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Salon: Let's Nationalize Amazon and Google

Salon is not quite beyond parody as this excellent parody Twitter account demonstrates. On the other hand it gets harder every day to distinguish the real site from the jokes. Case in point, an article published today proposing that Google and Amazon be turned into public utilities.

Beneath a Photoshopped image of Jeff Bezos standing in front of an avalanche of money lies an article heavy on paranoia. Author Richard Eskow opens his piece on this note, "They’re huge, they’re ruthless, and they touch every aspect of our daily lives. Corporations like Amazon and Google keep expanding their reach and their power."

Most of this power comes in the form of tracking internet searches but that doesn't sound threatening enough so Eskow writes, "Google tracks your activity and customizes search results, a process which can filter or distort your perception of the world around you." Does that sound dire enough? Google isn't providing you access to more information than at any time in history, it's distorting your perception of the world!

But even that's not enough for Eskow. In order to make his pitch for turning these companies into public utilities he needs something you can really get paranoid about. He writes, "Given its recent hardball tactics, here’s a little-known development that should concern more people: Amazon also hosts 37 percent of the nation’s cloud computing services, which means it has access to the inner workings of the software that runs all sorts of businesses – including ones that handle your personal data."

Eskow isn't actually claiming that Amazon is stealing your private data from the cloud. He'd like to suggest it might happen but he has nothing to back it up. So it's just another invitation to paranoia about what could happen. That leads us to his schlocky sci-fi conclusion:

The power and knowledge they have accumulated is frightening. But the Big Tech corporations are just getting started. Google has photographically mapped the entire world. It intends to put the world’s books into a privately-owned online library. Its launching balloons around the globe which will bring Internet access to remote areas – on its terms. It’s attempting to create artificial intelligence and extend the human lifespan.

We're one small step away from becoming human batteries in a Google owned server-farm! If you actually go through his dystopian countdown, it's not clear which part is supposed to frighten us. Yes, Google has mapped the world and they offer it all for free to everyone as the helpful Google Maps. The privately owned library is presumably the Google Books Library project which aims to make out of print and out of copyright books available to everyone.

All of this fear-mongering is in the service of Eskow's real goal which is an effort to nationalize or socialize successful private companies. And here we get a justification familiar to anyone who remembers President Obama's "you didn't build that" reference to our national infrastructure. Eskow writes, "No matter how they spin it, these corporations were not created in garages or by inventive entrepreneurs. The core technology behind them is the Internet, a publicly-funded platform for which they pay no users’ fee."

It's true that the government did play a role in the creation of internet standards, just as it's true that the interstate highway system was a government creation. For some people these basic public investments in infrastructure are made, in part, to allow businesses to thrive and compete. For others, like the author of this piece, Elizabeth Warren and President Obama, they are also a convenient way to claim authorship and ownership of other people's future successes. It's a short step from "you didn't build that" to some variation on 'that belongs to us.'


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