In addition to reflecting on the state of geopolitics and reversing the rise of nationalism in his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, George Soros went on a 1984-fueled tirade against Facebook and Google.
The hedge fund leader slammed the tech giants “monopolistic behavior,” declaring their motions and control of the internet as “obstacles to innovation,” while also mentioning that they have caused a litany of problems which we have only recently begun to unravel.
“Companies earn their profits by exploiting their environment. Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment,” he said, according to a transcript obtained by CIO. “This is particularly nefarious because social media companies influence how people think and behave without them even being aware of it. This has far-reaching, adverse consequences on the functioning of democracy, particularly on the integrity of elections.”
Soros also went on to mention that while the two companies operate by expanding their outreach to users on convenient platforms, there are underlying issues surrounding their sizes, influence, and dominant worldwide outreach, which has created a world where users are not only deceived by the platforms based on their agendas, but also willingly give up their autonomy. Soros likened these tactics to that of a casino, where patrons are roped into coming back regardless of their situation.
“Social media companies deceive their users by manipulating their attention and directing it towards their own commercial purposes. They deliberately engineer addiction to the services they provide. This can be very harmful, particularly for adolescents. There is a similarity between internet platforms and gambling companies,” he said. “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.”
Soros also warned that the IT monopolies would also compromise themselves in order to create corporate and state-sponsored surveillances with countries such as Russia and China. Soros likened this idea of a totalitarian-controlled web to an Orwellian nightmare.
“There could be an alliance between authoritarian states and these large, data-rich IT monopolies that would bring together nascent systems of corporate surveillance with an already developed system of state-sponsored surveillance,” he said. “US-based IT monopolies are already tempted to compromise themselves in order to gain entrance to these vast and fast-growing markets. The dictatorial leaders in these countries may be only too happy to collaborate with them since they want to improve their methods of control over their own populations, and expand their power and influence in the United States and the rest of the world.”
Soros suggested Facebook and Google should be subject to more stringent regulations which would “preserve competition, innovation, and fair and open universal access,” as well as taxation, stating that those two factors will be the death knell for the companies. He praised European Union Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager for the EU’s direction on monopoly policy as well as the strengthening on its privacy and data laws, declaring her the “nemesis” of the tech titans.
“The owners of the platform giants consider themselves the masters of the universe, but in fact they are slaves to preserving their dominant position. It is only a matter of time before the global dominance of the US IT monopolies is broken. Davos is a good place to announce that their days are numbered,” he said.