Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. For most of us, not a day goes by without interacting with one of their products or services.
In 2022, whether we want to or not, Big Tech is a part of our lives.
With that dominance growing, it is up to the government to remain vigilant against these corporations abusing their power.
A good example of that watchdog role are the recent lawsuits by four state attorneys general against Google for violating user privacy.
The bipartisan group — which includes the District of Columbia, Indiana, Washington state and Texas — alleges that Google employs deceptive practices, making it “nearly impossible” for users to avoid sharing their location data.
The tech giant uses that information to target ads, denying consumers the ability to choose, and to track sensitive location data to make a profit, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement.
“Google kept tracking individuals’ location data even after consumers told the corporation to stop,” he said. “This is not only dishonest — it’s unlawful.”
The company promised users that if they turned off location history, any place they visited would no longer be stored, but according to the lawsuit, even when consumers opted out of location tracking through that setting, Google recorded their whereabouts via other means.
That discrepancy was first noted in 2018 by The Associated Press, which found that while Google is generally open about asking permission to use location information, some Google apps automatically stored time-stamped location data without asking.
The AP discovered that location was used by weather updates on Android phones or stored by simply opening the Google Maps app. Even some searches unrelated to location, such as “chocolate chip cookies,” would pinpoint the user’s precise latitude and longitude.
That’s a complete disregard for privacy, all so that Google can sell you some Chips Ahoy.
This is not the first lawsuit against Google, nor has Google been the sole target. Big Tech is now facing a host of legal challenges from bipartisan coalitions of state attorneys general, as well as increased scrutiny by the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. It’s about time.
For too long, little to no regulation was the default setting for the internet’s development and growth. This allowed for innovation to flourish through the rise and fall of tech players big and small, but today’s undisputed dominance of a few companies — and their monopolistic power to stifle competition — show that is no longer the case.
Litigation is an important part of keeping these companies’ worst impulses in check, but strong action by regulators, as well as legislation from Congress, is also needed. Big Tech can — and does — play a positive role in our lives, but we must be able to dictate the terms for the good of all.