Monthly Archives: June 2019

Demonstration in front of Google headquarters on August 13, 2010 as Google seemed to shift away from its strong stance in favor of net neutrality. Google has since dropped its "don't be evil" clause from its code of conduct. The harm that Google and other internet companies may doing is coming under increasing scrutiny. Credit: Steve Rhodes

Google, Facebook, internet companies and harm

How Google went from providing information about its users in the aggregate to collecting a vast number of bits of information about you from the use of its services, using this information to sell ads that focus directly on you, and selling the information to others as well which, in combination with other information, can provide others with specific information about you, including your name and address.
Google’s 4,000-word privacy policy is a secret history of the internet Charlie Warzel and Ash Ngu New York Times July 10, 2019 (Opinion)

If advertisers are doing it, can the U.S. (and other) governments be far behind? ‘Fingerprinting’ to track us online is on the rise. Here’s what to do. Brian X. Chen New York Times July 3, 2019 “Advertisers are increasingly turning to an invisible method that pulls together information about your device to pinpoint your identity. “

Having only one or a few buyers of a good or service enables that buyer to pay a lower price. Joan Robinson was the first economist to describe this power clearly. It is an important part of the harm that may be done by some internet companies such as Apple and is now being discussed.
Apple’s scary buying power and the woman who named it Greg Rosalsky NPR June 18, 2019

The Supreme Court’s Apple ruling gives tech titans reason to be nervous Editorial Board Washington Post May 15, 2019
“By determining that consumers can have a direct purchasing relationship with a platform even when they are buying third-party products, the court blurs the line that companies have held so far: that they are neutral intermediaries. And the additional acknowledgment that the third parties might also bring a case for any harm that Apple causes them in its role not as a dominant supplier of apps but as a dominant buyer — a “monopsony” rather than a monopoly — opens up another front for litigation. “

In stores, secret surveillance tracks your every move Michael Kwet New York Times June 14, 2019

Photo caption: Demonstration in front of Google headquarters on August 13, 2010 as Google seemed to shift away from its strong stance in favor of net neutrality. Google has since dropped its “don’t be evil” clause from its code of conduct. The harm that Google and other internet companies may doing is coming under increasing scrutiny. Credit: Steve Rhodes ©©

We read 150 privacy policies. They were an incomprehensible disaster. Kevin Litman-Navarro New York Times June 12, 2019

Google made $4.7 billion from the news industry in 2018, study says Marc Tracy New York Times June 9, 2019

Violation of laws and norms that form and strengthen democracy

The United States founding fathers, and many others over the years, have recognized the importance of specific laws and norms in order to make the functioning of a system of government more democratic. For example, the Bill of Rights, which became a part of the U.S. constitution, gives citizens basic rights and a means of legal recourse in case legislation may try to curtail these rights. Freedom House’s Methodology 2019 sheet for its Freedom in the World 2019 report gives a good idea of the factors that must be considered in evaluating a country’s political system in terms of the democratic freedom it gives the country’s inhabitants.

Standard economics, in its consideration of the government sector, essentially considers government as democratic, representing the will of the people. It may consider a few reservations about this, such as the paradox of voting or rent-seeking behavior. However the situation where a minority has control over the government and uses this control in large part for its own benefit is not discussed nor is it raised, as it should be, as a central question in public economics. As the Freedom in the World 2019 report notes, “between 2005 and 2018, the share of Not Free countries rose to 26 percent, while the share of Free countries declined to 44 percent.” Thus an important part of exploitation is diminishing the freedom of most people, and this is done in a wide variety of ways.

This page gives examples of how it was done in 2019. Also see Staying in power – Struggle for control

United States

In Trump’s Ukraine phone call, aides saw trouble Peter Baker New York Times September 26, 2019

Whistle-blower complaint transcript New York Times September 26, 2019
The complaint filed by an intelligence officer about President Trump’s interactions with the leader of Ukraine.

With ‘Spygate,’ Trump shows how he uses conspiracy theories to erode trust Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Maggie Haberman New York Times May 28, 2019 (News analysis)

Trump fans the flames of a racial fire Peter Baker New York Times July 14, 2019 (News analysis)

One of the Hatch Act provisions prohibits political campaigning for most Federal workers while performing their jobs. Federal watchdog agency recommends removal of Kellyanne Conway from federal office for violating the Hatch Act Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Lisa Rein and Josh Dawsey Washington Post June 13, 2019

What Is the Hatch Act? Explaining why Trump was urged to fire Kellyanne Conway Neil Vigdor and Charlie Savage New York Times June 13, 2019

President Trump has made 10,796 false or misleading claims over 869 days Glen Kessler Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly Washington Post June 10, 2019

The Sahel in flames

The Sahel in flames. Violence rips through West Africa causing crises in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso The New Humanitarian May 31, 2019

Photo: Barsalogho camp in Burkina Faso Credit: Philip Kleinfeld/The New Humanitarian

Five takeaways on the growing violence and its civilian toll:

Jihadist groups are manipulating inter-communal conflicts. They are exploiting the region’s ethnic fault lines to stir violence that can be far deadlier than anything the militants are doing directly themselves. In central Mali, the level of violence may now qualify as ethnic cleansing.

Governments have helped local militias thrive. Central governments have allowed and in some cases encouraged the proliferation of communal militia groups – decisions that are now coming home to roost as intercommunal conflicts rise.

Civilians look to jihadists for support the state doesn’t provide. Jihadist groups often understand the social grievances of local communities. A recent study by the peacebuilding charity International Alert attributes the rise in violent extremism in the Sahel to weak states rather than religious ideology.

Civilians are becoming casualties of security forces. These forces add to the insecurity by killing civilians during counter-terrorism operations. In Burkina Faso, military forces are killing three times more civilians than jihadists.

Displacement, food insecurity, and other humanitarian crises are escalating, but resources to respond are lacking. Some 5.1 million people require humanitarian assistance, and the new violence is “compounding” already existing needs and “threatening civilians’ lives and livelihoods”, a UN official said.