Silicon Valley and free speech

By |2018-11-20T21:09:24+00:00November 20th, 2018|Economy|0 Comments

Social media tech behemoths have amassed astonishing economic lobbying swag and far-left-leaning ideological sway with rapidly expanding influences.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, four of the world’s ten largest market cap corporations are Silicon Valley companies: Amazon ($860 billion), Microsoft ($833 billion), Alphabet-Google ($765 billion), and Facebook ($445 billion). Two of the remaining ten largest are Chinese information tech companies; Tencent ($496 billion), and Alibaba ($370 billion).

On its path to become a trillion-dollar empire, Amazon just received additional financial windfalls to establish two new four million square foot headquarter office facilities, one in Long Island City in the Queens borough of New York, and the other in Crystal City in Virginia, across from the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

New York began its competitive offer with subsidies of $1.525 billion plus a grant of $325 million based upon the square footage of buildings it occupies. Virginia and Arlington County committed to pay Amazon $550 million in cash, plus another $23 million in infrastructure improvements.

There is no ambiguity regarding ideological bias either. As reported in The New York Times, more than 100 Facebook employees formed an online group called FB’ers for Political Diversity in support of a posting by senior engineer Brian Amerige on the company’s website. It stated: “We claim to welcome all perspectives, but are quick to attack – often in mobs – anyone who presents a view that appears to be in opposition to left-leaning ideology.”

Facebook rising star executive and virtual reality genius Palmer Luckey apparently challenged that bias and lost. The Wall Street Journal reported that Luckey was first put on leave — then fired — after donating $10,000 to an anti-Hillary group during the 2016 presidential contest.

Google’s transparently left-leaning tilt is also impossible to ignore. The company went all-in for Hillary during the 2016 presidential elections. Company employees donated $1.6 million to her campaign, and Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman from 2001 to 2015, provided direct political data analytics support.

Top tech executives, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, were grilled in a September 6 Senate open hearing regarding their companies’ roles in intentionally stifling conservative voices on their social media platforms. Alphabet Inc.’s Google was invited to testify, but declined, leaving a third adjacent seat conspicuously empty.

Responding to accusations that Twitter discriminates against conservatives, Jack Dorsey admitted during an August 18 CNN interview: “We need to constantly show that we are not adding our own bias, which I fully admit is left-leaning.” He added, “But the real question behind the question is, are we doing something according to political ideology or viewpoints? And we are not. Period.”

That prospective censorship influence isn’t limited to our national boundaries. On October 1, Vice President Pence called upon U.S. companies to reconsider business practices in China that involve turning over intellectual property or “abetting Beijing’s oppression.”

Speaking at the Hudson Institute, Pence elaborated, “For example, Google should immediately end development of the Dragonfly app that will strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.”

Dragonfly is a mobile version of Google’s search engine which is being designed and tested to adhere to China’s strict citizen censorship program.

Recent Chinese cybersecurity rules give their authorities sweeping powers to inspect proprietary technology and information of all foreign businesses dealing with Chinese operations which “may endanger national security, public safety and social order.” Those categories provide carte blanche opportunities to be interpreted any way they deem useful.

The new law also mandates that all companies working in China store their data there. This requirement enables Beijing to force the disclosure of source codes and other corporate secrets purportedly to prove their equipment is secure, information which they can then leak to domestic competitors.

In dutiful compliance, Microsoft Corp. has opened what it calls a “transparency center” in Beijing where officials can test its products for security. Apple Inc. is building a data center in the province of Guizhou to comply with rules requiring cloud data from Chinese customers to be stored in China. And in anticipation of the law, Amazon transferred operational control of its Beijing data center to its local partner, Beijing Sinney for a payment of about $300 million.

Google has been far less cooperative with our own national interests. The company walked away from a Pentagon request to develop algorithms that will speed up the extraction of meaningful information from hours of mostly useless drone footage. Google also turned down a chance to participate in a ten-year project to build-out the military’s cloud infrastructure.

Hence, we all — ideologically left, right and center — face a common dilemma. One strategy would grant more government regulatory intrusion in private markets; the other will continue to allow ever more powerful social media companies to silence whomever they don’t agree with.

Paradoxically, both options are lousy.