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Response to Mathias Döpfner : Dark Google

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Google brings us to the precipice of a new development in the scope of the market economy. A fourth fictional commodity is emerging as a dominant characteristic of market dynamics in the 21st century. „Reality” is about to undergo the same kind of fictional transformation and be reborn as „behavior.”  This includes the behavior of  creatures, their bodies, and their things. It includes actual behavior and data about behavior. It is the world-spanning organism and all the tiniest elements within it.

Polanyi understood that the pure unimpeded operations of  a self-regulating of the market were profoundly destructive. Society required    countermeasures to avoid such danger. He called this the „double movement”:  „a network of measures and policies...integrated into powerful institutions designed to check the action of the market relative to labor, land, and money.” Regulation, legislation, democratic oversight...these are the critical responses necessary to protect society from  a downward spiral. Anticipating the century to come,  he urged the strengthening of the double movement, that  „every increase in integration in society should thus be accompanied by an increase of freedom...the strengthening of the rights of the individual in society.”

Europe’s Task

This returns us to our starting point. Eric Schmidt and Mathias Döpfners controversy in the F.A.Z.  is only the beginning of a disruption that will shake industry, society and citizens. It is a plea for the primacy, urgency, and necessity of a new double movement. It must be stronger, more confident, and more deeply principled than we have yet seen. It must provide a counterweight to a dangerous new absolutism that relies on pervasive, secret, unaccountable power.

We are beyond the realm of economics here. This is not merely a conversation about free  markets; it’s a conversation about free people.

It’s an urgent new public conversation that can’t be reduced to 20th century technical debates about Google’s monopoly status or competitive practices. We tend to revert to these old categories in the absence of ready language and law that can help us discern the full implications of what is taking shape. But such specialized  professional arguments shift the Google debate from the realm of everyday life and ordinary people to the arcane interests of economists and bureaucrats. They obscure the fact that the issues have shifted from monopolies of products or services to monopolies of rights: rights to privacy and rights to reality.  These new forms of power, poorly understood except by their own practitioners, threaten the sovereignty of the democratic social contract.

We are powerful too. Our demands for self-determination are not easily extinguished.  We made Google, perhaps by loving it too much.  We can unmake it, if we must. The challenge is to understand what is at stake and how quickly things are moving. The need is to come together in our diversity to preserve a future in which many visions can thrive, not just one –– Where many rights can flourish, not just some.

Things are moving fast. This is why the world now looks to the E.U. - not to Google - to reverse the growing menace of absolutism and the monopoly of rights. The EU can stand for the double movement. It can represent the future and assert the dominion of  democratic rights and the principles of a fair marketplace. These are the precious victories of a centuries-long struggle, and we dare not abandon them now.

The author

Shoshana Zuboff is the author of The Summons: Our Fight for the Soul of an Information Civilization (forthcoming, 2015). She is the Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration (retired) at the Harvard Business School and a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School. @shoshanazuboff

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