responsibility to be unoffensive, but rather it is our own responsibility to not let offensive thoughts permeate our being.

My apologies. I went back and reread your comment and I clearly misread it

Says the president of the largest spyware ("telemetry") distributor in the world

"Please regulate the competition!"

True, but that’s because given their revenue model, this would impact them less than the corps which have embedded their tentacles deep into personal data of their users. Adtech is, by now, addicted to people freely giving up thief data and rights to their data.

Never the less, whatever happens when the elephants wrangle, it’s good for end users.

If you don't play by the same rules, you loose. What he says is that the rules need to change.

largest. Hardly. Google and Facebook wins clean on this one.

Whats interesting is that the DoD only uses windows machines even at the NSA. I think I might know where that telemetry might be going.

While I think the whole “telemetry” thing is overblown, there are enterprise editions of Windows that come with little to no telemetry. And I’m certain there’s custom builds of Windows for the government that have all traces of telemetry (to Microsoft) scrubbed.

Big tech is a threat to democracy? What a backwards, self-serving hunk of junk. Big tech might be the only way to sustain democracy. Technology gives governments the power to instill a lasting total dictatorship, something completely unprecedented in the history of mankind. Of course they are afraid that big tech takes away from their pie by becoming too powerful and preventing them from setting us up for an eternal dictatorship.

Wake up people. China is the canary in the coal mine. If big tech doesn't step up and provide some sort of a shadow government, pressuring our real government, we are actually really screwed. Going forward, the government NEEDs to be undermined by the private sector, this is the only way to provide a power balance.

Corporations aren't accountable to everyday people, democratic governments are. Both big tech and big government should be kept in check, but governments accountable to their populace I think are the only realistic way to keep technology companies in chexk.

What I’m worried about is, Europe doesn’t even have this debate. It’s all currently in the hands of where those technologies were invented, America. It leaves you, US people, to arbitrate between freedom of speech and hate censorship, monopolies and fair competition. Whereever we go in terms of defining democracy and what it means at the time of technology, we’re dependent on you. Europe certainly, probably Asia too.

Example of the current status of France: - We don’t have protected freedom of speech, there are penalties for insults, defamation and hate speech (against the protected groups only) (statistics about ethnicities are forbidden, which means no statistics about crime and ethnicity) (applied only for influential people, it seems), people have an expectation of what is said has been verified so they are not used to checking the info so they are... gullible (sorry, no better word). So I would say there is no tradition of free speech here, with the usual required education that goes with it (about the fact that people can freely tell lies).

- The new law is about to enter in action: Platforms must remove « hate speech » content, and keep it (I don’t know how much time) so the police can build a case if they want to attack.

Recently, stories about the books published by our minister of equality using a false name (books about advice for sexual life) have been removed, using the « hate speech » procedures. So pretty much everything is hate speech. We have no protection for political dissidence here. Everyone’s a progressive, everything else is « hate speech » and problems grow because they are not addressed.

I don't disagree, but this is an easy thing to say when you're a competitor of companies that would be hit much harder by that regulation.

> For one, he argues, it's time to reform the U.S. law that says Internet platforms are not liable for just about any of the content running through their pipes — hate speech, death threats and ads for counterfeit goods or illegal guns.

Only if it comes with full regulation of said platforms as publishers, which they would then be - and imo already are today.

Enough with this having it both ways.

Perhaps not really relevant to the discussion, but what is the role of Microsoft's president within the company?

Runs the commercial side of the company (sales/marketing/operations). No direct control over product development.

Would I be wrong to translate as follows?

>Today, the tech giants — whose tools have been used to interfere in fair and free elections — are posing a much bigger threat to the political stability of many countries, including the U.S.

"Democracy does not work because people are easily manipulated by propaganda, so we need enlightened overlords to create better propaganda that will manipulate people to support my interests... uh, I mean, to support what's good for them."

>Smith has proposals that are not popular in Silicon Valley. For one, he argues, it's time to reform the U.S. law that says Internet platforms are not liable for just about any of the content running through their pipes — hate speech, death threats and ads for counterfeit goods or illegal guns.

"I love censorship. Let's have more of it!"

For those you don’t know: Brad Smith was the chief legal officer who got Microsoft out of Antitrust with a slap on the hand. For this marvelous achievement, he has since been given promotions all the way to the position of the President.

I see a lot of criticism that this is self-serving by Microsoft, that they’re advocating for regulation that will hurt their competitors like Google and Amazon much harder than themselves.

I say... *that’s great.” Privacy advocates can get one of the world’s most powerful companies as an ally, just by a common self interest. I don’t mind that this is self serving from Microsoft, I hope they are successful. Other allies could be the media companies hurt by Facebook, advertisers bidding up each other on Google, etc. there should be a selfish coalition of privacy defenders just to protect their own businesses.

The problem isn’t a lack of regulation. Increased regulation could be a partial solution.

The problem is a weak economic model. In the online economy software (products) have little or no value. The value is placed almost entirely upon media and data transactions. Those two are symbiotic but they are neither the same nor codependent. This economic model is what needs to be fixed.

Entrepreneurs out there if you want to do good for the world, make absurd money, and be disruptive then that economic model is what you should disrupt. Go, disrupt the shit out of it.

Hard to take something like this seriously coming from Microsoft's president. Either he wants regulation to keep competition out or to hinder competitors or he'd regulate Microsoft himself if he really believed in regulation. He doesn't. This is just a ploy. Should these companies be regulated? Of course. But let's not believe they want it for the good of everyone else. They have selfish interests only. Period. Believing this drivel is foolish.

Warning. Regulation almost always favors incumbents.

This argument is always repeated within the first ten minutes of these discussions, but I don't really understand why anyone assumes that competition is somehow the panacea to every problem on the planet.

I don't want ten unregulated facebooks who all leak my data, I want one facebook that plays by reasonable rules. The dynamics of social networks which don't deliver value if they're fragmented has made the competition focus obsolete. When Zuckerberg makes this point he is obviously speaking in his self-interest but he is absolutely right and the dominance of his platform proves it.

The world isn't better off if half of the information is on bing and half of the information is on google, the world is better off if those large companies which do deliver benefits to end consumers by virtue of their centralisation are bound by law to implement reasonable standards.

Well the thing is, if you want one facebook that plays by reasonable rules, creating a few competitors might actually help to achieve the goal.

Competition does not solve every problem on the planet. But it does solve a huge amount of problems, so it is very important to make sure that some regulation target at solving a single problem will not bring that huge amount of problems into the world as a side effect.

As a hint, when a large company asks for some regulation, it is very likely that it is of the kind that brings all those problems.

This oversimplified "regulation is bad" idea is pushed by a lot of think tanks (e.g. CATO, americans for prosperity, freedomworks, heritage foundation) set up by the Koch brothers. They have close links with the media, which is why these weirdly specific views get parroted a lot.

If you've ever read a story about the evils of hairdresser licensing (for instance), it's from them. They have been on a crusade against regulation since a lot of their fights with the environmental protection agency.

You make it seem like some weird fringe view funded by a handful of people. To the contrary, it’s been the dominant mode of public policy since the 1980s across the whole western world. Reagan, Clinton, Thatcher, Howard, Harper, etc. Even Trudeau and Macron, who are ostensibly left-leaning, are doubling down on privatization and deregulation: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/true-north/2016/nov/... https://fee.org/articles/emmanuel-macron-is-surprisingly-pro...

The top 10 countries in the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation economic freedom index doesn’t even include the US: https://www.heritage.org/index. (It does however include the entire rest of the Anglosphere.)

>who are ostensibly left-leaning

They absolutely are not. They're capitalists, neoliberals, in all senses. There are no left wing economic policies being created anywhere in the western world right now.

They would have to be, because they favor deregulation. You can't define your way out of an argument. If "everyone in the western world" operates this way, you're making his point for him.

This oversimplified "regulation is good" idea is pushed by a lot of think tanks (e.g. Brookings, center for american progress, The Commonwealth Institute) set up by the Soros and Clintons. They have close links with the media, which is why these weirdly specific views get parroted a lot.

If you've ever read a story about the evils of low taxes (for instance), it's from them. They have been on a crusade for regulation since a lot of their fights with the environmental protection agency.

| Great comments. Lets keep this up!

(This comment is intended to show that simply pointing out that a group advocates for something doesn't make it wrong and dismissable because of that.)

>This oversimplified "regulation is good" idea is pushed by a lot of think tanks (e.g. Brookings, center for american progress, The Commonwealth Institute) set up by the Soros and Clintons.

It's not though. They make a case for certain kinds of regulation and they don't try to tell a "all regulation is good" story.

It's also pushed by genuine people. Read Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal by Joel Salatin.

Does that make them wrong?

It's also pushed by people who just observe how many things are legislated, read a bit of history (monopolies granted by kings, guilds stamping out competition via force, etc) and how cost disease has gotten so much worse.

> The world isn't better off if half of the information is on bing and half of the information is on google

The premise here is incorrect. The idea is all information would be available on both Google and Bing, and searchers are free to query their engine of choice.

> I don't want ten unregulated facebooks who all leak my data, I want one facebook that plays by reasonable rules.

At this point you should be wondering if it should be run by the government.

> This argument is always repeated within the first ten minutes of these discussions, but I don't really understand why anyone assumes that competition is somehow the panacea to every problem on the planet.

Competitive markets are the closest thing we have to a panacea for every problem. There’s lots of things the US and Europe don’t agree on. But one thing they do agree on is deregulation to enable competition. That’s why even Macron in France is trying to privatize SNCF. That’s why Denmark abolished its version of the FCC. That’s why nearly every Western European country has deregulated markets for wholesale electricity, allocates public airwaves through auctions, etc. Thats why Vietnam, which is still technically a Marxist-Leninist country, has 95% of people supporting market capitalism: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/03/13/vietnam....

That is not to say that market failures don’t exist. But we should think extremely hard before we try non-market solutions, identifying exactly why the market isn’t working and addressing those specific issues in the least invasive way.

Idk who's downvoting all these things but it's clearly someone with Marxist ideologies trying to apply it to capitalism. Competition is essential not only for the economy but for human civilization. Humans do not want to be equal, they just want an equal playing field. Policies that fail to acknowledge that basic human element will always fail because they won't be able to stop people from cheating the system.

I don't understand why people think that data leakage is ONLY a problem for facebook and it's competition. If data leaks into an ad-tech company we can still compel them to delete it. All it requires is a good US version of the GDPR.

Competition is the fundamental of Capitalism. Capitalism becomes cronyism without fair competition.

Edit: Downvoters please elucidate?

Meta comment: The rules ask us to please not ask about downvotes; It distracts from the discussion.

As for why you’re being downvoted, it usually means people don’t agree with you (not that you’re wrong). However, we’re not supposed to downvote simply because we disagree here, but it happens.

And seeing you’re a “green” account, it could also just be people who downvote all new users (yes, those exist).

Microsoft President: Congress, please dig me the deepest, widest moat possible.

What is the economic rationale for regulating “big tech?” What market failure would be addressed by such regulations?

Convenient thing to say when your company has already gone through antitrust where as your competing tech companies have not.

Brad Smith clearly wants to corner software engineers and leave them no choice, but to unionize. I understand that this is not Brad's idea and he just delivered the message from the MS board meeting.

However the big tech does need regulation and this regulation is called GDPR. We need laws that make it a criminal offense to use user data without an explicit written consent in a standard form set by law per each use of this data.

> that governments need to put some "guardrails" around engineers and the tech titans they serve

No. We don't need "guardrails" at all. We have an existing legal system that works quite well to discourage companies from profiting from ventures we don't like: we simply make those ventures illegal. Companies have been able to make a profitable business out of harvesting personal data, abusing consent, etc., because these things aren't illegal. GDPR et al is the start of laws in this area, but a financial penalty is simply a business cost. If I can make $500B with a 25% chance of a $5B fine, the rational action is of course to proceed.

If there was a law about certain types of consent being legally required for certain types of data, THEN an engineer, manager, or exec can decide to either a) report the violation to authorities or b) become complicit themselves. When breaking these laws comes with real penalties (jail time, not fines), then the business can choose between a) do something illegal and government puts everyone in jail and takes all assets or b) don't do something illegal, which is exactly what we want.

Bottom line: No special regulation is required here. Simply make a law extending the personal data productions afforded by existing regulations and let the system do its job.

Regulate yourselves, FFS. I don’t want my paid operating system to send my private information constantly to your company.

Quit using software you can't control.


> And what? Use ‘Linux desktop’? No thank you.

Yeah, it's pretty amazing. My wife uses it. I've used it for the past decade. XFCE is fully featured, smooth, and very light-weight. Others have been great too. Want software? Just install it with the package manager. Games? I used to run them in a windows VM when I really wanted to.

That is naive. Organizations and people depend on specific software and there is not replacement for any kind of app that is spying on you.

I've been doing it progressively over the past 10 years. I don't carry a smart phone (I'm looking at Linux ones now though). My wife and I use Linux on our laptops. I'm learning more every year about how to control it.

It's not naive, it's just difficult. But it's worth doing.


What worth do I get? I get expertise. I get knowledge. I'm a programmer. I don't have a OS sending my information to Microsoft. I don't have to worry nearly as much about malicious software. I don't have to run an Antivirus (AV) and AV scans constantly to feel confident in my computer's security. I get access to powerful open-source software. I get to keep learning about even more powerful software - repeatable environments and builds, that give me even more confidence in my ability to create value for myself and others. I get a lot of value for it.

And what ‘worth’, may I ask, did you get?

Organisations mandating use of a specific OS is one thing, but most people would be able to get by fine using Linux personally.

I'll bet that most people would get by fine with an open source version of a Chromebook.

While I know people who could get by with a Chromebook, I personally recommend to them not to use them because their specs are usually on the low end. Celleron processors and the like don’t deserve a place in today’s market IMO (look at how successful the woefully underpowered Atoms were with “netbooks”).

I’ve also yet to see a Chromebook with good specs that couldn’t be matched by a Windows laptop for the same price. Windows laptops can have Linus installed much more easily (I.E. no jailbreaking)

And what? Use ‘Linux desktop’? No thank you.

Have you tried using linux on a personal computer? You might be surprised!

I have. It just doesn’t get the ‘f*ing job done’ unlike Mac or Windows.

Don’t get me wrong, I use Linux extensively. I spend nearly half of my computer time on a SSH terminal. I just hate the graphical part of it.

Funny, I feel the exact same way about windows and osx. OSX isn't as bad, but both pale in comparison to my linux computers.

If this is your posture, I am assuming you don't use Android, ChromeOS, iOS, MacOS, Fire OS, or even some no paid OSes like Ubuntu.

Yeah, I ragged on Microsoft on this site for the tracking they built into Windows 10, and somebody posted a detailed list of references about the ways OSX was doing almost the same things. It was disappointing, and deflating.

Sounds like they still use Windows and are speaking directly to the President of Microsoft which just asked the government to regulate his industry.

Why are you accusing them of some kind of hypocrisy here?

I also don't want ANY of my products, paid or unpaid, to spy on me. Assume if someone calls out a particular vendor for a particular instance of privacy violations, they are not explicitly or implicitly giving a free pass to everybody else.

In the wake of left wing alternative media gaining momentum, and left wing representatives and candidates enjoying huge public support, Microsoft now wants regulation on platforms.

Expropriate Microsoft.


Zuckerberg & Co are going to play the 'we will loose to China card'. Which is going to slow down any kind of regulations...

What's weird is, why there is no great rumbling against China's big tech within China. By now Chinese big tech should have wrecked the same unintended consequences and damage as American big tech. Whats going on there?

I am guessing once things blow up there then we see global consensus on regulating Big Tech.

China isn't a democracy?

Why can't big tech self-regulate? Why must it always be a solution that depends on big government instead? Why should anyone trust the government given the last few thousand years of history?

The nature of the stock market demands that they never self regulate. Companies are incentivized to meet the demands of shareholders, which means more revenue streams, regardless of the effects on consumers.

When, in the history of anything, have companies self regulated properly? It always ends up at the October 1929 stock market or worse.

Why do we need big government to prevent us from stealing or killing each other? Maybe the whole society should self regulate?

This is a straw man. A government can try to stop theft and violent crime without building regulatory moats around incumbent companies.

Though in many places governments aren't great at preventing theft and violence. That's why even in developed countries, many companies hire private security, citizens learn self-defense, and some people carry pepper spray, knives, or even firearms.

Because competitors must play by the same rules. Self-regulations are internal rules. When one wants to put a rule on that will drive up cost or decrease profits, they will only do it if the competitors do the same. That is why they need a 3rd party regulator, where they can go and agree on rules.

I think because democracy also implies a separation of powers, so that you have the players watching each other in order to prevent any player from becoming too strong.

Again, there's a Soviet counterexample of army/party/intelligence service.

Even in the case of a dictatorial and lifetime head of state, separation of powers is baked into the cake by groups with common interests, sometimes organically, sometimes on purpose.

Seperation of powers is necessary but not sufficient requirement for maintaining democracy. In classical Athens they didn't have that, so modern philosophers take pride that we do have it.

Of course any sufficiently big organization does have competing departments with conflicting agengas, but also there are nuances.

Companies will do anything to earn a profit. Asking them to self-regulate is orthogonal to the goal of maximizing profits.

Should we allow chemical companies, oil companies, and power plants to regulate themselves? What about drug companies?

The counter example is the way the Soviets dealt with chemicals, oil, power.

Personally, I think that the government vs. industry split becomes rather academic when you are speaking of monopolies, especially monopolies that spy on you. I expect that there's a slow motion merger into a GoogleFacebookMicrosoftApple.gov body with the companies acting as cabinet branches.

why should anyone trust companies given the last few thousand years of history?

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