Ask the Expert: The power of tech giants, and what can be done about it

In our latest ESRC-sponsored Ask The Expert seminar, Dr Martin Moore, Director of the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power at King’s College, London, analysed the power of the tech giants and argued that democratic governments have misunderstood the problem.

Responding to the power of the tech giants, and with the ‘techlash’ in full swing, governments around the world are itching to control the power of Facebook, Google and other tech platforms.

Their actions, however, have so far not filled the public with much confidence as rushed legislation tackles only a part of the issues. Dr Moore cited the intent to confront ‘fake news’ as an example of the challenges different governments have faced lately – be it struggling to define what fake news is or trailing ineffective solutions to prevent the creation and spread of false news. Policy responses are also being developed to respond to fraud, cyber bullying and harassment on social media, identity theft, and privacy breaches, to name a few.

There are three problems with government responses so far:

  • A widespread lack of understanding among governments and policy-makers in regard to digital platforms: from what they are, to how they are funded, to how they collect and use data;
  • The pursuit of a ‘silver bullet’ solution such as ‘owning your data’ as it is unclear how these data would be harnessed, marketed, and proved ownership of;
  • The need to comprehend the scale and complexity of the issues at hand as technology is transforming the way we communicate and interact, the way we learn and navigate the world, and the way we identify.

Dr Moore put forward the following four remedies:

  • A plea for greater understanding before legislating and regulating – of network effects, of microtargeting, of ad tech, etc;
  • A vision of the future digital world and long-term outcomes which would prevent kneejerk responses to new problems;
  • Addressing the dominance of tech companies and reducing their power without transferring it to the central government;
  • Prioritising progressive intervention such as building new institutions for the digital age and renewing democratic participation using digital tools.

Bottom Line

One thing policy-makers should take from Dr Moore’s work: When it comes to regulating the tech giants, it pays to be cautious in the short term and bold in the long term.

One common mistake in popular debate Dr Moore would like to correct: Platforms should not be treated and regulated as if they are ‘traditional’ print and broadcast publishers.


You can find a Periscope recording of the event (including Q&A) here.


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