Tue, Apr 02, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Technology titans enter politics

As Facebook and Google begin to form powerful lobbying groups, critics warn that their values are very different from those of millions of ordinary Americans

By Paul Harris  /  The Observer, NEW YORK

Yet tech has tried to paint itself as different. Google’s informal mantra of “Don’t be evil” has helped to craft its image as a socially responsive firm that would be fun to work for. Facebook markets itself simply as a way of connecting people.

Advocates of Twitter say the company helped to bring down dictatorships in the Arab spring.

The legions of Apple fans believe their favorite firm’s sleek products make the world a better — and much more aesthetically pleasing — place to live and work.

However, wary critics see that happy, hippyish public image as a potential Trojan horse for a mega-powerful industry hellbent on pursuing its self-interest. Facebook, Google, Twitter and a million other Internet-based products might be fun and convenient, and make our lives better, but their commercial interests are as real as any oil company, defense manufacturer or bank.

“They have had a honeymoon period,” Krumholz said. “But it might be starting to wear off. They have the same corporate interests as anyone else.”

Except maybe they are on an even bigger scale.

Other big industries’ products do not shape peoples’ lives in the way search engines and social media sites do. Google, Facebook and Twitter have not created new products that stand alone like a car or a new house; they have created things that invade every other aspect of the economy and our culture. That is a different level of power.

Losse has seen this close-up. Working with Zuckerberg, she says he would frequently see Facebook as becoming a rival to nation states in the future.

“Companies over countries,” he would say in meetings.

When Zuckerberg talks of a “Facebook nation,” it is not idle marketing speak; he means it.

“They are trading the very nature of social interaction. They are very much in people’s lives. Don’t mistake these companies for fun They don’t see it that way,” Losse said.

THE PLAYERS

Mark Zuckerberg is one of the cofounders, and chief executive officer, of Facebook. He is also one of the world’s youngest billionaires. Vanity Fair named him No. 1 in its Top 100 list of the most influential people of the information age.

Eric Schmidt has been the executive chairman of Google since 2011. He was previously Google’s chief executive officer from 2001 to 2011. He has worked as chief executive officer of Novell and vice president at Sun Microsystems. He also served on the board of Apple.

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