The populist backlash against the tone-deaf and arguably harmful actions of certain players in Silicon Valley has increased in recent months. A new essay in The New York Times takes the argument a step further, suggesting that despite the benefits companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon provide consumers, the cons are starting to outweigh the pros.
In an essay entitled "Silicon Valley Is Not Your Friend," writer Noam Cohen outlines the way three of Silicon Valley's biggest companies – Facebook, Google and Amazon – have changed society. And despite their claims that they have users' best interests in mind, Cohen says it isn't always the case.
Writing "the sins of Silicon Valley-led disruption have become impossible to ignore," Cohen goes into detail about the recent scandal surrounding Facebook and the role it played in Russian operatives interfering in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Google, via its AdSense unit as well as YouTube, also played a role, with Russian operatives buying ads on its network, as they did on Twitter, which specifically called out state-backed media organization Russia Today.
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In recent days, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has asked for forgiveness for ways his "work was used to divide people" and has spoken about openly regretting his words that Facebook did not play a role in the 2016 U.S. election.
Zuckerberg recently said that Facebook would release the advertisements in question to Congress. But the 33-year-old CEO may have lost any good will he was beginning to earn when he was criticized for his tone-deaf response to showing off Facebook technology in light of the aftermath Hurricane Maria caused to Puerto Rico, leaving more than three-quarters of the country without power.
There is also the matter that Google and its chairman, Eric Schmidt, reportedly influenced think tank, New America – which describes itself as "renewing American politics, prosperity, and purpose in the Digital Age" – to cut ties with Barry Lynn after he was critical of Google and expressed support for the recent $2.7 billion antitrust penalty levied by a European Union court against the company.
(In a statement obtained by Wired, New America co-chair Jonathan Soros wrote in a letter to staff and its fellows that “Neither Google nor Eric Schmidt attempted to interfere," nor did “[t]hey did not threaten funding, and they did not call for any changes.”)
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Amazon, which recently purchased Whole Foods in an attempt to gain market share in the $800 billion U.S. grocery market, has also come under heavy scrutiny as of late.
President Trump has repeatedly called out the Jeff Bezos-led company for a number of different reasons, including not paying so-called "internet taxes" and "doing great damage to tax paying retailers."
Cohen suggests that with the $13.7 billion Whole Foods acquisition, which the Trump administration allowed, it is pursuing "the breathtakingly lucrative strategy of parlaying a monopoly position online into an offline one, too."
Many have raised the question whether the U.S. government and its counterparts around the world have the regulatory power or know-how to keep them in check and not abuse their power.
"Now that Google, Facebook, Amazon have become world dominators, the questions of the hour are, can the public be convinced to see Silicon Valley as the wrecking ball that it is?," Cohen wrote, adding on to those worries. "And do we still have the regulatory tools and social cohesion to restrain the monopolists before they smash the foundations of our society?"