[This post originally appeared in the MusicTechPolicy Monthly Newsletter.]
If you’ve heard about the new copyright law in Europe, you’ve probably heard that the new rules with either break the Internet or bring Big Tech to heel. I’d suggest neither proposition is true but not for the reasons you might think. The reason is that Big Tech has absolutely no intention of complying with the law unless they are made to do so and few-if any- governments have the stomach to make them.
Cynical much, you may think? Not really. Hardly a day goes by that some new horror story doesn’t break about some awful business practice at Google, Facebook, Amazon or Twitter. Lawmakers wring their hands, maybe fine the company concerned and everyone goes back to sleep until the next eruption. Those fines are in the billions, but the bad behavior continues.
There’s a simple explanation for why. It should be obvious by now that relying on good corporate citizenship is no more likely to produce a good outcome with Big Tech than it has been with Big Anything Else. You can dress them up in hoodies, they can tell you to lean in and that they won’t be evil, but “trust me” has not worked out very well so far.
Not only has “trust me” not worked out in terms of outcomes, it also hasn’t resulted in compliance with the law. And this is the real reason why the bad behavior continues. It’s not that these horror stories are “glitches”–no, the platforms that produce the inhuman results are working exactly as they are designed to do. Do you really think that companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon aren’t able to control their platforms, algorithms and applications?
No, these companies make things that work very, very well. For them. They wrap them in extraordinary spin and mythology and deceive their users into increasingly addictive behaviors. At their core, all these platforms are in two business lines–surveillance capitalism and addiction. They use access to music and movies and journalism as a honeypot to draw in users whose data they can scrape and resell in an unvirtuous circle.
Face it–the Amazon shopping jones is not that different that a Home Shopping Network addiction, and none of the engineered behavior addictions from Silicon Valley are that different that Brown & Williamson Tobacco chemically engineering their product to be physically addictive to smokers with the messaging to match.
Nowhere is the unvirtuous circle more obvious than in Europe during the run up to and final passage of the new European Copyright Directive. It cannot be overlooked that the European Commission fined Google billions of dollars twice during the period that overlapped with the ultimate passing of the Directive, for a total of $6.8 billion. Those fines seem large, but were barely discussed compared to the braying from YouTube over the Copyright Directive.
According to leading European newspapers, Google and Facebook in particular fought the Directive with tactics that are reminiscent of Russia’s Internet Research Agency that we have all become too familiar with. Bots, spam, interference lobbying and outright threats to Members of the European Parliament, the lot. YouTube used its platform to spread misinformation about the directive through “YouTube creators” and reportedly targeted the children of MEPs who supported the Directive.
In the end, Google and Facebook were able to turn certain parts of the Directive their way but understand this–the Directive is simply that. A directive at the “federal” level of the European Union. That directive now has to be put into national laws by each legislature in the 28 countries that are members of the EU before it has any legal effect. This can take up to two years Therein lies the rub.
If past is prologue, Google, Facebook and their Big Tech fellow travelers have absolutely no intention of ever complying with the Directive. They will lobby away as much of the Directive as possible at the member state level–that effort was already under way before the dust had settled much less the just concluded voting for Members of the European Parliament.
They then will sit back and wait to be sued. The courtroom is where Big Tech most excels in tying the wishes of voters into knots. By the time there is a final non appealable judgement from the highest court of competent jurisdiction in each member state including forms of appeal that no one has even thought of yet, Google will have probably backed new legislation and collected political IOUs that Google plans to use to reverse all ground gained in the Directive.
And in the meantime, the greatest income transfer of all time will continue as Google and Facebook suck the life out of creators for their fast buck profits and stock market largesse.
The only thing that will get their attention is action that affects their behavior-breaking up these companies in particular. But understand that any government that takes them on is essentially going to war with a corporate country that is probably better funded and nastier than any government.
Getting justice from Silicon Valley will be an apocalyptic story worthy of Skynet. But don’t think you can affect their behavior with your so-called laws that they have no intention of obeying. Kyle Reese is not coming.
Don’t get me wrong–I’d rather have the Directive than not. Just don’t deceive yourself into thinking the fight is over.
The fight is just beginning.