Germany cracks down on Facebook

25 Jan|Tom Hodgkinson

Not just a fluffy fun guy in a t-shirt

It’s about time Facebook faced tougher regulation; they have profiteered from media outlets for too long, says Tom Hodgkinson

In this morning’s Financial Times I read the welcome news that the German government is planning to introduce greater regulation for tech giants like Facebook.

“We are blazing a trail in this case,” said Andreas Mundt, head of Germany’s Federal Cartel Office. “We are looking very closely at the connection between data and market dominance, data and market power, and the possible abuse of data collection.” He is not the only bigwig attacking Facebook: earlier in the week Mr Murdoch said that Facebook ought to be paying media outlets for its news.

Well, at last. The brute fact is that the Guardian, the BBC and many more have given their readers to Facebook for free, by plastering their websites with Facebook buttons.

This leads to the tragic situation where it is more effective to pay Facebook to advertise to Guardian readers than to pay the Guardian. Advertising money flows out of newspapers and into social media. The newspapers do all the work – they produce “content” and pay journalists. Facebook pays nought pounds and steals the Guardian’s money.

People are beginning to see that big tech are not just badly dressed fluffy fun guys but a new breed of ruthless profiteer

I warned the world of all this back in 2008 in a Guardian article called “With Friends Like These” which examined the political attitudes of the early Facebook investors, people like the PayPal and oil billionaire Peter Thiel, an extreme libertarian.

My piece was published on 14 January 2008 when Facebook had a mere 59 million users. In it I wrote: “[B]y comparison with Facebook, newspapers… begin to look hopelessly outdated as a business model. A newspaper sells advertising space to businesses looking to sell stuff to their readers. But the system is far less sophisticated than Facebook for two reasons. One is that newspapers have to put up with the irksome expense of paying journalists to provide the content. Facebook gets its content for free. The other is that Facebook can target advertising with far greater precision than a newspaper.”

The Financial Times went on to report that what they are calling the “tech lash” is gaining ground, as people begin to see that big tech are not just badly dressed fluffy fun guys but a new breed of ruthless profiteer, completely amoral.

Many of these tech guys have gathered this year at Davos, and the big story is that the joys of doing nothing – called meditation – have hit the tycoons. Sister Jayanti of the Brahma Kumaris Spiritual University, who I used to meditate with as a teenager with my Dad, has been leading morning sessions at Davos. It must be great to see these brutish billionaires shutting up for a bit.

What is truly amazing is that just this week, Sister Jayanti agreed to present our online meditation course later this year here at the Idler, so keep an eye out for that.

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