FILE PHOTO: Small toy figures are seen in front of Google logo in this illustration picture, April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo/File Photo

THE NEUTRAL ZONE: DEEP DIVE

Editor’s note: Neutral staffer Dan England wrote this after listening to the virtual conversation on innovation and prosperity in the American tech sector. We will call longer, original, more in-depth stories a “deep dive.”

Big tech companies may not only be controlling the public’s access to information and snuffing out small startups, they may be contributing to the so-called digital divide, the widening gap between those who can afford high-speed internet and those who can’t, New York Attorney General Letitia James said during Tuesday’s virtual conversation on innovation and prosperity in the American tech sector. 

More than 40 million Americans do not have access to high-speed Internet in New York City alone, James said, and a higher proportion of those without affordable broadband are from communities of color. She sees children every day bringing their laptops to sit on the steps of public libraries so they can do their homework, a proposition made more difficult as winter starts to creep across the U.S. 

“Now as millions of children attend classes virtually, these students are in grave danger of falling further behind,” James said. 

The conversation was full of those who favor investigations into giant tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Apple and cheered the federal government’s lawsuit against Google.  They were attending a virtual Biden Victory Fund event meant to reward donors and possibly raise more money from them. But they also made cases for why those big tech companies were squashing the economy, hurting the less fortunate and operating unchecked with the goal of forming monopolies, what many on the panel called an authoritarian business model.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts said companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Google have a “vise grip” over the U.S. economy and democracy. “They control everything now from the news we read to our personal and private security information,” Warren said. “And they have used this power to let misinformation about the coronavirus, about the climate crisis, and about voting to run rampant on their platforms.”

Warren used the government’s lawsuit as an example of the power of what she called “Big Tech,” but added that President Donald Trump’s administration should “have done something about Google’s consolidation long, long ago.” 

Facebook, Warren said, bought Instagram just because the site wanted to neutralize it as a competitor.  “No company should have that kind of power,” she said. “The power to control the flow of information, or the power to put their thumb on the scale.”

Google responded to the recent federal lawsuit by stating that the site faces plenty of competition. “People use Google because they choose to,” Google Public Policy tweeted, “not because they are forced to or because they can’t find alternatives.”

When left unchecked, companies can develop ways to prey upon the most vulnerable in society through beta-testing software that, say, may mean their neighborhoods are patrolled by police officers looking to make arrests much more often or that landlords use facial recognition technology to keep poor mothers or people of color out of their middle-class apartments, said Safiya Noble, who wrote “Algorithms of Oppression,” a book about how search engines reinforce racism. 

“The sector…makes communities targets of harm and violence, and you know it isn’t just about being on social media,” Noble said. “Even if you’re not on social media and not involved in these industries, you may still be affected profoundly by people who are, and I think that we have to just reimagine the kind of society that we want to live in.”

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Of course the big Section 230 hearing was a total disaster – Protocol – 10/28/2020
It didn’t take long Wednesday for the pro wrestling analogy to pan out: The hearing, featuring the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google, was just as messy and about as intellectually stimulating. There was shouting. There were props. There was talk of strangling dogs and working refs and at least one excessively unkempt beard.

If America wants to bounce back from the recession and grow the economy for years to come, we should push tech companies to move to midsize US cities – Business Insider – 10/28/2020
The urban-rural divide over the past decade has become the political and economic fault line in America. The polarization has deepened as workers in America’s heartland have seen industries wane and jobs depart offshore. 

Joe Biden has been hard to pin down on Big Tech. A new Elizabeth Warren fundraiser offers a clue. – Vox – 10/23/2020
Warren and a half-dozen other big names are set to hold an October 27 event on “Advancing Innovation, Competition, and Prosperity in the American Tech Sector,” according to a copy of the invitation obtained by Recode. The event is one of the closest linkages yet between the most pro-regulation voices in the Democratic Party and the Democratic nominee, who has not publicly pinned down his precise positions on tech regulation.

The Republican Antitrust Suit Against Google Is a Progressive Dream – Reason – 10/22/2020
Google is being sued by 11 states and the federal government, who claim the tech company “is a monopoly gatekeeper for the internet.” […] The complaint—filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia—employs a loose conception of monopoly and barely bothers trying to offer a theory of consumer harm. The complaint’s big beef with Google is basically that it’s big, as well as useful, stubbornly popular, and extremely profitable.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

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