I imagine that Google must have the largest repository of data and information on the planet. That is, of course, a very profitable position to be in. But also a seemingly precarious one.
In the west, we enjoy an open and largely unregulated internet. And I think that, for the most part, that is a good thing. It allows for free speech, the unfettered flow of information, and permissionless innovation. But it is also a significant attack vector.
The US enjoys a dominant (though perhaps shrinking) position on the global stage in many ways. Economically and militarily, we are unmatched. But due to the nature of the open internet, our opponents can walk in the front door and basically do whatever they want.
So coming back to Google, they must be square in the crosshairs of any bad actors. They hold the keys to the kingdom.
I bring this up because we are hearing a lot of late about the “tech-lash.” That is the cultural, social, and political backlash against the large technology companies that control the consumer internet. But much of the conversation seems, to me, to be focused on the wrong things.
Sure, “fake news” and bots are problems. Sure, algorithms can be gamed to get more distribution of divisive content. Sure, Google should pay more taxes and avoid anti-competitive behavior. And from a regulatory perspective, perhaps breaking up Google and forcing the different business lines to operate as standalone businesses might bring some small benefit to the technology industry broadly. But again, I’m not sure we’re focusing on the right things.
What worries me is thinking about an aggressive cyber attack against Google. That could take many forms, but if something like that were even remotely successful, I’m not sure we can even fathom the implications.
So we have one company controlled by a small group of people, with a couple hundred thousand employees and finite resources, that is likely under constant attack by all sorts of adversaries (both state and non-state).
So I think the thinking here needs to be completely orthogonal to traditional models of corporate governance and regulation. It’s less about monopolistic tendencies or consumer welfare, and more about protecting the most valuable resource known to man.
And as usual, I have far more questions than I do answers. Should Google just become a 4th branch of government, the information & technology branch? Should they be subsumed into the executive branch with the full backing of the Department of Defense? Do Google services just become utilities? (is that not already the case, for all intents and purposes)
I’m not sure, but one thing is clear. You know that saying that goes “this time is different,” when in fact this time is never actually different? Well, THIS time is different. I don’t believe the internet is just another technology like electricity or the internal combustion engine. The rules are fundamentally different. And therefore, we may need some fundamental changes to the way we organize and govern ourselves.