Are Google and Facebook Evil?

I’ve read two recent pieces which attack the tech giants—Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Microsoft—in various ways. “Silicon Valley Is Not Your Friend,” and “Ashamed to work in Silicon Valley: how techies became the new bankers.”

Let me state unequivocally at the outset that I know almost nothing about how technology works, and I have no expertise in the complex relationship between technology, politics, and society. So what I say is tentative.

First, I have mixed feelings about these attacks, mostly because I’m a transhumanist who believes that only science and technology informed by philosophy can save us. Now obviously a lot of junk gets produced by technology companies, a lot of time is wasted on Facebook, there are a lot of clueless nerds in the world, and a lot of bad stuff happens when lies about politics are spread on the internet.

It is especially disconcerting when you consider that Google could cut off Breitbart, Alex Jones, and neo-Nazi nonsense from search results in a second, but it doesn’t want to be perceived as “left-leaning” or lose advertising money—keeping the advertisers is more important than making sure that people read the truth.

So I do think tech companies have huge responsibilities, perhaps a model like Wikipedia, where they take their civic responsibilities seriously, as opposed to just focusing on profit, would benefit us all. Of course, this depends on the creation of a new economic model, since the drive for profit, as opposed to increasing societal good, is by definition a large part of the problem.

As for jobs lost to tech, I’ve written about this multiple times, and I say again that we need a new economic system which doesn’t encourage despoiling the natural environment and climate, leaves vast wealth in the hands of a very few, etc.

Still, tech companies do research and produce things—some of the most important possible research like AI and robotics and longevity is done by tech companies. So in that way, they have the potential to do enormous good too. That also provides quite a contrast to Wall Street, the whole point of which is mostly to scam money off others without producing anything or contributing to society.

Finally, let me say that ideally sci-tech research should be mostly funded by the public sector with accountability towards public good vs. private profit. Or at least there should be enough government regulation to ensure that the private operate in the public interest.

And again, a disclaimer. I am not an expert in such matters and these are complex issues.

3 thoughts on “Are Google and Facebook Evil?

  1. Great minds think alike. I just posted an essay echoing some of your points. I do not focus on Google and Facebook; my concern is with the impact of robotics on our economy. It’s here: http://www.erasmatazz.com/personal/politics/a-new-economy.html

    The essay has a serious blunder that I would like to correct, but for some reason I have lost my website file in the transfer to a new computer, and now it doesn’t show up in any of backups. I may have to rebuild the whole damn website from a ripped copy — a major task.

    As to the central question you raise, I think that Google and Facebook are dangerous in the same manner that Standard Oil and the railroads were dangerous 130 years ago. They had monopoly power and abused it. I don’t think that either Google or Facebook are abusing their power (although I just read an article from a computer scientist who had Facebook installed on his smartphone, left it on, and then talked loudly with his wife about cat food, even though they had no cats and had never mentioned cat food anywhere on the Internet before that. Sure enough, ads for cat food started showing up in their Facebook feed. Scary)

    Certainly Google and Facebook (Google especially) perform huge public services. But they are near-monopolies, and they *do* have way too much power. The ability of the Russians to use Facebook to sway our election should scare the bejabbers out of everybody. As yet, however, we don’t have enough experience with these phenomena to know how to protect ourselves from them.

  2. Interesting post. I question the thought that Google should be censoring media that it disagrees with. How do you feel when China does it? Freedom of speech is important even if we believe that speech to be garbage or destructive. The cause is better served by teaching people why an opinion is garbage or destructive to society than by trying to control what gets said. Censoring is a very slippery slope. Google is doing some excellent things for society.

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