“The Tyranny of Big Tech” by Josh Hawley; Regnery Publishing: (200 pages, $30).
Published in May of this year, The Tyranny of Big Tech presents itself as an exposé of some of the world’s largest tech monopolies, such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. This book explores what these companies could do and sometimes have done with the unprecedented power they wield over our digital communications, which in turn grants them a great deal of economic and political power, especially when they work together towards a common goal.
Within the pages of this book, Senator Josh Hawley argues that decades of unchecked data collection have given these mega-corporations detailed profiles about each of us. This vault of information has granted them more targeted corporate control over the populations of its users than any company or government in the world. These companies have built a rich and powerful digital empire not only by collecting so much info about their users, but also by having the means to extract meaningful data out of that info and then selling it to the highest bidder. Hawley argues that their lucrative business practices combined with their joint monopoly of digital spaces might ultimately be a threat to our privacy and liberties even more so than the Patriot Act, while also raising questions about how fair the marketplace is for emerging technologies.
Hawley doesn’t imply that Google, Facebook, Amazon, or Apple could put us behind bars, but that the grand sum of the data they collect and share through our searches, our purchases, who we follow on social media, and what we watch on YouTube gives them more insight into our lives than even the government has access to. This information is collected about us with our permission each time we use their services. Selling our data in bulk to advertisers, political campaigns, and other data miners is a great source of profit for nearly every free-to-use service we make use of online, from Google to Facebook to YouTube.
These data profiles are technically anonymous as our name isn’t usually attached to them, but our given names are our least important detail for in depth profiles containing our interests, our needs, our health, and our politics, for everyone in our household. This is partially why you’re likely to be recommended the same YouTube videos or see similar ads as others in your household, even if you don’t share the same device. No, these corporations have not given away your home address, but they have measured your digital footprint so precisely that they can find you, and your family, on most of any digital services you may use.
We may not think twice about these international mega-corporations, their social media services, or their shopping sites we use daily, nor the tidbits of information they gather about us, but deciding what shoes or music to advertise at us may not be the extent of their influence over our lives. Major national newspapers used to hold the greatest influence on public discourse, surpassing even the reach of the government in their ability to bring news and opinions into the home. Newspapers, while still relevant, were eventually replaced by TV news networks. Presently, news networks are losing their viewership in droves to YouTube and other forms of social media, making these services the new throne of public conversations.
The Tyranny of Big Tech posits that the integrity and honesty of public discourse is now in the hands of these new corporate kings and queens of the Internet. They hold the keys to and largely make the rules for our society’s primary form of communication with itself, with widespread news and opinions to be promoted or censored at their discretion. Should the can-dos and can-nots of our digital communications be decided and enforced solely by these private platforms? Or does the federal government have the right to play a greater role in deciding these matters? It depends on who you ask, but Senator Hawley has offered his readers much to think about. I’d definitely recommend it for anyone with an interest in technology, journalism, or law!
Donavon Anderson is a Library Assistant in Reference at May Memorial Library. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.