• Written by Zac Rogers, Research Lead, Jeff Bleich Centre for the US Alliance in Digital Technology, Security, and Governance, Flinders University
Governments are attempting to regulate tech giants, but the digital disruption genie is already out of the bottle. Shutterstock

Back in the 1990s – a lifetime ago in internet terms – the Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells published several books charting the rise of information networks. He predicted that in the networked age, more value would accrue in controlling flows of information than in controlling the content itself.

In other words, those who positioned themselves as network hubs – the routers and switchers of information – would become the gatekeepers of power in the digital age.

With the rise of internet juggernauts Google, Facebook, Amazon and others, this insight seems obvious now. But over the past two decades, a fundamentally new business model emerged which even Castells had not foreseen – one in which attracting users onto digital platforms takes precedence over everything else, including what the user might say, do, or buy on that platform.

Gathering information became the dominant imperative for tech giants – aided willingly by users charmed first by novelty, then by the convenience and self-expression afforded by being online. The result was an explosion of information, which online behemoths can collate and use for profit.


Read more: Here's how tech giants profit from invading our privacy, and how we can start taking it back


The sheer scale of this enterprise means that much of it is invisible to the everyday user. The big platforms are now so complex that their inner workings have become opaque even to their engineers and administrators. If the system is now so huge that not even those working within it can see the entire picture, then what hope do regulators or the public have?

Of course, governments are trying to fight back. The GDPR laws in Europe, the ACCC Digital Platforms report in Australia, and the DETOUR Act introduced to the US Congress in April - all are significant attempts to claw back some agency. At the same time, it is dawning on societies everywhere that these efforts, while crucial, are not enough.


Read more: Consumer watchdog calls for new measures to combat Facebook and Google's digital dominance


Gatekeepers reign supreme

If you think of the internet as a gigantic machine for sharing and copying information, then it becomes clear that the systems for sorting that information are vitally important. Think not just of Google’s search tool, but also of the way Google and Amazon dominate cloud computing - the largely invisible systems that make the internet usable.

Over time, these platforms have achieved greater and greater control over how information flows through them. But it is an unfamiliar type of control, increasingly involving autonomous, self-teaching systems that are increasingly inscrutable to humans.

Information gatekeeping is paramount, which is why platforms such as Google, Amazon and Facebook have risen to supremacy. But that doesn’t mean these platforms necessarily need to compete or collude with one another. The internet is truly enormous, a fact that has allowed each platform to become emperor of a growing niche: Google for search, Facebook for social, Amazon for retail, and so on. In each domain, they played the role of incumbent, disruptor, and innovator, all at the same time.

Now nobody competes with them. Whether you’re an individual, business, or government, if you need the internet, you need their services. The juggernauts of the networked age are structural.

Algorithms are running the show

For these platforms to stay on top, innovation is a constant requirement. As the job of sorting grows ever larger and more complex, we’re seeing the development of algorithms so advanced that their human creators have lost the capacity to understand their inner workings. And if the output satisfies the task at hand, the inner workings of the system are considered of minor importance.

Meanwhile, the litany of adverse effects are undeniable. This brave new machine-led world is eroding our capacity to identify, locate, and trust authoritative information, in favour of speed.

It’s true that the patient was already unwell; societies have been hollowed out by three decades of market fundamentalism. But as American tech historian George Dyson recently warned, self-replicating code is now out there in the cyber ecosystem. What began as a way for humans to coax others into desired behaviours now threatens to morph into nothing less than the manipulation of humans by machines.

The digital age has spurred enormous growth in research disciplines such as social psychology, behavioural economics, and neuroscience. They have yielded staggering insights into human cognition and behaviour, with potential uses that are far from benign.

Even if this effort had been founded with the best of intentions, accidents abound when fallible humans intervene in complex systems with fledgling ethical and legal underpinnings. Throw malign intentions into the mix - election interference, information warfare, online extremism - and the challenges only mount.

If you’re still thinking about digital technologies as tools – implying that you, the user, are in full control – you need to think again. The truth is that no one truly knows where self-replicating digital code will take us. You are the feedback, not the instruction.

Regulators don’t know where to start

A consensus is growing that regulatory intervention is urgently required to stave off further social disruption, and to bring democratic and legal oversight into the practices of the world’s largest monopolies. But, if Dyson is correct, the genie is already out of the bottle.

Entranced by the novelty and convenience of life online, we have unwittingly allowed silicon valley to pull off a “coup from above”. It is long past time that the ideology that informed this coup, and is now governing so much everyday human activity, is exposed to scrutiny.


Read more: Explainer: what is surveillance capitalism and how does it shape our economy?


The challenges of the digital information age extend beyond monopolies and privacy. This regime of technologies was built by design without concerns about exploitation. Those vulnerabilities are extensive and will continue to be abused, and now that this tech is so intimately a part of daily life, its remediation should be pursued without fear or favour.

Yet legislative and regulatory intervention can only be effective if industry, governments and civil society combine to build, by design, a digital information age worthy of the name, which doesn’t leave us all open to exploitation.

Zac Rogers does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Authors: Zac Rogers, Research Lead, Jeff Bleich Centre for the US Alliance in Digital Technology, Security, and Governance, Flinders University

Read more http://theconversation.com/regulating-facebook-google-and-amazon-is-hard-given-their-bewildering-complexity-111821

Travel Smarter: 10 Gadgets and Accessories to Bring on a Road Trip

Are you tired of staying at home due to the pandemic? Well, you can basically forget about classic travel, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hit the road in your personal vehicle. Road trips w...

Lilly Miller - avatar Lilly Miller

Tacloban- The Most Populous City in the Region of Eastern Visayas

Tacloban is a modern, urbanized city of Philippines, and also a regional part for the province of Eastern Visayas. As per the 2015 census, the population of this city is around 242,089, making it ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

let's understand what they mean before debating Australia's course

The current surge in community transmission of COVID-19 in Victoria has brought renewed discussion of whether Australia should maintain its current “suppression” strategy, or pursue an &ld...

Anita Heywood, Associate Professor, UNSW - avatar Anita Heywood, Associate Professor, UNSW

HIV testing people who spit at police or health workers won't actually protect them

ShutterstockPeople who expose a police officer or emergency worker to body fluids would be compelled to have their blood tested for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, under a proposed law in NSW. But t...

Nicholas Medland, Sexual health physician, epidemiologist, researcher. (President-elect and vice-president Australasian Society of HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine), UNSW - avatar Nicholas Medland, Sexual health physician, epidemiologist, researcher. (President-elect and vice-president Australasian Society of HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine), UNSW

How to Avoid Causes of Blocked Drains and Stinky Overflow

Have you ever experienced a blocked drain that overflows? If so, you already know how bad the smell is. When you're keen to avoid a repeat of your experience, you need to know how to treat your drai...

Samantha Ball - avatar Samantha Ball

how cities across the globe are going back to coronavirus restrictions

The World Health Organisation reported more than 230,000 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday — the world’s largest daily increase during the pandemic. The surge has forced governments in many pla...

Maximilian de Courten, Health Policy Lead and Professor in Global Public Health at the Mitchell Institute, Victoria University - avatar Maximilian de Courten, Health Policy Lead and Professor in Global Public Health at the Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

What is love?

ShutterstockFrom songs and poems to novels and movies, romantic love is one of the most enduring subjects for artworks through the ages. But what about the science?Historical, cultural and even evolut...

Gery Karantzas, Associate professor in Social Psychology / Relationship Science, Deakin University - avatar Gery Karantzas, Associate professor in Social Psychology / Relationship Science, Deakin University

We could have more coronavirus outbreaks in tower blocks. Here's how lockdown should work

The recent lockdown of nine social housing towers in Melbourne’s north to contain the spread of COVID-19 led to widespread concerns for residents’ welfare.Among the concerns was that imple...

Thea van de Mortel, Professor, Nursing and Deputy Head (Learn & Teaching), School of Nursing and Midwifery, Griffith University - avatar Thea van de Mortel, Professor, Nursing and Deputy Head (Learn & Teaching), School of Nursing and Midwifery, Griffith University

7 Tips to Get Your New Website Indexed by Google Quickly

So, you have just launched a new website; congratulations!! But then soon enough, you are confronted with the challenge of your website or some pages not showing up on Google. The dream of every...

Media Release - avatar Media Release



News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion