These Behemoth Tech Monopolies are Starting to Own Everything!

New Orleans   When Amazon suddenly buys Whole Foods, and some hidden part of your psyche suddenly feels a pang of regret for Walmart, you know you’re in trouble and that something has gone awry in the world. Walmart was an easy target. They were everywhere. Amazon is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, but having them around the corner at a Whole Foods, even though I don’t shop there, makes me uneasy.

Are there any limits? Where are the boundaries?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my Kindle. My neighborhood pet store is so haughty and off-putting that I get my dog food from Amazon as well and save money and time while doing so. I needed a cheap phone for international calls that Google offers, but they are out of them, but Amazon will come through for me.

But, Google is also scary. European regulators are about to levy a record fine on them for privileging their own advertisers in their search algorithms. They are in a blood fight over who will control self-driving vehicles with Uber in a battle of the tech titans, although other techies and even legacy car makers are in this race, too. I use Google. We have channels on YouTube. Their maps are a godsend to the lost wayfarer. But what do they know about cars?

Not that Uber gives any comfort. Their CEO and one of the founders was forced out of the company by his big time investors, largely because he was out of control, but, hey, Uber has been out of control and past the pale in its business practices and disregard for local and national laws and regulations since it began, and they seemed unworried until there were too many headlines.

Facebook and Google are somehow going to manage the news and police internet postings. Maybe we don’t want the government doing that, but are these folks qualified since their priorities are running ad engines. Recently I read a new book, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, and it’s a good one. The author made the point about the arbitrary and capricious rules of both that have endangered – and even jailed – organizers and human rights activists around the world. Their policies have both given voices and taken them away with equal impunity. All of this despite the fact that their business is communication. Did I mention the fact that the head of Amazon now also owns The Washington Post and produces TV and movies?

The disrupters become the establishment, too. AirBnb wants to be more like a hotel. Uber and Lyft want to replace car ownership, buses, and taxis. Amazon wants to automate the grocery business. Despite the branding hype and their own self promotion, all of this is not in the name of public service, but private profit. If you need any proof, look at the destructive impact these tech billionaires are having on public education, where they are clueless, yet leading the way in random directions.

Increasingly, we are finding out who is in charge, but nobody seems to be on watch and those that are seem to be sleeping at the switch.

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Redefining Employment Status Is Just Exploitation by Another Name

 lobbyNew Orleans     Tech lobbyists, led by Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are now spending almost as much as the automobile industry on Washington, DC lobbyists.  That’s not good news for the rest of us.

            A lot of the lobbying, according to recent reports, at both the federal, state, and local level is from Uber and the Uber-wannabe companies that have a huge vested interested in promoting the so-called “gig economy,” as if it is a revolutionary and utopian step forward for workers.  It almost goes without saying that anytime companies start claiming that what they think is best for their workers, eyebrows and probably voices need to be readied and raised in protest. 

            Uber, as many urban dwellers know, is the high flying tech company that is hard to define somewhere between being an application that consumers can carry on their smartphones to a huge employer of drivers, according to most recent rulings by labor standards regulators in the state of California.  They see themselves in tech-speak as “disruptors,” and in this case they disrupt the taxi industry and the huge number of drivers who work in that, admittedly imperfect, world where workers are already routinely misclassified as subcontractors already.  Uber’s defense in legal proceedings filed by some of its drivers in California is that people just love this part-time, no benefits, casual, work.  Maybe some do, but many don’t.

            Other tech companies in the wannabe Uber world are also trying to develop apps that will replace full-time workers with casual, contingent workers.  Some, sniffing the legal pleadings and understanding that the breeze is not blowing these days in favor of more worker exploitation even in this Age of Inequality in the USA, actually have done the right thing and classified their workers as employees, just as they should.  Crying like stuck pigs, they have jumped into the lobbying game because they want to see if there’s some way, some loophole, some wink-and-nod that would allow them to reclassify their workers as free agents and on their own.

            You might ask the reason they offer about why this is new and different?  Well, they say, to no one’s shock, that it cost them money:  social security payments, unemployment, health insurance, and workman’s compensation – the whole package.  How does that sound like a “new economy?  In fact it seems word to word like exactly the same complaint that employers have been making for decades as they plead for the right and wherefore to be able to completely exploit their workforce and then walk away when they are out of work, elderly, hurt, or sick.

            The answer from Washington, state capitals, and city halls needs to be the same to these new hustlers as it should be and sometimes has been to the old employers:  shut up and pay up!  Hiring workers is not a license for exploitation.  We have an app for that and it’s called laws that prevent it.

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