POWER TENDS TO CORRUPT. ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY.
This prescient observation by Lord Acton (1834 – 1902) has proven all too applicable to 21st Century business and politics. What has changed in our internet age is that the nature and sources of power has grown tentacles into every aspect of our lives. Not so long ago it seemed a good idea that artificial intelligence and algorithms could focus on the users’ needs and allow directed communication to them. Rapidly this has morphed into a worrisome intrusion into users psyche purely for someone else’s commercial drive.
This has only become possible by the spectacular growth and success of an oligopolistic internet world, made up of universal household names. Competition authorities around the world have imposed a jigsaw of sanctions for a range of infractions to fair competition. The doubtful actions of internet and internet – based firms have only been possible due to their phenomenal success. It could be said that their success is due to their ability to meet the needs of a receptive market and that it is us, the users, who are to blame for our predicament. It is not unreasonable to observe that a significant objective of all business is to grow into a monopolistic player in its field. Where the internet world is different is that it functions in a meta relationship to all and any variety of business and human activities and has enormous barriers to entry.
In the recruitment sector, which continues to play a relevant role in employment in the ‘global village’, there are concerning indications. Disintermediation through job boards and job search sites is resulting in active internet businesses vying for ever-increasing numbers of job applicants in order to globally amass maximum advertising revenue.
An example discussed in the Economist (July 1st, 2017. Pp53-54, Europe versus Google, ‘Not so Froogle’). Google introduced their Froogle price search engine in 2002, changing it to Google Shopping in 2008. In its new guise it placed the results of searches according to its,
“own comparison-shopping results by giving them prominent placement at the top of its generic search results and demoting rival offerings to pages further down in its results, where users hardly venture”.
This little ‘tweak’ has resulted in a Euro 2,4bn fine by the European Union Competition Commissioner.
Finally, a question. Sharks can be powerful and If there are sharks in the waters of the internet world, should we be afraid or VERY afraid?