As the technological realm becomes more pervasive, whom can we trust? Each week, Liberty Nation brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception.
DOJ Preparing Antitrust Investigation into Google?
With Silicon Valley wielding so much power over the lives of the public, talk of breaking up massive corporations like Google and Amazon has become increasingly popular. Now, it looks as if the Trump administration may be joining the call. As reported by The Wall Street Journal on May 31, the Department of Justice may be preparing an antitrust investigation into Big Tech.
While the details are still sketchy, it appears the inquiry would primarily target Google, including its search engine service and advertising branch – although both Google and the DOJ have so far declined to comment on the matter. The company was investigated by the Federal Trade Commission in 2013, but escaped relatively unscathed, with the investigation being closed after it vowed to change its business practices related to advertising – the new investigation would appear to revive many of the same issues. In February, the FTC’s Bureau of Competition launched a task force specifically to monitor technology markets, but after a series of negotiations, the commission has agreed to defer to the DOJ on the matter, according to anonymous sources cited by The WSJ.
The potential investigation would reportedly be run by the Department’s head of antitrust, Makan Delrahim. In a February speech, Delrahim discussed the issue of the “zero price” economy, whereby a user is offered free services in exchange for (perhaps unknowingly) providing their own data, essentially becoming the “product” which is sold to advertisers. “Antitrust law is concerned about consumer welfare, but only where consumer harm results from the reduction of competition, which distorts the free market,” he said, broadly supportive of Silicon Valley innovation. He continued:
The benefit of our capitalist free market system is that winners and losers are determined by the market, not chosen by the government.
Many of today’s large digital platforms have grown because they provide innovative and disruptive services that consumers seem to like and want to use. In my view, it’s no accident, and a point of pride, that a majority of these leading platforms are American companies. Our pro-market economic and legal structures and our venture capital community foster innovation and entrepreneurship. The fact that successful companies can reap the benefits of their hard work encourages the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs and inserts the dynamic competition that best benefits consumers.
Contemplating taking antitrust action against Silicon Valley is becoming rather popular; Democrat senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has recently been outspoken in her desire to break up Google, Amazon, and Facebook in particular. “I’ve been talking for years about how Google is locking out competition,” she commented on Friday, adding that tech giants “have too much power and they’re using that power to hurt small businesses, stifle innovation, and tilt the playing field against everyone else. It’s time to fight back.” As the question of Silicon Valley dominance comes to a head, it appears the debate will center around the arguments advocating a free market versus those who wish to limit the size a single company can reach.
Google was recently punished by the European Commission for hindering competition in online advertising. The most recent in a series of three fines was $1.7 billion – since 2017, the company has paid a total of $9.3 billion to European authorities.
“There is No Privacy”
The FTC is also preparing to hand out a fine to Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, expected to be as much as $5 billion. But can there be a prosecution if there was no crime? Some observers have long claimed that Facebook and other social media providers have no intention of respecting personal privacy, a position that has been strenuously denied by CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Amid the company’s many legal challenges is a California-based class-action lawsuit over Cambridge Analytica data breaches. In a motion to dismiss the suit, attorney Orin Snyder confirmed what many have suspected: “There is no invasion of privacy at all, because there is no privacy.” The lawyer argued that in social media’s “digital town square,” information given is inherently public, and any “reasonable Facebook user” should have been aware that their data would be available to a third-party. “You have to closely guard something to have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” he said.
The judge did not approve the motion to dismiss the case.
Gotta Catch ‘Em All – Even When You’re Sleeping
People these days simply must be entertained at all times. Silence, boredom, and slowness are anathemas in our stimulation-addicted society. Unfortunately, the biological vehicles we call bodies continue to enforce around eight hours of downtime per day – while dreams perhaps provide some form of “entertainment,” this does little to contribute to the corporate economy. Thanks to the Pokémon Company, we will soon be able to continue our daily stimulus-seeking, even while we sleep.
In a recent tweet and press conference, the company declared that 2020 would see the release of an app that “tracks a user’s time sleeping and brings a gameplay experience unlike any other!” The Pokémon Sleep app will be incorporated into a Nintendo-developed tracker, the Pokémon Go Plus Plus, which users can place on their beds as they sleep; the information gathered will then be synched with their smartphone.
“What if you could continue training your Pokémon…even in your sleep?” the company asks. “In 2016, Pokémon GO turned the simple act of walking into entertainment, making the entire world into a game. We’re about to do it again, Trainers—this time, for sleeping.”
When the Pokémon franchise began in the 1990s, gamers could play characters that collected cute animal-like beings which were made to battle each other. In 2016, gamers could become the Pokémon hunters themselves, with the release of the augmented reality smartphone game Pokémon Go. As players walked the streets collecting the digital creatures, their real-time GPS data was collected – for unknown purposes. Pokémon Sleep will track how long a user sleeps for, including when they go to sleep and when they wake up. The specifics haven’t yet been elaborated on, but one can only speculate as to what biological and physiological data the Pokémon Sleep app will be gathering from its players. Alternatively, this could just be part of a strategy to tie your entire life to a corporate product, regardless of your state of consciousness.
Facebook, Google, Pokémon games: These products are, of course, entirely voluntary, handy, and may even be a lot of fun – but it’s hard to escape the fact that part of being a responsible consumer these days means making oneself aware of the data you may be giving up in exchange for your entertainment or convenience. Just take it from Facebook: In the digital age, “there is no privacy,” unless you make your own.
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