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Why We Need to Break Up Big Tech

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/06/25/why-we-need-break-big-tech

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Whenever I go, whenever the topic of conversation is about finding any kind of odd item - from a appliance repair part to a obscure book to even a car repair part, literally everybody I meet will just say “Just get it from Amazon” even when the item can be easily obtained now from physical store nearby, or ordered on a web based business whose service is better and prices are at least as good.

Then when I reply “sorry, but I will not use Amazon” I get a look back like I’m crazy. Or in the current parlance of the young, male, alt-right Petersonites, I’m a “virtue signaling cultural Marxist” .

The most scary thing about tech monopolies is that that they don’t just take over all the physical space in an economy like monopolies of old, but they take over peoples minds.

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I don’t know what to do about Amazon (for which I am a Prime member) or Google search for that matter. But I know what to do about Facebook and Microsoft and have been reading the extremely obvious (to tech people) solution for many years - mandated open standards and interoperability. As soon as Microsoft had the monopoly on an Office Software package (or ideally before), there should have been a standards working group that defined an open standard for the file format. And Microsoft would not have been allowed to deviate from the format. The problem with Facebook (I’m a member here too though I seldom use it as I find the interface horrendous) is the same - competitors can gain no traction because if you are going to join a social network, most people will choose the one that their friends and family are already on. So mandate that Facbook must interact at the same level of quality with accounts hosted by other companies.

This isn’t even remotely rocket science - I don’t know why people like Reich aren’t advocating this simple solution (which I see on Slashdot all the time).

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If instead of breaking up monopolies, we changed the rules so each shareholder gets one vote regardless of how many shares of stock he or she owns?

One can imagine what would happen if each person owned one share of stock in big corporations and was able to have an equal say in how corporations operate.

Chances are that the corporate rules would change to benefit the 99% instead of the 1%.

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Virtually all of what you hear regarding “breaking up” big tech is sadly, impotently misguided, drawing on legal frameworks from a century or two ago. The real answer to the hammerlock of any company over any internet technology is open standards: that’s where http (i.e. the worldwide web) came from in the first place! It’s certainly enforceable, it’s practically a technical law of nature without predatory capital to stamp it out. For instance, give Facebook a choice: it can either completely open up its platform for common use and development, or it can lose access to all servers.

Legally, it’s a matter of defining what a “platform” is, then legislating in the people’s interest (for a change) that platforms must be open – in the same sense the worldwide web is open. It’s in everyone’s interest (except for Zuck).

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More critical to the economic futures of the 99% is the need to break up he too-big-to-fail (TBTF) banks that controlled 25% of US bank assets when they crashed the economy in 2008, 50% when Obama left office, and currently have no obstacles in their march to monopoly.

The $20 trillion plus in TBTF bank bailouts that Congress put taxpayers on the hook for in 2008 will be dwarfed by far more expensive bailouts the next time banksters crash the economy. Not to mention Dodd-Frank’s “bail-in” law that enables banks to confiscate depositors’ money if the bank gets into trouble.

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Did you see my post above yours? I don’t think Facebook has to open their platform in the sense that any code has to be opensourced (which is a typical meaning of the phrase), only that they must serve their users to other providers as well as accept other users from different providers. I agree that the web overall in the way that a browser can serve up any website is a good example.

One more thing that should be mandated that I didn’t mention - all providers must make it easy to transfer your content from one provider to another and then delete all your content. A whole lot of reform on privacy and simplified common user agreement language is needed as well.

A single package containing dental floss arrives for my roomate sometimes.
Yesterday was two large bottles of taco seasoning.

Which are also available at the grocery door less than a thousand feet from his apartment complex attendance.

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The greater problems posed by Amazon are 1) its ability to bankrupt local retail - bookstores, electronics, household goods, apparel, even grocery stores, and 2) the excessive amount of fuel/energy required plus the air pollution and traffic generated to distribute via individual delivery cars and vans. I did a study a few years back on this same effect with Costco, another Seattle-based evil corporation. If Costco were to become wholesalers, they’d operate a small fleet of vans and distribute the same goods to the same customers who’d reduce fuel/energy consumption overall more than half by driving shorter distances to local retailers. So too, Amazon and other home delivery services increase fuel/energy consumption and global warming gas emissions. Never buy anything on Amazon. The money you’re supposedly saving is a knife in your back.

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Here’s a funny example: The suburban city of Tigard Oregon is touting a new development - the Tigard Triangle - as a walkable, mixed-use, high-end neighborhood with great amenities amidst natural settings. Most of this ‘triangle’ which lies between 3 crossing freeways (I-5, 99E, Hwy 217) is fully developed and mostly commercial. There’s actually only about 8 acres of developable blocks. There’s another 8 acres or so of remnant forest along a mostly culverted stream considered “underdeveloped” and likely to be cleared. The first approved project is a pair of 4-story apartment blocks, maybe 120 studio and 1-bedroom. These will overlook the vast parking lots of a Costco, a Walmart Supercenter, a Winco Foods, a Regal Cinema multiplex, a Lowe’s Home Improvement, a Babies R Us, other big box stores and a fire department. On the opposite side of this cluster of developable blocks is a huge Ford dealership and block after block of commercial businesses and apartments. This is not high-end development at all. Tigard City Hall is LYING to attract developers and clueless property speculators. What is probably planned for the Tigard Triangle is low-income rentals for delivery drivers! Great freeway access! Convenient fire department! Lovely creek facing a U-Haul moving and storage lot, etc. It’s absurd what these developers will say to make a sale. Portland is actually in trouble. I’m blaming Mayor Ted Wheeler for his deceitful BS campaign to act like he cares. He likes to do photo ops with children, but on the street he’s often seen entertaining realtors and speculators.

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In the case of Amazon, except for certain specialized hard to find items or obscure hobby items, we don’t need internet-based things like them at all, we need real main streets with real family owned stores run by real human beings.

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