Silicon Valley’s Collateral Damage
I was in the waiting area of an airport recently and happened to glance over at the open seat next to me. There was a copy of the New York Times someone had left behind. The headline at the bottom of the page jumped out:
“Another Taxi Driver in Apparent Suicide Over Medallion Debt, the Fifth in 5 Months.”
I didn’t need to read the story, I already knew what had happened. The cab driver, Yu Mein Chow, a father and family man had ended his life by drowning in Manhattan’s East River.
Apparently, he decided to kill himself because he just couldn’t compete with “peer to peer” ride sharing services any longer. It turns out Mr Chow was making payments on a $700,000 taxi medallion, required to operate a cab in Manhattan. His competition only needed a newer model sedan and a smart phone.
According to a friend, a few days before his death Mr. Chow had attempted to make another payment on the $700,000. loan. But his credit card had been declined and he couldn’t deal with the stress any longer.
Some will argue that Taxis are going out of business because ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft offer a better service and there is some truth to that argument. But it doesn’t negate the fact that Mr. Chow was failing to compete at a monumental financial disadvantage.
Mr. Chow’s story isn’t unique. We’ve heard it before. The internet isn’t just disrupting business, it’s disrupting peoples lives and ending some careers at an alarming rate.
For decades businesses on the internet have been treated preferentially. While traditional off-line businesses have to adhere to strict and costly state and federal rules and regulations, businesses on the internet do not. Basically, you only need an email address, debit card and website to start an internet business.
Early on in Washington’s efforts to encourage growth, businesses operating on the internet were granted major concessions and advantages that enabled them to leap frog ahead ahead of traditional businesses. Now, they are the dominate force in America’s economy and in most instances still benefiting from the concessions made to their industry in the last century:
Would Uber, Spotify or Amazon dominate today without the financial advantages they’ve been granted? Would Google be the dominate player in search without the loophole in safe harbor legislation they exploit through Youtube and elsewhere? Would Facebook have billions of users if they had been more transparent in communicating the way they use one’s personal information?
The internet has taken on a life of it’s own. Instead of being a transparent tool, it is now actively shaping our world and what we believe. How else can one explain the constant chaos and societal dysfunction taking place in the world today?
Until now, Silicon Valley has successfully kept outside intervention at bay, using disinformation campaigns led by rogue organizations like the EFF and Public Knowledge to do their bidding. While Facebook has been in the spotlight recently, Google continues to fight everything that might limit traffic to their platform. Going so far as opposing the passage of SESTA, which makes it illegal to operate websites that deal in human sex trafficking.
Google, Facebook and others vigorously fight any legislation that might restrict traffic to their platforms because it means they lose advertising revenue.
One of the best examples is the total absence of responsibility they’ve demonstrated toward the creative community, syphoning off tens of billions in revenue in their staunch refusal to honor copyright and protect the works of musicians, filmmakers, writers and photographers. Even tens of thousands of independent designers who sell custom designed clothing, pillows and bedding can’t escape the onslaught of counterfeits found on Amazon, Etsy and countless other websites.
Back in 2012 when legislators got close to passing a bill to tamp down rampant online piracy from safe harbor abuse, Google and others from Silicon Valley mounted an eleventh hour scorched earth campaign using fear campaigns not unlike the ones used so effectively by the NRA. Silicon Valley played on the fear of censorship painting all supporters of the bill as anti-free speech activists and using their platforms to push out the message. The bill had strong bi-partisan support, but was killed before it could even reach the floor for a vote.
Don’t be surprised if Silicon Valley uses the same “censorship” message when legislators come to the realization that Google, Facebook and others cannot be trusted to protect the American public or be responsible for what happens on their platforms.
William Buckley, FarePlay
If you live in the DC area and want to learn more about internet reform consider attending the FORUM ON INTERNET GOVERNANCE a FREE, half day conference on June 21st. The keynote speaker is Jonathan Taplin, best selling author of Move Fast and Break Things. How Google, Facebook and Amazon Have Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: 100% metro accessible from the Blue, Green, Orange, Red and Yellow lines at the Metro Center and/or Gallery Place/Chinatown metro stops!