Billionaire investor George Soros has hit out at the “monopolistic” activities of Facebook and Google in a speech at the World Economic Forum, telling the web giants their “days are numbered”.
Soros told assembled political and business leaders in his speech at the summit in Davos, Switzerland, that social media platforms “claim they are merely distributing information”.
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“But the fact that they are near monopoly distributors makes them public utilities and should subject them to more stringent regulations, aimed at preserving competition, innovation, and fair and open universal access.”
He added: “The internet monopolies have neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions. That turns them into a menace and it falls to the regulatory authorities to protect society against them.”
Concerns from publishers about big tech companies have been growing in recent years.
Press Gazette has launched a campaign calling on Facebook and Google – known collectively as the Duopoly – to stop destroying journalism and pay more back to publishers on whose content they rely.
The web giants are currently hoovering up most of the money spent on digital advertising in the UK and are expected to take 71 per cent of all the money spent in the UK on digital advertising by 2020, according to analysts.
Soros said: “They exploit the data they control, bundle the services they offer and use discriminatory pricing to keep for themselves more of the benefits that otherwise they would have to share with consumers.
“This enhances their profitability even further – but the bundling of services and discriminatory pricing undermine the efficiency of the market economy”.
“Social media companies deceive their users by manipulating their attention and directing it towards their own commercial purposes. They deliberately engineer addiction to the services they provide. This can be very harmful, particularly for adolescents”.
Soros also offered a stark warning that a future alliance between tech monopolies and authoritarian governments could bring together corporate and state-sponsored surveillance capabilities.
“This may well result in a web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even Aldous Huxley or George Orwell could have imagined,” he said.
Soros’ comments join a growing number of leading figures critical of large tech companies at this years Davos.
In her speech at the World Economic Forum yesterday, Theresa May said: “These companies simply cannot stand by while their platforms are used to facilitate child abuse, modern slavery or the spreading of terrorist and extremist content.”
Regulatory measures have also been suggested, with Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff saying tech firms should be regulated like cigarette companies because both were harmful and addictive.
“I think that, for sure, technology has addictive qualities that we have to address, and that product designers are working to make those products more addictive, and we need to rein that back as much as possible,” the Guardian reported him saying.
Picture: Reuters/Bob Strong