Friday, September 27, 2013

Google joins ALEC, apparently flirting with the thing it eschewed

Google Guys: Larry Page, Eric Schmidt and Sergey Brin, Time Magazine February 20, 2006

See all posts regarding Google.

"We're charmed by their corporate mantras – for example 'Don't be evil' (Google) or 'Move fast and break things' (Facebook)" (quote from third story below).

I'm not surprised by anything that Facebook founder and world-famous jerk extraordinaire Mark Zuckerberg does. So it's no shock that Facebook has joined ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council, the right-wing organization dedicated to corporate profit.

But Google? Larry Page and the Brin brothers? They used to believe in doing the right thing. Or maybe that was never their plan when they came up with the motto, "Don't be evil." Perhaps they just intended it as a swipe at Bill Gates and Microsoft.

But now that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has withdrawn support for ALEC (see second story below), Microsoft isn't looking so evil anymore. What's going on, Google? You're falling behind.

Google alert: On a more personal note, apparently at the request of school board members in San Diego (or their lawyers), Google has eliminated my name from its Google alerts. You can get alerts for any Maura and any Larkins--except Maura Larkins.

Don't be evil, Google.


Google has joined ALEC
Sept. 27, 2013

Union-busting, fighting Obamacare, backing the Stand Your Ground laws that led to Trayvon Martin’s death, denying the proof of climate change… there’s nothing the American Legislative Exchange Council won’t stoop to.

The public outcry against ALEC has caused nearly fifty corporations to drop out over the past several months. But now Facebook, Google and Yelp are looking to reverse that trend. The companies recently joined the group responsible for some of the most egregious anti-labor, anti-environment, anti-poor, and anti-minority legislation in the past decade. Now, we need to raise an outcry to show them that getting in bed with ALEC is unacceptable, before all the hard work over the past year is undone.

We can’t afford to have three major tech companies help finance a monstrosity like this right-wing lobbying group, and they can’t afford the bad press that comes with an ALEC membership. ALEC has become a toxic brand that image-conscious companies don’t want to be associated with.

ALEC worked in close conjunction with the NRA to push the controversial Stand Your Ground law onto dozens of states. ALEC helped private prison companies enact Arizona’s “papers please” law in order to fill up cells with Latinos. It has sponsored a host of horrific laws that are tearing down personal rights and handing over money to corporations. We simply cannot allow such practices to be condoned by major companies.

Our voices already shamed over fifty companies and nonprofits, including the likes of Amazon, Walmart, and Coca-Cola, into dropping out of the American Legislative Executive Council. Just recently, after months of pressure by students, Sallie Mae left the group. But if we don’t speak out now, Google, Facebook, and Yelp could start back the movement of corporate funding into ALEC.


Bill Gates’ Foundation Withdraws Support For ALEC
by Lee Fang
Republic Report

In recent weeks, Republic Report joined a coalition of other groups to demand that companies withdraw affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a front group that helps lobbyists pass pro-corporate legislation in states across the country.

Republic Report’s Suzanne Merkelson covered how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a charity set up by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, supports ALEC financially. Now, Roll Call is reporting that the Foundation is withdrawing support for ALEC:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today became the latest backer to withdraw financial support for the American Legislative Exchange Council. A foundation spokesman told Roll Call that it does not plan to make future grants to the conservative nonprofit, which has come under fire from progressive activists for its support of voter identification laws and other contentious measures.

Why did the foundation fund ALEC in the first place? It’s likely the group gave funds to ALEC as part of a larger effort by Microsoft-linked groups to promote K-12 virtual schools, a movement that is likely to benefit Microsoft as privatized charters adopt more technology in the classroom.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joins Kraft, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Intuit Inc. in withdrawing from ALEC in recent weeks. Notably, some corporate interests, including the drug company lobby group PhRMA and Koch Industries, have refused to back away from ALEC.

We’re still waiting to hear from other ALEC-linked corporations. We recently visited the lobbying office of GlaxoSmithKline to make sure they received our letter.

ALEC has been around for years promoting laws that benefit large powerful corporate interests. State laws that promote prison privatization, criminalize municipal telecom competition, and outlaw hikes in the minimum wage have been linked to ALEC. The recent controversy was kicked off after it was revealed that the gun lobby worked closely with ALEC to promote the “Shoot First” law that will likely allow the killer of Trayvon Martin to avoid prosecution.

From left: Co-founders of Google Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Chairman and CEO of Dell Michael Dell, Co-founder of Microsoft Bill Gates, and Chairman and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg Photographs: AP; Getty


New-tech moguls: the modern robber barons?
Are today's captains of industry – the wealthy and powerful figures who control the digital universe – any different from the ruthless corporate figures of the past?
John Naughton
The Observer
30 June 2012

Here's an interesting fact: 10 of the people on Forbes magazine's tally of the world's 100 richest billionaires made their money from computer and/or network technology. At the top (second on the list) is Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at $61bn, despite the fact that he continues to try to give it away. Gates is followed by Larry Ellison, boss of Oracle, with $36bn, and Michael Bloomberg with $22bn. Larry Page and Sergey Brin – co-founders of Google – occupy joint 24th place with $18.7bn each. Jeff Bezos of Amazon is No 26 with $18.4bn while the newly enriched Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook sits at No 35 with £17.5bn. Michael Dell, founder of the eponymous computer manufacturer, is at No 41 with $15.9bn while Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, is three places lower on $15.7bn and Paul Allen – co-founder of Microsoft – brings up the rear at No 48 with a mere $14.2bn. Steve Jobs, who was worth about $9bn when he died, doesn't even figure.

What's striking about this is not just the staggering wealth that these people have managed to squeeze out of what are, after all, just binary digits (ones and zeros), but how recent are the origins of their good fortunes. Mark Zuckerberg, for example, went from zero to $17.5bn in less than eight years. Microsoft – the company that has propelled Gates, Ballmer and Allen into the Forbes pantheon – dates only from 1975. Oracle was founded in 1977. Bloomberg turned a $10m redundancy cheque from Salomon Brothers into his personal money-pump in 1982. Dell started making computers in his university dorm in 1984. Bezos launched Amazon with his own savings in 1995. Brin and Page turned their PhD research into a company called Google in 1998. And Zuckerberg launched Facebook in 2004.

For some of these people, great wealth is correlated with significant power. Once Microsoft captured the market for PC operating systems and office software, Bill Gates and co ruthlessly leveraged their monopoly to eliminate rivals (remember Netscape?) and dictate pricing. So we got a world where you could have any kind of computer you wanted, provided it ran Microsoft Windows. In the era when the PC was the computer, Bill Gates was king because he controlled the PC.

But although Microsoft remains a significant force, its power waned as computing moved from the PC to the network – and therefore to the people and companies who dominate that. Step forward the Google boys, who have the power to render any website virtually invisible, because if their algorithms decide not to index a site then effectively it ceases to exist – at least in cyberspace. Their computers also read our mail and store our documents. Google dominates the online advertising business. The company's founders say grandly that their mission is "to organise the world's information" – and they mean it. They have already digitised a significant amount of the world's printed books – although they are not yet authorised to make many of them available online. And Google's cars have photographed every street in the industrialised world.

Meanwhile, in another part of the jungle, Amazon's Bezos is not just vaporising bricks-and-mortar bookstores; he's also on his way to becoming the world's biggest publisher. And he's already the world's largest online retailer – the Walmart of the web. In social networking Mark Zuckerberg has cunningly inserted himself (via his hardware and software) into every online communication that passes between his 900 million subscribers, to the point where Facebook probably knows that two people are about to have an affair before they do. And because of the nature of networks, if we're not careful we could wind up with a series of winners who took all: one global bookstore; one social network; one search engine; one online multimedia store and so on.

There was a time when the power exercised by computer and internet companies seemed a matter of relatively esoteric concern. But as digital technology began to pervade our daily lives, the boundary between the "real" world ("meatspace", as geeks used to call it) and cyberspace began to blur. What happened in the latter suddenly mattered in the former – and not just in Tunisia and Egypt either. Think of the way Steve Jobs's creation – Apple – exercises such dominance over online music, smartphones and tablet computers. Or ponder what Google and Facebook now know about our lives, loves and obsessions. Or what Amazon knows about our consumption patterns. The implication is that cyberpower has correlates in the real world, which means that it's time we had a really good look at those who wield it. What are these masters of the digital universe really like? What are their values and their politics? And are they any different from the corporate moguls of the past?

Given their prominence, we know surprisingly little about our modern moguls – for various reasons. One is that we are remarkably incurious about what makes them tick. We focus instead on the fact that one of them (Zuckerberg) wears a hoodie even when being interviewed by investment bankers; or that Larry Page, co-founder of Google, refused to stop using his laptop when a big media mogul came to talk to him; or that Bill Gates used to rock furiously backwards and forwards in a rocking chair when being interviewed for an anti-trust case; or that Steve Jobs drove a comparatively modest sports car and lived in a small, old-fashioned house rather than the postmodern minimalist palace that many people would have predicted.

But this is all superficial stuff, the journalistic fluff of celebrity profiles and gossip columns. What's much more significant about these moguls is that they share a mindset that renders them blind to the untidiness and contradictions of life, not to mention the fears and anxieties of lesser beings. They are technocrats who cleave to a worldview that holds that if something is technically possible then it should be done. How about digitising all the books in the world? No problem: you just throw resources and technology at the task. And if publishers protest about infringement of copyright and authors moan about their moral rights, well, that just shows how antediluvian they are. Or how about photographing every street in Europe, or even the world? Again, no problem: it's technically feasible, after all. And if Germans object to the resulting intrusion on their privacy, well let them complain and we'll pixelate the sods. Oh – and when we discover that those same cars have been hoovering up the details of our home Wi-Fi networks, their bosses say "Oops! Sorry: it was a mistake." Same story with the high-resolution satellite imagery beloved of Google and – now – Apple. Same story with Mark Zuckerberg's fanatical, almost sociopathic, belief that the default setting for life should be "public" rather than "private". The prevailing technocratic motto is: if something can be done, then it ought to be done. It's all about progress, stoopid.

Actually, it's all about values. And money. The trouble is that technocrats don't do values. They just do rationality. They love good design, efficiency, elegance – and profits. That's why one of the poster children of the industry is Apple's creative genius, Jonathan Ive, who designs beautiful kit in California which is then assembled in Chinese factories. And when the execrable working conditions prevalent in such places are exposed, the company's senior executives profess themselves surprised and appalled and resolve to do everything they can to ameliorate things. And we believe them – and continue eagerly to purchase the gizmos manufactured in such oppressive plants.

Why are we so credulous, so forgiving? It's partly because wealth – like political power – is a powerful aphrodisiac. But it's mainly because we accept these people at their own valuation. We've bought into their narrative. They see themselves as progressives, as folks who want to make the world a better, more efficient, more rational place.

We're charmed by their corporate mantras – for example "Don't be evil" (Google) or "Move fast and break things" (Facebook)...

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