Tech giants are a ‘menace’ to society, says George Soros in blistering speech
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George Soros, the billionaire investor, has used his platform at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to rip into internet companies, criticising their dominance and warning that their days are “numbered”.
“These companies have often played an innovative and liberating role. But as Facebook and Google have grown into ever more powerful monopolies, they have become obstacles to innovation, and they have caused a variety of problems of which we are only now beginning to become aware,” Soros said.
Social media companies are particularly “nefarious” because they have enormous influence on how people think and behave without them even being aware of it, he said. He compared social media companies with casinos, “deliberately [engineering] addiction to the services they provide”.
“Something very harmful and maybe irreversible is happening to human attention in our digital age. Not just distraction or addiction; social media companies are inducing people to give up their autonomy. The power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies,” he said.
Soros’s criticisms echo the words of founding Facebook president Sean Parker, who in November publicly stated that Facebook’s founders intended for the network to be addictive, and to “[exploit] a vulnerability in human psychology”.
Soros referred to the influence that social media companies can have on elections – particularly on the 2016 US presidential election – when exploited to spread misinformation and material intended to radicalise.
“Internet monopolies have neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions,” he added.
He also predicted that the companies may be tempted to compromise their values in order to make headway into the Chinese market, where most popular western websites – including Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter – are blocked. This could result in a “web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even Aldous Huxley or George Orwell could have imagined”, he warned.
However, Soros expressed an optimism that stronger regulation – particularly in the EU – would eventually break the dominance of these companies, due to tax policies and other regulations catching up with them. He praised Margrethe Vestager, the EU competition commissioner, for taking a hard line against tech giants in the past, having placed hefty fines on Google, Amazon and Apple.
“It is only a matter of time before the global dominance of the US IT monopolies is broken,” he said. “Davos is a good place to announce that their days are numbered.”
His public scolding of Silicon Valley giants at Davos joined that of Prime Minister Theresa May, who in her address to the conference called on social media and other technology companies to step up to their social responsibilities.