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What Has Google Ever Done for Us?

In using Big Tech’s services, we manufacture a portion of its capital in real time. Property rights over that portion – for all of us, rather than for any of us – should be the basis of a universal basic income.

ATHENS – Even Google’s fiercest critics use its technologies to research their fiery tirades against it or, more mundanely, to find their way around a foreign city. Let’s be honest: life without Google would be awfully more tedious in a variety of important ways. But that is not a good reason to leave Google and the other tech giants alone. On the contrary, the nature and importance of their contribution make it imperative that they be placed under democratic control – and not just because of the well appreciated need to protect individual privacy.

In recent years, Big Tech companies have been subjected to scrutiny for perfecting a dark art pioneered by commercial newspapers, radio, and television: attracting and holding our attention, in order to sell access to our senses to paying advertisers. Whereas readers, listeners, and viewers were customers paying for some commodity, commercial electronic media learned how to profit by transacting directly with vendors while reducing us, and our data, to a passive commodity at the heart of the transaction.

Google, Facebook, and others were able to take this odd production process, where our attention is the traded commodity, to a different level, thanks to their stupendous capacity to personalize our screens. Unlike their forebears, they can capture the attention of each one of us with person-specific (or even mood-specific) attractors, before selling to the highest bidder access both to our data and to our senses.

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