But elevating books that favor your political friends — even when you’re fighting their publisher — and burying political books that promote ideas you don’t like is not something that society can comfortably accept from a retailer that is the principal book retailer in the country. (No other retailer has ever had comparable market share so this “problem” has never arisen as a public interest question ever before.) Whether they like it or not, Amazon (like Google) has virtually become a public utility, providing a service most of us depend upon to be objective and catering primarily to the interest of the individuals it serves, not its own.
–Mike Shatzkin on public utilities.
While I’m not sure I agree entirely with the notion that services like Amazon and Google are “public utilities” per se, there is still… something to this argument. That is, we’re at the point where single private entities have massive scope over the information we consume, either overtly (e.g. how pretty much every newspaper in Australia is owned by one of two companies), or covertly (e.g. the subtle ranking/filtering systems of Google and Facebook). When Amazon and Google and Facebook and Twitter decide to censor particular information–and this isn’t even an “if”, it’s already a “when”–what, if any, impact do we feel it has on the operation of our society? Are we okay about the opaque private censorship of data? Because we sure as hell don’t seem to be okay when the government does it… so what happens when it’s private enterprise shutting down discourse and suppressing ideas instead?
I don’t have an answer to this one, but I do think it’s something we’ll be seeing more and more of over the next decade or so.
Welcome to the dystopian cyberpunk corporate future, and all that.