Guest post: A slap on the wrist for doing dodgy as fuck everything

Originally a comment by latsot on Watch for the nod.

I’ve been talking and writing about the breaking of checks and balances in the tech industry for a couple of years and there’s a possibly useful analogy to politics. We know that checks and balances aren’t worth anything now but I think that’s because we’ve forgotten what checks and balances are.

In the tech industry, we’ve got used to everyone stealing and misusing our data in return for supplying us with things we probably don’t really want in the first place. We’ve got used to DRM being the norm so that we don’t own any of the things we buy (including things like vehicles and houses as well as things like music and books) and don’t have an unrestricted right to repair or sell them.

We’ve become used to companies like Facebook and Google overturning the sort of rights we thought we had. And some legislators around the world have started to think that perhaps we were wrong to allow those companies to be so big and have so much influence and perhaps we should break them up.

I’m all for that in principle, but I’m not sure that throwing laws about the place is really going to help. I think that because of the ease with which such companies ignore or rise above laws. These buggers pay very little tax and simply ignore laws for years or decades. Facebook’s share price went up when it received a fine of $5bn. It was less than expected. It’s about a month’s revenue. Facebook knows it got away with rather less than a slap on the wrist for doing dodgy as fuck everything.

Laws seem unlikely to work, although I welcome better ones. What we really need to do is remember what checks and balances actually are and who owns them. We do. We are the ones who need to hold companies like Facebook and Google and Amazon to account. We can’t do much about laws or how they are enforced, but we can collectively do things about the checks and balances.

For instance, there’s an Amazon warehouse opening in the town nearest to me. The checks and balances here are about exposing awful working conditions and zero hour gig economy contracts if and when (and it’s when) they appear. Changing the laws won’t work (at least, not for a while) but changing what we stand for might.

Isn’t the same true about government? Aren’t we the ones to agree to the legitimacy of democracy, for example, but refuse the false idea that MPs ought to support Brexit by default?

It’s checks and balances that are broken and we own those. We can mobilise around them. I’m sick of everyone feeling that checks and balances are things governments are supposed to do. They’re what we should do.

Comments are closed.