Ending the Monopolies the Right Way

If the Europeans actually follow through on what Mark Scott describes at Politico:

LONDON — Europe is taking aim at the lifeblood of firms like Google and Facebook — online ads that track people around the internet.

In the latest salvo, a group of EU lawmakers backed proposals this week to phase out so-called targeted advertising when Brussels unveils an overhaul of its digital rulebook in early December.

Such a move — if supported by the European Commission — would effectively stop a firm like Google from showing web users ads based on personal profiles as they roam around the internet. In short, cutting off a key source of revenue at the heart of Big Tech’s business model.

Silicon Valley can rest easy for now. The amendment in question was not binding, and a ban on targeted ads remains fairly remote. But the vote was a shot across the bow for tech companies and publishers who also rely on such ads at a time when regulators are turning up the heat on the online ad business.

It also raises a tricky question — not just for tech companies but for everyone who relies on free internet services provided to them (think, Google Search and Instagram posts) in exchange for personal data: If we put a stop to online ads, who will pay for the internet as we know it?

it will definitely be a step in the right direction. You may notice similarities between what they are doing and what I have proposed in the past. It has been my experience that the Europeans take privacy more seriously than Americans do.

My answer to the question is who needs “the internet as we know it”? The answer is middlemen like Google and Facebook. But that’s decreasingly necessary for individuals or companies who actually produce and sell things.

Breaking up the tech monopolies won’t have the effect that rendering them unprofitable will.

9 comments… add one
  • Andy Link

    I have mixed feelings about this.

    First, targeted advertising has been around for a very long time, the main difference today is scale and fidelity with the ability to easily micro-target millions of individuals. There’s a pretty wide swath between targeted advertising based on everything you do online and zero targeted advertising of any kind.

    Secondly, I’m skeptical of legislation or policy changes that seem specifically intended to hurt specific companies or markets.

    But I am increasingly troubled by the market power of Google in particular – and I say this as one who uses a lot of “free” google services daily.

    I’m not sure what the answer is honestly.

  • Consider this. Something around 30% of the S&P 500’s total index is just six stocks and they account for an even larger portion of their activity. All six of them have stock values wildly out of whack with their ability to generate revenues. One of two things is true. Either they’re inflating the S&P 500 (which means it’s useless as a metric for the health of the economy) or they’re taking investment away from companies that could actually be hiring and building. They are not forces for good.

  • bob sykes Link

    The Europeans might be right. Untargeted ads is the newspaper model. But that’s not enough. Google, Facebook, and Twitter should be regulated like telephone companies, which is pretty much what they are. Telephone companies must provide service to any that requests it, and they cannot censor communications. Of course, they also collect fees. That would be good, too. Customers should pay for service.

  • Drew Link

    I accept your statistics at face value, Dave, as I suspect you did the homework. And yes, any index is destroyed by dominance of a few components. The policy issue is: what are the problems with monopoly power? I think we have seen them.

    I’ll pass on valuation, as markets are better than me. I’ll pass on absorbing all investment capital. I don’t believe that for a second. But control of information is an unacceptable situation. Especially when it becomes so apparent that it is being abused. That’s 1984 stuff. What to do?

    I think I have nothing better than what you talked about in a previous post. Don’t let them operate free of libel. And further, preclude censorship except in the event of the most awful content. (porn, child porn, yelling fire in a theatre). I know that’s a grey area. But “hate speech” or “false information” is way, way too subjective. By whose standard? They are abusing their discretion by any measure. Didn’t the Supreme Court decide a case in which a famous line about pornography was “I know it when I see it?”

  • TarsTarkas Link

    Color me cynical. The European Union is only targeting Google et al because they are not in control of those firms. If they had control they would be trying to expand their monopolies. Europeans are big on monopolies, oligopolies, and cartels, it makes things go so much smoother / sarc

    to my knowledge Right to Privacy across the water is a lot different thing than our version of it. Over there is more like a Right to Expunge or a Right to Censor criminal, embarrassing or salacious material, to the detriment of those who would otherwise learn they were being conned.

  • Andy Link

    “They are not forces for good.”

    Ok, but I don’t see how banning targeted advertising fixes the stock market problem you describe.

  • Grey Shambler Link

    No one is forced to buy shares at high multiples. If anything, the high valuation of FAANG shares is a reflection of the monopoly on the market power they hold.
    Spell check and predictive text engines gently and helpfully guide my comments on this blog, and hence, my thoughts, not quite as I would have typed them unaided.
    Search engines guide my buying decisions by ranking results through pay for click bidding. I’ll never know there was the better deal on the 3rd page of results.
    Now, in the final stages of a contested election, Facebook and Twitter believe they make the moral choice by restricting what content from and about candidates is “truth” and “fact checked”. True, it’s only their platforms they control, but for many, especially young voters, they’re the only platform in view.
    It’s not really the paid political ads I object to but the softer and more powerful forms of persuasion crafted to be forwarded by friends, surrendering critical thought to the power of inclusion.
    These operating systems really have become active participants in our thought processes, connecting through our fingertips and our eyes.


  • Andy Link

    On an unrelated note, I ran across this on Reddit and thought it was interesting for a few reasons, not least of which it makes an attempt to quantify, in general terms, mask effectiveness considering aerosol spread. I think it also ties in nicely with PD’s recent comment about masks being too important in the debate – either a “force field” or sign of oppression.


  • Preferred conversational distance and conversational volume are probably factors in explaining the difference observed between countries.

    While I think the model they are using is interesting, I suspect its assumptions render its results qualitative rather than quantitative.

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