4 quick thoughts – with links – on FB’s recent mess.
1/. But for Cambridge Analytica’s fraudulent grab on data – and Russian ads – it is still pretense to claim that Donald Trump would not be President. And more generally, all the disorders of the world cannot be blammed on bigtech; the elephant in the room being: do we individually share responsibility here?
2/. There are rogue agents everywhere, not only in bigtech. What we are witnessing here may just be classic lone wolf stuff. Remember Nick Leeson, Bernie Madoff or, more recently, Elizabeth Holmes? (here’s a good story on Theranos BTW). Hopefully, the investigation will cast light on whether we have here a systemic problem, worthy of regulatory attention.
3/. Scale – or size – is a liability, a point often forgotten by tech breakup activists. Large organisations face higher costs detecting opportunistic conduct. But with bigtech, this problem is squared. Surveillance operations must be conducted within the organisation (here is a quite sensational piece on leaks to the press) as well as outside, with users’ communities on all edges of the platform. The decadence of MySpace or – less well-known – Chatroulette – both terminologically and semantically – are good proof of this. Moazed and Johnson show it very convincingly in their book on modern monopolies.
4/. In addition to market (competition), technological (disruptive innovation), and legal (regulation) risks, bigtech faces deadly moral threats. As we can already gather from the stock markets (here and here), carelessness with cultural, ethical or moral issues comes with a price. Query whether this could trigger churn in users, and eventually reverse networks effects.