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Issue 58: Don't Be Evil

Should we fear the growing influence of the internet giants?
editorial image 1
He was using his power to get sex. Photograph: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Should we fear the growing influence of the internet giants? Are monopolies a threat we must control or an inevitable consequence of success? Have we surrendered control of our privacy, our labour rights and even our memories?

“Don’t be evil”, Google’s old mantra, was exchanged last year for a new slogan: “Do the right thing”. Yet with accusations of privacy violation, tax avoidance, and a recent £2.1 billion fine for abusing its internet monopoly, the tech titan’s eagerness to ‘do the right thing’ seems open to debate.

The digital giants, from Facebook to Microsoft, are repeatedly attacked for wiping out competitors and manipulating search results. Now some claim they even threaten democracy. But at the same time, online technologies are celebrated for their radical innovations and the ingenious services they offer.

As the Silicon Valley tycoons continue to monopolise markets, should we fear their influence? Could we embrace technology’s ability to transform our world and encourage these companies to use their power for good? Or should we fight their encroaching authority by whatever means we can?

The Networks of Control
Maurice E. Stucke, professor of law at the University of Tennessee and Ariel Ezrachi, Slaughter and May professor of competition law
In the world of digital innovation, is it competition really a click away? Can everyone play the game when powerful gatekeepers dictate the rules? Stucke and Ezrachi argue that the superpowers not only threaten competition, but democracy and democratic ideals.

When the Winner Takes All
Deirdre McCloskey, Distinguished professor of economics at the University of Illinois
Are computer giants truly a threat to be regulated? Would we be safer if technology was controlled by government? Poking holes in our concerns about alleged monopolies, Deirdre McCloskey makes the case that big is not necessarily bad.

Shadow of the Golem in Silicon Valley
Vincent Mosco, professor of sociology at Queen’s University
From artificial intelligence to anti-aging projects, are we in the thrall of an alluring and dangerous new myth? Mosco shows how the narrative of the sublime has crept into our vision of technology.

The Big Money and Digital Masterminds
Jonathan P Allen, professor of digital technologies at the University of San Francisco

The technology industry is generating ever more wealth at an ever greater pace, but who exactly is getting richer? Examining digital technology’s unrivalled capacity to make money, Allen warns of the dangers of being too successful.

The Memory Monopoly
Taha Yasseri, computational social scientist at the Oxford Internet Institute

While it provides a permanent archive of the past, the internet is also a deluge of information, flooding attention spans. In the digital age, do we ownour memories? Taha Yasseri examines the internet’s power to influence what we remember.

Trust, Technology and The Young
Huw Davies, digital sociologist at the Oxford Internet Institute

As technology corporations continue the lucrative harvesting of our personal data, whose responsibility is it to protect the young? Davies investigates the shadowy relationship between children’s private lives and the digital economy.

Virtual Monopolies and The Workers’ Voice
Alex J. Wood, sociologist, and Mark Graham, professor of internet geography at the Oxford Internet Institute

As more and more workers move online, who is supporting them? Is the digital labour force being exploited? Wood and Graham reveal the threat that virtual work platforms pose to workers worldwide.

Privacy and the Dark Side of Control
Woodrow Hartzog, professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University

Tech corporations promise us control of what we share. But is control enough to secure privacy? Woodrow Hartzog argues that the concept of control obscures the dangerous power imbalance at the heart of digital technology.

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