NPR’s Ailsa Chang talks with Dipayan Ghosh, who worked at Facebook, about the testimony of the Big Tech CEOs before Congress and whether these companies operate as monopolies.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Well, we wanted to turn to someone who has lived the big tech reality. Dipayan Ghosh worked as a policy executive at Facebook. He’s now at Harvard, and I asked him why an average consumer, someone who’s happy scrolling through Facebook or buying stuff on Amazon, why should that consumer be concerned about the amount of power these companies have?
DIPAYAN GHOSH: It’s really a broader issue than just our individual sense. Sometimes it makes more sense for a Congress member to be thinking about public interests, about social interests, about Democratic interests, which we individually don’t necessarily think about. So even if we enjoy Facebook, even if we use Google Search, we enjoy Amazon Fresh to get our groceries during the pandemic, what we might not recognize at an individual level is that what’s really happening is that we’re giving a huge aggregation of power concentrated within a select few companies. They’re drawing wealth away from the rest of society and collecting it within their own coffers.
CHANG: Well, how big is too big? How much power is too much power? Like, how do you even measure that?
GHOSH: In the context of our national GDP, how much of a market is social media? How much of a market is Internet search and online retail? If those markets are big enough, then what that suggests is that there is a lot of economic activity flowing through them, which means that they’re important for us to look at and provide some regulatory scrutiny over.
CHANG: But I guess I’m asking where the line is. Like, when is that regulatory scrutiny merited, and when is it just a company who’s – that’s really successful and can be left alone being really successful?
GHOSH: Well, I don’t think that it’s wrong to have a monopoly, and some of the members in the committee have highlighted that. What is wrong is if you got that monopoly through harmful means or if you maintain that monopoly using harmful means or if you exploit your monopoly position by pushing consumer harms in market innovation and price and quality of service on American users. And I think the committee’s point is that in each of these four cases of these four companies that circumstance has come to be.
CHANG: Well, you were on the inside. Was there an explicit strategy at Facebook to monopolize the social media market?
GHOSH: I wouldn’t phrase it as Facebook was trying to monopolize, but just like any of these four companies, Facebook was certainly trying to grow aggressively and really dominate social media around the world. Now, did it engage in harmful means? I think that if it takes a deep look into how the company thinks about acquisitions and how it tries to grow its user base around the world, it could very well discover some very meaningful information.
CHANG: Well, would you call Facebook a monopoly at this point?
GHOSH: Absolutely. I think Facebook is not only a monopoly, but that Facebook is a natural monopoly. This is a company that has imposed tremendous barriers to entry to the rest of the digital ecosystem. And when you have a natural monopoly, you don’t necessarily think about break up first, but rather what we need to think about in the context of Facebook is utility regulation.
CHANG: So what are some policy fixes that you think Congress should be considering right now?
GHOSH: The business model of these companies involves collecting data on an uninhibited basis, using it to develop algorithms that are tremendously opaque to the public and growing their platforms with a level of aggressiveness that diminishes any potential threat from would-be rivals. And so I think we need a three-way regulatory solution with privacy for that uninhibited collection of data and transparency over those algorithms and better market competition, better antitrust regulation and enforcement to combat the growing monopoly power of these companies.
CHANG: Dipayan Ghosh is a former Facebook policy executive and author of “Terms Of Disservice: How Silicon Valley Is Destructive By Design.”
Thank you very much for joining us today.
GHOSH: Thank you so much, Ailsa. I really appreciate it.
CHANG: And a quick note – Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple are among our financial supporters.
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