Welcome to the land of giants. Microsoft is worth around $750 billion Google about $740 billion, with Apple the third most valuable. Facebook is also well up there.
A handful of internet giants have now more power and asset value than most countries. These goliaths go searching for the brightest and best talent available and pay football-style salaries to recruit and retain them, so that their global dominance is maintained. The gap between them and their competitors continues to widen.
It is a real challenge to governments to work out how to tax, regulate and manage such colossal enterprises. They are truly global, whereas governments obviously legislate and regulate within national boundaries. Although the leading nations of the world (G8) meet regularly to grapple with issues like poverty and climate change, we have been too slow to move collectively to tame these roaring lions.
Google and Facebook and other technology platforms hold enormous power over our lives. They have amassed extensive data on all users of their services which is very valuable. There is so much that is good about the internet. Unfortunately, it also provides a platform which all kinds of undesirables twist to their malicious purposes.
Plans were published this week in the UK to make technology platforms like Facebook, Google and Snapchat shield people from harmful online content, or face being blocked or prosecuted. This will cover illegal activity such as selling drugs or weapons, encouraging suicide and other harms such as disinformation, trolling and advocating self-harm.
I observe from my own children and grandchildren that all of life is lived these days on the internet. It is especially important to protect teenagers and other vulnerable groups from falling victim to all kinds of destructive influences. Often this is well beyond the scope of parents to oversee, as the capabilities of young people to navigate the internet nearly always surpasses that of the older generation.
I recall from my legal days advising newspaper groups, that many professionals fear, not so much being fined, but the threat of prison. It was the one threat that made editors check the content of their newspapers very carefully. I hope that whatever internet laws we end up with will involve that threat as an ultimate sanction. It would encourage those at the top of these companies to exercise their considerable power responsibly.
This week’s proposals are a modest start, but a welcome step to make our world safer.