What causes the backlash against big tech?

By | September 13, 2017

I agree with this author on one key point: The cause of the bad sentiment against technology platform giants is based on weaknesses in our legal system. Beyond that, our arguments diverge.

See, our legal system is designed to protect consumer rights in a producer-consumer environment. And it has been adapted to protect communications intermediaries. But It is not designed to protect users in a prosumer environment – the kind of economic system that technology platform giants thrive on today. The result is that prosumer platform giants play in a very different playing field: they enjoy the protection and legal immunity of communications intermediaries, and are not required to enforce consumer rights because most of their users are not their (financial) customers. This gives them a whole lot of advantages that don't quite seem fair.

Personally, I think that the easiest solution to level out the playing field would be to make a few fundamental changes to the legal system. The two biggest ones are:

1) Redefine transaction.
A transaction is currently defined as a monetary transfer in exchange for goods or services. Whenever money changes hands, the parties involved have a lot of legal responsibilities to each other, including minimal guarantees, data protection, etc. But if money doesn't change hands, there is no transaction, and therefore no minimum mandatory protection. And that's one of the reasons why prosumer platforms in particular are so successful: they don't legally have to offer a minimum protection for their prosumer users. If we redefine transactions to be an exchange of value – monetary or non-monetary – then non-paying platform users would enjoy the same minimum protection as paying customers, which would in turn reduce bad sentiment and also help to level out the playing field.

2) Introduce servitudes.
Servitudes used to exist back in the Roman Empire. The concept was rather simple: You could own, sell or trade physical object, just the same way as you could own, sell, or trade particular rights to that object. For example, the owner of an aqueduct could sell the right to draw x amount of water from the aqueduct. Or the owner of a property could sell the right to block x amount of sunlight to his neighbor so that his neighbor could build an aqueduct. In the digital world, this would mean that you could own, sell or trade access rights as goods in a similar manner: e.g. the right to access personal information, the right hear a digital album, etc. This would allow digital goods to be treated as goods instead of services, eliminating a lot of legal shortcomings caused because digital goods are classified as services instead of goods. And, if the legislators get their heads straight, they could also simultaneously force businesses operating in the environment to provide consumers with a minimum usable amount of interoperability.

/via +Edward Morbius

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14 thoughts on “What causes the backlash against big tech?

  1. Sophie Wrobel

    +nustada I think you've missed the topic somewhere along the way.

    There is a backlash against politically driven censorship. There is also a backlash against social engineering. The causes for those, however, are different from the backlash against big tech. At the risk of heavily oversimplifying things:

    1) The backlash against political censorship is primarily due to an infringement of the right to freedom of speech.

    2) The backlash against social engineering is primarily due to people being victimized by other people due to their own lack of digital competence.

    3) The backlash against big tech is primarily due to the dominant position that technology platform operators hold, which is caused by a number of issues – some of them being highlighted in the article and in this discussion.

    It is the latter that the article, and this discussion, focuses on.

  2. Deen Abiola

    +nustada Here's a snippet of the code for the next article of that series, in case you're eager to expand your seemingly inquisitive mind. However, on top of my queue, is an interactive article on differential privacy. Following that, a bayesian and regret based analysis on warming data and decisions.

    gist.github.com – cfr.fsx

  3. Deen Abiola

    +nustada That's tautological. Politics is a means of solving coordination problems in order to (sadly, fail to) reach correlated equilibriums. It's inevitable that if power concentrates, its concerns and preferences will dominate all others and it will seek to maintain that status quo. Things could be much improved but for now, things are better than in the past.

  4. nustada

    It isn't a backlash against big tech, it is backlash against politically driven censorship and social engineering.

  5. Edward Morbius

    +Sophie Wrobel I've written far more about Pocket's failings than I care to think. You're welcome to peruse my reflections. The service is intentionally bad, and there seems to be no interest at all in remedying this. Upshot: the system gets worse the more you use it:


    In particular, the tags I've used to organise the archive are … almost entirely useless. Pocket cannot even provide an incremental search of that taglist (a fundamental feature of, say, my bash shell, for the past three decades). Instead, I can spend literally two minute swiping through a list of tags hoping I'll find what I'm looking for.

    I've managed to fetch and download a large portion of the archive (though … a substantial portion is apparently lost forever). That still isn't readily available to me unless I do some significant engineering on my on. I'm considering that:


  6. Sophie Wrobel

    +Edward Morbius Agreed, there are non-financial transactions which do have particular obligations attached, data management being one of those categories. However, there are far fewer obligations on non-financial transactions than financial transactions. I should have been more precise. I still hold that the difference in the amount of obligations is problematic as one of the underlying causes of bad sentiment against today's technology giants.

    Regarding ineffective search: If your collection is available offline, you could try Instantli (integration with online services is limited, but the indexed full-text search is useful). It's a context-based search as opposed to a regular search – i.e. 'give me documents that are closely related to this one' as opposed to 'give me documents matching keyword xy'.

  7. Edward Morbius

    NB: Not all transactions are financial. There absolutely are nonfinancial transactions, and these may well have implications such as liability, responsibility, and/or contract consideration. The case of Equifax would be an example of transactions though nonfinancial (at least between Equifax and those whose data it traffics in).

    There are numerous other issues I could raise, but the question of ownership is a key element. Somewhere in my article archive I've got a quite good item on ownership and the paradoxes presented in the modern world in which one party may pay another and receive some physical device, but the first party does not inherit complete control or discretion over the device, nor does the second quit all claims to interest in it.

    (The overall notion of what property and ownership are is another complex element.)

    Part of the irony is that the system in which I collect such articles does not afford me the ability to search them either by full text or by the tags I've assigned them, at least not within the system as such. A matter I've discussed at some length with Pocket (now part of Mozilla), and which Pocket appear unwilling to address. Even were I to pay for their service.

    Multiple other elements, but that's a start.


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