The fact that Google has been fined around £3.8 million for “antitrust” violations (read more here) highlights a potential issue which students need to be aware of; the fact that the big tech companies, google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, etc, are businesses at the heart as opposed to being focussed on the public good.
I will carefully qualify the above in that I most of what companies such as the above do does provide public benefit plus that they also make great contributions to philanthropic, research and charitable endeavours. The issue is that given their size and resultant power there is the potential for inappropriate activities or activities not in the public interest to take place. There is the potential for decisions and actions to be taken in pursuit of the dollar, or pound for us here in the UK.
As we provide the big tech companies with more of our personal data, as we sign up and eagerly consume the subscription services they provide, we are feeding them power. This power can be used, as is suggested in the claims against Google, to leverage and bully other organisations, establishing monopolies and reducing public choice. This power can be used to influence individuals and groups through profiling and targeted advertising as was the Cambridge Analytica scandal that impacted on Facebook appeared to suggest. This power might even be able to revise history or to change the “truth” in the future, assuming this isn’t already happening.
Do students consider how the services they subscribe to might be used to influence them? Do students consider the competitive market and the impact of overly powerful monopolies? Do they consider how data, the new oil in terms of value, might be used?
I wont be stopping using the above companies any time soon as they each provide excellent services which help me in my work and life however I am aware of the implications of their use. I believe it is important that we have discussions with our students in relation to these issues, to ensure they too are aware before the sign up to yet another service. Do they trust these sites having consciously considered it or do the trust blindly?