TOC Have you boiled milk? Your Turn

May 27, 2008

I have explained how the future of Internet depends on Google and on our ability to counter its recent rise to dominant platform provider. While I have detailed a prescription, I can hardly claim originality for the diagnostic. The Financial Times, for one, has written two editorials in as many weeks on the need to "search for a rival" to Google (*). A serious challenge if one pays attention to Stephanie Clifford and Miguel Helft. According to their report (**), Internet advertisers favor search ads over display ads, a trend which swells Google's coffers as it depletes its rivals' fortunes.

Capitalism itself is in the way. "Certain people hate capitalism so much. They really are missing something." writes Luke Johnson in an article rightly extolling markets and competition (***). The author is the one missing the point. Reviewing "Discretionary Time" (****), Stephen Cave writes "we work harder as we get richer because we are too greedy and short-sighted to realise when our coffers are already full". Companies are no different. Competition and markets generate prosperity. But unable to resist pouring money into overspilling coffers, capitalists like to fix markets and warp competition. They cannot shrink from naked robbery. Why submit to market discipline if one can appropriate resources without fair compensation?

Service bureaus sell credit reports and credit freeze options. Read Ron Lieber on how LifeLock got sued for daring to compete with them in reassuring consumers (*****). Ron Lieber does not say, but while measuring consumer credit worthiness is a valuable service, their business model created the ID theft scare in the first place. To run a protection racket, the threat must remain credible. Anything less than the "0.8 percent of the adult population [which] ha[s] fallen victim" would be bad for business. On the other hand service bureaus must keep the US Congress in its pay to perpetuate its racket. Fortunately 1.8 million isolated citizens are no match for special interests in a well managed pronaocracy.

Prepare for worse. Looking at Richard Waters' excellent analysis of how geolocation combined with interactive maps promises to deliver the interface of the future (******), I cannot help thinking how thin the difference between such "augmented reality" and the nightmarish universe of "The Matrix" (1). Without privacy, a minor detail for companies such as Verizon Wireless and Google, she who monitors your every move and selects how you see the world is well on her way to controlling your mind.

Who will stop untramelled capitalists from stealing everyone's time and personal data? Where are the people, the media, the non for profit world?

In a consumer society, "when money is no object, the only limit is time" and democracy costs time. As Christopher Caldwell reminds us following David Singh Grewal (*******), it is also no easy task to organize isolated individuals against Google which, as dominant platform provider, enjoys network power aplenty. The media meanwhile is powerless. Rather than reengineering its business model on reader privacy, starved of local listings by Craigslist (2), its other advertising revenues squeezed by search engines, it belatedly pens wishful editorials against Google, while opening its columns on cue to Eric Schmidt. As for the non for profit world, how could it hope to engage Google effectively? Prey to the same explosive greed, universities are under attack from politicians for amassing donations beyond measure, as Rebecca Knight reports (********).

I have proposed some rules to cap and spread enrichment and asked for checks against role conflation. When boiling milk, our grand-parents put a corrugated crockery disk in the pan to help release the steam and warn the cook at the same time. Protecting capitalism from turning success to excess is like preventing milk from boiling over. We need a similar antispill mechanism.

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) ................ editorial column (Financial Times) - May 20, 2008
  • (**) ............. Online Search Ads Faring Better Than Expensive Displays, by Stephanie Clifford and Miguel Helft (New-York Times) - May 19, 2008
  • (***) ........... What's so terrible about making money, by Luke Johnson (Financial Times) - May 21, 2008
  • (****) ......... Time in our hands, by Stephen Cave (Financial Times) - May 24, 2008
  • (*****) ....... Outspoken Champion of Identity Protection Tussles With Skeptics, by Ron Lieber (New-York Times) - May 24, 2008
  • (******) .... Way to go?, by Richard Waters (Financial Times) - May 22, 2008
  • (*******)... Networks that work too well, by Christopher Caldwell (Financial Times) - May 23, 2008
  • (********) . Plans to tax rich colleges prompt US costs debate, by Rebecca Knight (Financial Times) - May 22, 2008
  • (1) see The Matrix in the Wikipedia
  • (2) see Craig (of the List) Looks Beyond the Web, by Noam Cohen (New York Times) - May 12, 2008, quoted in a previous fillip
May 2008
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