Early on the morning of 10 June 2013, Hong Kong time, the journalist Glenn Greenwald and film-maker Laura Poitras published on the Guardian site a video revealing the identity of the NSA whistleblower behind one of the most damning leaks in modern history. It began: “My name is Ed Snowden.” William Fitzgerald, then a 27-year-old policy employee at Google, knew he wanted to help. But he didn’t yet know how. Snowden was arguably the most wanted man in the world. The confidential documents he shared with Greenwald, Poitras and the Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill detailed a sweeping US government surveillance program that was global in reach and involved some of the world’s best known tech companies.
Digital platform companies like Uber, Lyft, Instacart, and DoorDash are waging increasingly aggressive campaigns to erode long-standing labor rights and consumer protections in states across the country. Though they rely on the labor of millions of workers to provide their services, platform companies have established a business model on the premise that they employ no one. This business model has been built by denying workers fundamental rights and protections through outright refusal to follow existing laws, widespread misclassification of workers as “independent contractors,” payment of subminimum wages, and shifting of primary risks and costs of doing business onto individual workers, consumers, and public safety net programs.
In January, amid mass layoffs across the tech industry, Google laid off 6 percent of its workforce, or about 12,000 workers. In protest, dozens of tech workers crowded the sidewalk outside of Google’s Chelsea offices on February 2, sharing stories of laid-off coworkers and urging each other to join the union. The protest took place while executives at Alphabet (Google’s parent company) were on an earnings call with investors, announcing billions in profits. The workers highlighted the cruelty of how workers were told they’d lost their jobs. One anonymous worker shared that they were laid off via email while eating breakfast in the office.
Since the 1970s, economists buying into the Chicago School of Antitrust have waved off the dangers of lax antitrust policies, professing that “the market” would sort out issues of competition and punish companies that abuse size and power. The Chicagoans’ narrow focus on direct consumer costs as the sole measure of harm didn’t consider the impact of consolidation on small businesses, start-ups, workers, or, for that matter, democratic norms. Nor did it raise red flags for tech platforms that were touted as “free” for users (while monetizing our attention and personal data). A growing number of critics argue that these basic assumptions are both wrong and outdated, as evidenced by the fact that in many industries, particularly technology, companies have been growing to gargantuan proportions and, as anybody who owns a smartphone is painfully aware, they seem free to gobble competitors, hinder innovation, and serve up crappy, overpriced products.
At the end of July, Microsoft and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, presented their latest and relatively disappointing economic results blaming it on the macroeconomic distress. What may have gone unnoticed is that both companies referred to their clouds as the main engines of growth. The cloud was also responsible for Amazon’s better-than-expected quarterly results. The cloud refers to computing services, including software, hardware, and platforms offered as services through the Internet instead of running locally on individual computers. By 2025, 45% of the world’s data storage will be on the cloud. We are constantly storing information and accessing online applications through the cloud. Moving operations to the cloud is also crucial for companies.
Tech workers held actions in multiple cities Sept. 8, demanding Big Tech drop its Project Nimbus contract with the apartheid police state of Israel. Project Nimbus is a $1.2 billion-dollar contract Amazon and Google have with the Israeli government and military for “cloud computing” that aids in surveillance and persecution of the Palestinian people through artificial intelligence. Actions were held in Seattle, New York City, San Francisco and Durham, North Carolina. In Seattle, activists spoke about reasons why workers will not support the Zionist project and oppose the cooperation of Israeli forces with the Seattle Police Department. The Palestinian people face untold horrors of oppression by the Israeli government.
California - A federal district court in California on Friday denied Google's motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the Silicon Valley giant is violating federal antitrust laws by preventing fair competition against its YouTube video platform. The lawsuit against Google, which has owned YouTube since its 2006 purchase for $1.65 billion, was brought in early 2021 by Rumble, the free speech competitor to YouTube. Its central claim is that Google's abuse of its monopolistic stranglehold on search engines to destroy all competitors to its various other platforms is illegal under the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which makes it unlawful to “monopolize, or attempt to monopolize…any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations.”
The most valuable companies in the stock market today can be found in the technology sector. The first publicly traded company in history to reach a $1 trillion valuation was Apple in 2018. While it took the company more than 40 years to reach that milestone, less than four years later its valuation has increased by a further two trillion, reaching another record breaking $3 trillion. The “trillion dollar club” has also since expanded to include three more companies - all of them in the technology sector. However, the markets appear to be falling out of love with the big tech . Earlier in 2022 Facebook lost $230bn in value in the biggest one-day stock plunge in history. It has since been overshadowed by several similar collapses that have (as of today) erased more than $2.6 trillion from the value of the five largest tech companies since the start of the year.
“Scheer Intelligence” has been reporting on the rise of censorship in the internet age in a number of ways since the podcast was started in 2015. Now host Robert Scheer is concerned that, under the cloak of the Ukraine conflict, all forms of alternative media on the internet could soon be eliminated. Examples already abound: archival videos of Chris Hedges’ RT show “On Contact” were taken down from YouTube; social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have been shutting down any posts that challenge mainstream narratives on the Ukraine conflict; Google AdSense recently informed publishers, including MintPress News, that, “Due to the war in Ukraine, we will pause monetization of content that exploits, dismisses, or condones the war,” lumping any pieces that question the NATO narrative on Ukraine into the content it described; and now, both MintPress News and Consortium News, two longstanding independent media websites founded by veteran journalists, have been banned from taking donations via PayPal.
New York City, New York - From Activision to Amazon, historic union elections are changing the way that Americans think about work. Now, Apple is the next tech giant to reckon with an employee-driven labor movement. Calling themselves the Fruit Stand Workers United (FSWU), employees at Apple’s Grand Central Terminal retail location launched a website designed to educate their fellow workers about why they want to unionize their store. “Year over year, the cost of living in New York City has not kept pace with our wages,” the FSWU’s mission statement reads. “Meanwhile, Apple has grown to be the most valuable company in the world. Why should its retail workers live precariously?” The collective will be affiliated with Workers United, the same group that has helped over 20 Starbucks locations form unions since December.
In the space of a few years, the debate on how to rein in Big Tech has become mainstream, discussed across the political spectrum. Yet, so far the proposals to regulate largely fail to address the capitalist, imperialist and environmental dimensions of digital power, which together are deepening global inequality and pushing the planet closer to collapse. We urgently need to build a ecosocialist digital ecosystem, but what would that look like and how can we get there? This essay aims to highlight some of the core elements of a digital socialist agenda — a Digital Tech Deal (DTD) — centered on principles of anti-imperialism, class abolition, reparations and degrowth that can transition us to a 21st century socialist economy.
Massachusetts - As the organized opposition to the “Big Tech loophole law” ballot initiative grows in Massachusetts, a number of key consumer, community, and civil rights groups have joined with workers’ rights advocates to announce their commitment of activating and growing the coalition opposing that initiative under a new name: Massachusetts is not for Sale. The new Massachusetts is not for Sale name also reflects the concerns shared by coalition members regarding the record-shattering infusions of cash that Big Tech employers are pumping into the coffers of the corporate-funded committee advocating for the passage of the Big Tech loophole law both at the State House and as a November 2022 ballot question.
Tech companies are the new empires of today: Alphabet annual revenue surpassed Hungary’s GDP, Facebook employs over 15000 content moderators around the world, and Microsoft has built datavcenters in nearly every corner of our planet. Yet we continue to be sold the myth that the workers of the tech industry, which spans every corner of the globe, have nothing to do with each other. To hold these tech companies accountable, tech workers in the United States have begun to organize. “Help us be Alphabet’s conscience”, proclaimed the recently-formed Alphabet Workers Union, a minority union composed of full-time employees, temporary employees, vendors, and contractors at Google’s parent company.