Is Google a Threat to Civil Liberties?

Part of the price that successful corporations pay for innovation is their exposure to increased calls for extensive government regulation. Regulators claim that dominant firms, especially in modern high-tech industries, will be guilty of at least two forms of malfeasance.

First, the firms will abuse their “monopoly power” to extract huge profits from consumers. Second, the firms will acquire vast amounts of information that will then be used for improper purposes that pose a serious threat to both privacy and civil liberties. Google becomes a natural focus point here for two reasons. 

First, it holds a commanding position in the search market; second, each user’s click adds to its treasure trove of valuable information about the consumer and the firms with which he interacts. These realities in part explain why Robert Epstein, a Harvard-based psychologist, recently wrote a four-part expose for the Huffington Post titled, “Regulate Google Now.”

But, as I argue in my column this week, when it comes to regulating large tech companies, the government should proceed with caution. I explain further at Hoover’s Defining Ideas