Big Tech, Big Paranoia

As Congress considers regulation of Big Tech, they fail to appreciate the competitive environment that drives the behavior of these companies. I step outside of the box and offer a suggestion.

This is in response to an article about Facebook on CNN.


What is missed here is the degree of paranoia in big tech. All of these companies understand how fragile their control is. All (Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.) are trying to acquire and monetize personal data. This means that they must aggressively pursue every opportunity before them, and attempt to capture attention by their users.

Consider, then, Facebook’s position: Apple and Google collect information through their mobile devices. Facebook has no such platform, which is why Zuckerberg is so aggressively promoting the “Metaverse” concept.

The only way to cool this kind of competition is with regulation. One way to do this is to separate data collection and analytics from the platforms. This is what eventually led to AT&T’s surrender of its monopoly: they established a universal billing system that allowed everyone to connect to everyone else, and then handed the development of the physical infrastructure over to others.


We should also understand, however, that it is not just the social media platforms that we should regulate. Credit rating agencies have similar practices as regards monetization of personal data.

I would recommend that Congress establish regulations regarding data exchange, interoperability, and privacy, then step out of the way and force the corporations to establish the necessary infrastructure. The right enforcement mechanism is to allow consumers to pursue class-action lawsuits when their data is misused.

Notice, however, that a universal data store provides opportunities for new services. You may not want outsiders to analyze your personal history, but that information can be invaluable to counselors that are trusted to act in our interest.

Wish You Were There

Google has recently announced a “photo location” service that will tell you where a picture was taken. They have apparently noticed that every tourist takes the same photos, and so if they have one photo tagged with location, they can assign that location to all similar photos.

I’m curious, as a developer, regarding the nature of the algorithms they use. As a climate change alarmist, I’m also worried about the energy requirements for the analysis. It turns out that most cloud storage is used to store our selfies (whether still or video). Over a petabyte a day is added to YouTube, with the amount expected to grow by a factor of ten by 2020. A petabyte is a million billion bytes. By contrast, the library of Congress can be stored in 10 terabytes, or one percent of what is uploaded daily to YouTube.

Whatever Google is doing to analyze the photos, there’s just a huge amount of data to process, and I’m sure that it’s a huge drain on our electricity network. And this is just Google. Microsoft also touts the accumulation of images as a driver for growth of its cloud infrastructure. A typical data center consumes energy like a mid-size city. To reduce the energy costs, Microsoft is considering deployment of its compute nodes in the ocean, replacing air conditioning with passive cooling by sea water.

But Google’s photo location service suggests another alternative. Why store the photos at all? Rather than take a picture and use Google to remind you where you were, why not tell Google where you were and have it generate the picture?

When I was a kid, the biggest damper on my vacation fun was waiting for the ladies to arrange their hair and clothing when it came time to take a photo. Why impose that on them any longer? Enjoy the sites, relax, be yourself. Then go home, dress for the occasion, and send up a selfie to a service that will embed you in a professional scenery photo, adjusting shadows and colors for weather and lighting conditions at the time of your visit.

It might seem like cheating, but remember how much fun it was to stick your face in those cut-out scenes on the boardwalk when you were a kid? It’s really no different than that. And it may just save the world from the burdens of storing and processing the evidence of our narcissism.