United States Senator Al Franken spoke to the American Bar Association last night on the topic of antitrust laws in the US and had some interesting thoughts throughout his speech.
He started out by talking about general antitrust issues that most of us know about, like having the option to choose a cable or phone provider, and not allowing companies to grab a monopoly-esque hold on a market. But Franken is more tech savvy than this and decided to start asking some serious questions about our privacy, and how the market can control the free flow of information without us having to pay for it with our data.
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If any one company were to have a stranglehold on our information, it would not only hurt other businesses, but it would hurt us too. Imagine if you were locked into only using one social service and you couldn’t pull your data out of it or leave for another platform. Being stuck on MySpace for the rest of our lives would have not only sucked for Facebook, but for us as well:
Antitrust law isn’t about protecting competing businesses from each other, it’s about protecting competition itself on behalf of the public.
Here’s an example of the type of dominance that Franken thinks the DOJ and FTC should be aware of:
When a company is able to establish a dominant market position, consumers lose meaningful choices. You might not like that Facebook shares your political opinions with Politico, but are you really going to delete all the photos, all the posts, all the connections – the presence you’ve spent years establishing on the world’s dominant social network? The more dominant these companies become over the sectors in which they operate, the less incentive they have to respect your privacy.
Basically, he’s saying that the more we rely on services like Google and Facebook, the less we care about our privacy. It’s probably true, because even though Google has hosted all of my email for over six years, I don’t really worry about the company selling my information. The services that they provide, for free, are so important to me, that I’ve tossed up blinders. This is exactly what Franken is afraid of.
The most damning quote from Franken’s speech has to do with the reality that companies like Google and Facebook don’t always have our best intentions at the forefront, this is a business for them:
But the problem doesn’t stop there. Because accumulating data about you isn’t just a strange hobby for these corporations. It’s their whole business model. And you are not their client. You are their product.
So while it may seem obvious that companies are making a business out of storing and using our data to target ads to us, it’s wise to remember that when we’re keying in sensitive information. Franken is a watchdog, and it’s his job as a US Senator to watch out for the best interest of America. I for one, think it’s a good thing.
Read the entire speech from last night here: