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Just Another Company?

I recently gave a talk called “Search, Speech, and Secrecy: Corporate Strategies for Inverting the Network Neutrality Debate.” We had a spirited discussion, and I learned a good deal from the audience. I proposed more monitoring and regulation for internet intermediaries, but some in the audience would not accept my old analogy between search engines’ role on the web and that of carriers. Fortunately, even writers at the very pro-market Weekly Standard are grappling with the fact that Google is not just another company:

The same principles of data aggregation, pattern recognition and artificial intelligence that Google applies to the highway can also be applied to human interactions. This will have revolutionary consequences. . . . Google now keeps a “GPI”. By tallying billions of inputs from its search engines, it can track inflation in a much more timely way than government agencies – although not yet quite as accurately. Its basket of goods differs from the one used for the US consumer price index, and its results differ, too. (Google’s index shows deflation in the US and mild inflation in the UK.) . . .

If Google is better at predicting inflation, unemployment and influenza, it will probably be better at predicting crime, terrorism and political unrest. What government that claims to be vigilant against terrorism would fail to use Google’s data? The line between Google and government is destined to blur.

I’d say that line is blurring, not merely with respect to Google, but also in the cases of telecom, cable, finance, intelligence, and health care. In other words, at the very core of our information age economy, there is an accelerating fusion of government and business. A political platform based on disentanglement is about as realistic as a gold standard or decomposing Microsoft into its component parts. The goal now is to bring more accountability and transparency to the firms which are taking on an ever more governmental role in our society. Of course, if anyone can tell me a story about how such moves will stymie investments like this one (for which Google deserves great credit), I’d be happy to reconsider my position.

Hat Tip: NC blog.