Progress in the Struggle with Our Tech Overlords


            Mexico City       I used to joke about Google, Facebook, and their lot whenever I was having a problem of one sort or another, maybe like a two-hour detour in Honduras on a dirt road using Google Maps or a creepy message on FB, saying that, “Hey, we live in their world.”  Once it turned out to be way too true, it was no longer funny, even to me.  Maybe I’m grabbing at straws, but this year it seems like we’re starting gain some traction in pushing back on the tech titans.

Of course, there are the antitrust lawsuits against some of them by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), but it’s still too early to tell what might happen there, even if there was a late inning win on a blocked merger for an acquisition in an unrelated sector.  I’m not giving up on the FTC though, because they haven’t given up either.  A new set of announced FTC rules  put some teeth into the protections against tech exploitation of children younger than thirteen seems like a big breakthrough.  I’ll spare you some of the encouraging details in order to underline the real victory.  The FTC has turned the tables on tech and all of these sundry applications that are candy to kids and more moola for them.  They wrote the rules so that the tech apps were responsible for protecting children or would have to pay the piper, upending the previous system which left the responsibility and burden on parents to protect their children.  Parents have enough problems trying to raise kids without having to be tech regulators.

There’s more.  The Biden administration announced that it was dropping its proposal to support a digital trade agenda that basically had been shaped by Meta, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, who didn’t want to deal with various restrictions on their expansion and data imposed by other countries.  Biden’s team decided when it came to tech and trade to push a policy that “at last favors people over big tech,” as a columnist called it.  This is especially important because the US had a minority, should I say big-tech-bully approach, compared to the majority of other countries, and especially the European Union, which has been the de facto point of the spear in dealing with big tech.  If you want to curb tech and increase innovation and competition, learn to say, “Go, EU!”

There were also some other signs of progress.  Artificial intelligence is one, even if fraught with some danger, because it could scramble the playing field, and is comfortingly a hot mess.  The implosion of Twitter under Elon Musk and the collapse of one crypto firm after another show that there are limits to hubris and wealth, and under gird the need for more and timely regulations.  Apple getting twisted up by upstarts on its messaging and seeing some declining sales on iPhones might force some humility there as well.  If you think about, we’re also not having to read about Zuckerberg all the time.

I could go on.  I also could be wrong.  These might be tech setbacks, rather than a trend where we are winning.  The bottom line has to be that tech creates tools that we use, as best we can, rather than tools that use us, while the techies laugh all the way to the bank.