Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

It’s Not Enough to Break Up Tech Giants

Here’s something that rarely happens: I agree with Alex Stamos. Or, at least, I agree with his argument that we should not consider a breakup of Facebook as a panacea to its ills.

Facebook’s market domination is dangerous from a privacy perspective — in as much as it collects a lot of data about a lot of people — and it is ultimately helpful for the company for its size to be inherently influential when it attempts to push the limits of what is socially acceptable.

Trevor Callaghan on Twitter:

I’ve always taken the view that access to information is the key power dynamic. [Facebook, Google, Amazon] and others all have unique, entirely proprietary stores of information that they use. On the one hand, you can (and should) regulate that where it intersects with privacy.

On the other, continue to be concerned about that information only being processed/controlled by those entities. If we really want to break control then you can certainly regulate use, but you ultimately need to either take control back entirely to the individual, or find a way to make those assets non-rivalrous. This is often dismissed as an extremist position, but think about what would happen if, for example, any other company (with your consent) could build a product with the social graph and interests [Facebook] have for you or a search engine tailored to your interests from [Google] data, but on a web index that was part of a data commons?

I think this is a fascinating idea worth discussing, but I also think that there’s a simpler option already available: interpret antitrust laws that are already on the books with more than the financial cost of goods and services in mind. Consider user data and anti-privacy business models as costs, as well. Google and Facebook already do.