I’m not closely following the vote for independence going on this weekend over in Catalonia, but the news caught my eye that Google has acceded to the ruling of a Spanish judge that it must shut down the mobile phone app that referendum supporters had ginned up. Maybe this is the proper course, though it should also raise questions about whether it is a case study in what happens when you don’t have robust protections for free speech.
Beyond this instance, we know that Google, Apple, and other Silicon Valley tech giants are utterly supine in the face of demands for their cooperation with heavy government censorship especially in China. It is curious that Google and Apple, so confident in their pronouncements about How Things Should Be in America (example: Apple CEO Tim Cook saying he can’t understand why there is any debate at all about DACA—I guess the rule of law only counts when it’s being used to protect Apple’s intellectual property rights), are so timid when it comes to Chinese demands. Does China really want to eschew what Google has to offer? I can recall when American companies told South Africa that they would not cooperate with Apartheid laws there, and the South African government capitulated rather quickly.
A couple days ago the Financial Times ran a good feature on “Silicon Valley ‘Superstars’ Risk a Populist Backlash.” Excerpts:
What is perhaps most fascinating about this is that Silicon Valley has largely escaped the populist anger that Wall Street or cheap Chinese labour has attracted. As University of Chicago professor Raghuram Rajan has pointed out, this may be because the job-disrupting effects of technology are harder to see than those of trade. Of the nearly 6m manufacturing jobs lost in the US between 1999 and 2011, only about 10 per cent can be directly traced to Chinese imports — yet those losses are concentrated in just a few rust belt communities. The more subtle, dispersed nature of the changes driven by Silicon Valley makes it a less obvious target for voter rage. . .
Tech giants should pay attention — or they risk replacing China and Wall Street as the target of populist outrage.
The question is: will the populist backlash against Silicon Valley come from the Occupy Left, or the Bannon right? Maybe both?