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We need to have a vigorous debate about what Americans might gain or lose if government officials manage to force changes to technology services and businesses as we know them.
One thing that stands in the way of such a debate is the scare tactics of tech companies and their allies. They tend to condemn anything that could change the way big tech works as somehow helping China win the future. It’s an intellectually dishonest tactic and a distraction from important issues of our future. It annoys me the hell.
What made me roll my eyes was how tech companies have responded to a recent spate of activity that could fundamentally change the lives of America’s tech superstars and all of us who are affected by their products. Several Democrats in Congress have proposed new laws to crack down on big tech companies. And the new chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, Lina Khan, has campaigned for aggressive enforcement of monopoly laws to stop what she believes big tech companies are exploiting at consumers.
These steps may or may not untangle the status quo in technology. We are in a chaotic phase where it is difficult to predict what Congress, states, courts and government agencies could do to change the rules for tech companies – and whether that will do more good than harm.
But powerful corporations and the people who support them don’t grapple with the nuances. At least in public, they reacted, as they so often do, by essentially suggesting that guard rails for some US tech companies are creating the conditions for China to conquer the world. Somehow. Don’t ask how.
An official from NetChoice, a group that represents Google, Facebook and Amazon, told the Washington Post of the harvest of laws regulating big tech: “At the same time, Congress wants to promote American innovation and cybersecurity, lawmakers shouldn’t pass that law would cede ground to foreign competitors and open American data to dangerous and untrustworthy actors. “
And that’s what the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a political group funded by telecommunications and technology companies, said this week about the appointment of Khan as FTC chairman: – Damage caused to benefit foreign, less deserving rivals. “
Sounds bad! You may notice that these statements do not call China, which is the magic word for making a difference in Washington. But that’s what they mean when they refer to nameless foreign rivals.
Yes, it is reasonable that Americans want strong US companies in a competitive world economy. But letting a handful of tech kings play fair isn’t likely to break them.
As for the security arguments, the logic won’t work if you think about it for more than two seconds. Will America Stop Fighting Foreign Cyber Attacks If Amazon Is Prevented From Selling Its Own Brand Of Batteries – As A Congressional Bill Could Do? No How do proposals that could prevent giant corporations from doing what they want with our personal data weaken America on the world stage? You don’t.
There are well-founded concerns that China is shaping global technology or online conversation in a way that clashes with America’s values and interests. It is right to be concerned about China’s involvement in stealing America’s secrets. That has almost nothing to do with whether Americans would be better off if Facebook banned the purchase of the next Instagram or whether Apple shouldn’t give in to its fitness and music services on the iPhone.
Preventing the US corporation’s power from getting rich at the expense of Americans does not weaken the country’s ability to curb abuse by China or support competitive US corporations. We can do it all.
I resent the political statements made by technology lobbyists because I fear they are a sign that the tech superpowers are refusing to engage in significant debates about the future.
Remember, behind the chaotic experiments in Washington and beyond how these companies work, there are meaty questions about the technology in our lives: Would we have more control over our personal data, better shopping services, and a fairer economy if big tech didn’t would? big or if there were more rules for the way companies work? And how can we limit the downside of these companies without ruining what we think is helpful?
These are the issues that politicians are grappling with, and they are difficult. Everyone needs to be involved, including the tech companies that may be affected by the new rules. That’s why tech companies are doing themselves and the public a disservice by distracting us with flimsy topics of conversation.
Tip of the week
What to do on Amazon Prime Day Amazon
Prime Day, an online shopping holiday invented by Amazon, takes place this Monday and Tuesday. (Yes, Prime Day refuses to be limited to 24 hours.) Our New York Times personal technology columnist Brian X. Chen has suggestions on what to consider and avoid when shopping.
Prime Day First Rule: Most of the deals advertised during annual shopping bonanzas like this one aren’t great deals at all.
It’s not uncommon to see discounts on products that hardly anyone wanted to buy. (Imagine the sales area of a Sur La table.) And for more desirable items, the discounts are sometimes not as high as at other times of the year.
My rule of thumb for faux shopping holidays is to skip what each business calls the “sales” section. Instead, write down a list of items you’d like to buy and see if they’ll be available at lower prices during the shopping event.
To see if you’re getting a good deal, you can use price tracking tools like Camel Camel Camel, which show the price history for a product listed on Amazon. Our Wirecutter product recommendation site will also be browsing Amazon and other retail sites during Prime Day to discover the really good deals – stay tuned on the deals page and read more tips.
Before we go …
She went from outsider to boss: As a law student in 2017, Lina Khan published an academic article that led many Washington power brokers to more aggressively regulate technology giants under antitrust law. My colleagues David McCabe and Cecilia Kang write that in their new job as Chair of the Federal Trade Commission, Khan may find it difficult to put their ideas into practice.
“Do you understand who Xi Jinping is?” Doug Guthrie believed in China’s economic potential and Apple hired him to help the company navigate the country. My colleague Jack Nicas writes that Guthrie’s views have evolved and he has come to believe that Apple’s reliance on China leaves the company vulnerable to government-imposed compromises that undermine its values.
Are you ready to see ads in virtual reality? Too bad. Facebook said it is testing ads that appear in people’s field of vision when they use Oculus, the company’s virtual reality glasses. (After all, Facebook makes 97 percent of its revenue from selling ads.)
Would you describe a moray eel as cute? May be? Researchers have caught a moray eel while eating on land with a special set of pine trees. Most fish need water to eat. It also took the researchers more than five years to train the moray eels to feed this way. (I discovered this in the Today in Tabs newsletter.)
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