Democratic Start-ups for the Public Good

« Speaking

On March 8, 2018, I appeared as a guest on the Media Democracy podcast hosted by Tom Mills and Dan Hind alongside Hettie O’Brien, whom I had first met through an excellent piece she had written for New Socialist’s economics section, Monopoly’s Fallacy. The episode was released on March 9. Below you can find the audio (embedded from SoundCloud) as well as an edited transcript (skipping some of the intro and filler words). I used YouTube to auto-generate the initial transcript so there might be errors, apologies for that.

This episode is structured as a follow-up to an earlier episode with Nick Srnicek and Laurie Laybourn-Langton on platform capitalism, which I’d highly recommend checking out.

Dan: It’s a chance for us to talk with them about the current state of play in the tech sector and how it relates to traditional ideas of monopoly control.

Wendy worked in the startup sector so she has an interesting take and we started talking in quite an expansive way about how we should be trying to tackle these these issues from the left. So I think it’s a conversation that’s badly needed, and I certainly haven’t heard many people talking along these lines.

Hettie O’Brien is a writer who’s recently worked on monopolies and antitrust law in Washington, and Wendy is an economics editor at the New Socialist.

People who haven’t heard [the previous episode linked above] may well want to listen to that. It provides a primer on the very basics of platform technology, platform economics, and how we’re seeing the emergence of a very small number of data-driven platforms being dominant in the the media system. But what I wanted to do with you guys is really start thinking through what an alternative might begin to look like.

Wendy, can I start with you. You’ve written a number of pieces picking at the question of what the emerging landscape looks like at the moment and and how it might be changed, particularly in the context of government policy. So can I start with a very open question to you, Wendy, about what you think the current state of play is on the left as it starts to think about these issues, and how we’d like to see it develop.

Wendy: I think what we’re seeing right now is the logical culmination of technology being developed in a very neoliberal environment, where it’s just taken for granted that any technological development is appropriated by private corporations, and that control over it is very authoritarian. Where it’s just a few people who are the owners of these tech companies who have all the say over what happens.

There’s an interesting debate between Peter Thiel and David Graeber [Where Did The Future Go in The Baffler] that I think illustrates this point very well. For Peter Thiel, the ideal mode of running any sort of tech company, startup, anything, is a very top-down, founder-driven sort of thing where just one person at the top gets to control exactly what happens. And I think that is kind of what we’re seeing now, and it’s a combination of the fact that these are private corporations that have so much control over all this technology that has really become so important to our daily lives, and the fact that it’s not very democratic at all. There’s really so little control—even the people who are working at these corporations, even the people who are software engineers at these corporations, don’t really have that much control over what goes on.

Dan: I should have said, at the outset, that you have a background working in in tech startups. You said very few people have meaningful control over the development of these commercial platforms. How many people are we talking? Is it hundreds, is it thousands, is it dozens of people? Just how concentrated is control, do you think?

Wendy: That’s a good question. I mean, I think it depends on the company, but just in general, the structure is still very top-down. I worked at Google briefly, as a software engineering intern, in the San Francisco office, working on a team for capacity planning. And as an intern, obviously I didn’t really have any decision-making power, but I feel like everyone I worked with, it was very much the same, where they were just kind of doing what they were told. They did have some sort of creativity and autonomy with regards to how they did it—I mean they could choose what design patterns to use, they could choose what specifically they would do with the technology they had, but at the same time, their scope was very much defined from above.

I really don’t know if there any companies that are substantially different from that kind of model. In the start-up world, it’s very much the same, especially if it’s a small start-up with a founder cult. There are quite a few companies where there’s this cult around the founder—the idea of this mythical founder who can do anything, and they are the person who makes all the decisions. It’s just a really strange ideology within tech right now, and it contributes to the problem in multiple ways, where you don’t have any democratic control, and you have people working in the industry who don’t really like what they’re doing, but they still do it because they’re getting paid really well and they don’t have a choice. And they feel alienated in their work in a lot of ways. And you see a lot of people in the industry—I think more and more, you’re seeing people being disillusioned by that and they’re starting to think, is this really the life that I wanted? Where I’m spending my time building software—which is great—but I’m also doing something that’s maybe not really ethical.

It’s not a great situation right now, I would say.

Tom: It does seem to run against the grain of how that kind of working culture seems to be understood in a popular imagination. There still seems to be this idea that these organizations are very creative, horizontalist, and somehow embody a much more egalitarian ethos. Do you think that’s still something which a lot of people associate with the tech sector? Because that does seem to run against the kind of world that you’re describing.

Wendy: Yeah it’s fascinating, because on the surface it really does seem like this wonderful place, where you have all these perks, you have all this freedom and autonomy. There was a while when Google was considered the best place to work [according to Glassdoor], and I think for some, it still is. Because there’s this popular conception of it as being not like real work, and I think that’s an impression that these companies deliberately cultivate.

Dan: Right, it’s not really work. Spending all your life in the office just seems like you’re having fun. So it goes with a kind of hyperexploitation.

You mentioned that there is a sort of discontent, as it were, with the engineering class. People who have been looking at the model that’s on offer in these organizations and starting to lose a degree of appetite for it. Are there organizations you could point people to where these ideas are being discussed, where the beginning of an alternative working model is being developed?

Wendy: Definitely, yeah. The Tech Workers Coalition is probably the most well-known. It’s a group of people who are working in tech, in various different types of jobs within tech but mostly software engineers, who are interested in organising—building some sort of some sort of union—and interested in the ethical issues around the industry. It combines a bunch of different people. They do a lot of work with the Democratic Socialists of America as well, and in TWC there’s definitely the beginning of something really inspiring. And I feel like just among my friends and people I know within the tech industry, lately I’ve been seeing a lot more people questioning the industry itself.

And it’s inspiring to see that. But at the same time, I don’t know if it’s happening fast enough to really make much of a difference.

Tom: That’s interesting. One of the things that is obscured, I think, in the Silicon Valley official version of events, is the extent to which its own structures were influenced by state coordination and planning. One of the tantalising things about the Corbyn project is that we may end up with a socialist administration in control of the British state for the first time since the late 40s, and that would give an opportunity for these kinds of initiatives to engage with a coordinated power that has real material weight, that has real budgetary power.

So let’s shift a bit and broach the subject—and it’s an open question—how would you like to see Labour thinking about tech as a sector, and as an opportunity for an emancipatory program?

Wendy: So I’m actually pretty excited by what the Labour Party’s been doing lately. In December, Liam Byrne [Labour MP for Birmingham who had recently been appointed Shadow Digital Minister] gave a talk about Labour’s digital strategy. I wrote a piece about it for New Socialist [Labour’s Digital Strategy is a Missed Opportunity], pretty vehemently critiquing it. Because what he was saying—and he’s part of New Labour, he’s not really comfortable with any of the more radical ideas that have come out lately—his whole thing was, let’s teach more kids to code, let’s get more people jobs in the tech sector, without really thinking about how it needs to be structurally radically transformed. So that was disheartening.

Since then, a few weeks ago, Labour had their Alternative Models of Ownership Conference where they had a session [on technology]. I wrote a piece about that for New Socialist as well [Labour’s New Economics Conference: Part Two, Digital Session]. That was just a complete about-turn, and it was really inspiring, because they were asking the fundamental questions about who owns technology, who controls it, who benefits from it.

And I think that is where we need to go. You really do have to question who owns the technology. Because it’s not enough to just simply get more people into tech or even to get more people thinking about ethics within tech. Because the fundamental question is really one of ownership.

And I think there’s room for combining the ideas of having more state-owned technology projects, but also having a more democratic structure. A lot of the conference was talking about more bottom-up control, and giving people and workers more control over any sort of state-owned project. So when it comes to tech, I think the biggest thing that we have to remember is that a lot of these corporations, if you look at Google and Facebook—I mean, those in particular right, because they’re advertising technology companies—where they get their power?

And it really comes down to enclosure of the commons. What they’ve done is they’ve taken something that really should have been in the commons, and they’ve just enclosed it, in such a way that we never really question it, where it feels natural. We can’t really imagine a world where a search engine isn’t this huge corporation, where social media isn’t something that is controlled by this one very powerful entity that makes so much money and is not paying very much in tax. We’ve just become so used to the system. What really needs to happen is just a complete reimagining of it.

I think what Labour is trying to do, or at least the direction that they’re moving in now, is trying to figure out how do we, in a sense, nationalise these companies. And it’s a really difficult question. It’s not like you can go back to the 1970s [I think I meant the 1940s/50s, i.e. a period of postwar nationalisation in the UK], because these corporations are just so different from railroads or electricity companies. They’re lacking in the kind of geographic fixity that is necessary for nationalisation in the traditional sense.

What’s different is that the government, at least theoretically, does control the access points. So you can imagine if Labour got into government and decided that they’d want to challenge the power of a public company like Amazon. What you could do is kind of like the Chinese model, where you block access and then you create your own home-grown alternative. But in Labour’s case it wouldn’t necessarily be about nurturing a domestic [corporate] alternative, it would be about making a public service.

So you can imagine something like Amazon instead being this government-run thing, but without the totalitarian implications that people usually associate with it; it could be more of a democratic thing. And it could be something that’s just very convenient to use that sort of fades into the background. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a commercial project.

I think what we really need to do now, what Labour has to do now, is figure out what is the entry point, what is the easiest thing that you can make into a public service. Something that Government Digital Service could run, for example.

Dan: That’s a really great question. To prod you a bit on that, what would you see as being the most available function that the government could do? Because I’ve often thought that online payments seems like something, the equivalent of the Royal Mail, like a state operation for payments would be would be a neat thing for the state to step into. Because at the moment there’s so much rent-seeking in any kind of online payment system.

Wendy: I completely agree. That’s actually the kind of thing I think about the most.

Dan: (I probably heard that from you in the first place.)

Wendy: So before I got to London, I was running a startup, and it was essentially an advertising technology startup. I did that for three years, and by being exposed to the advertising technology world—I guess before I didn’t realise just how how terrible it is, and just how much data is tracked and sold. So one of the things that I learned while working at the startup is that a lot of the credit card processors that you see—so, you know, you go to the grocery store and do a contactless payment. And if you look at the card terminal, sometimes the name of the company that provides these processors, it’ll be FirstData. This is one of these companies. Anyway, if you just look at the name—”FirstData”—they’re selling your data. They’re making money not just from processing transactions, but from actually selling this to anyone who needs it, really.

Dan: So they can build a picture of what you’ve been buying and then sell your profile to whoever.

Wendy: Yeah, they sell whatever they can get away with, right. It’s a very opaque industry, and it’s not very well regulated. A lot of companies in this space—they’re huge, and they just try to stay out of the public eye. I think that you’re beginning to see a little more awareness of them because you have leaks happening, there was that thing with Equifax where a lot of their data was hacked. But there’s still so much of it that’s invisible. It’s like an iceberg.

The big problem is that you have these huge corporations that are making so much money from processing payments and then also exposing consumers to privacy violations, and you have to ask, what value are they actually providing? Why is this something that the government can’t just take over? For one, it would make it a lot easier to collect taxes, and you can find a way to make privacy violations a lot harder—you could mitigate those risks.

And that’s something that I think would be so easy to do, because for one, the government is already working on something like that. It’s GOV.UK Pay. It’s still in beginning stages, but the technology is there, it’s that the current government is not interested in expanding its scope to anything other than buying a fishing license. Literally, that is one of most interesting things you can do with GOV.UK Pay right now, you can pay for a fishing license, and you can send money to prisoners. And that’s basically it.

But there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be expanded to everything. Imagine anyone who wants to start a small business using something like this. This would be a really good way to shrink the size of that industry—which is a very exploitative and corrupt industry—and at the same time making certain services better. You can even find a way to drastically reduce transaction fees, which would make life a lot easier for a lot of small merchants.

Dan: That’s right. I have a sideline as a an independent publisher, and a huge chunk of my revenues goes really from intermediaries who are essentially collecting tolls or rents from their position in a, as you say, kind of naturalised system that would make much more sense as a public utility. As you talk about the payment system, it sounds almost in a state of willed incapacity. Which has analogies with the BBC, which basically seems to me as a social network in waiting, and is prevented from becoming a social network simply by the reluctance or the refusal of the state to enter into that space.

Now, that’s a brilliant intro into where we are at the moment and where we might go next. Hettie, Wendy mentioned that a lot of what we talk about when we talk about these platforms are natural monopolies and she said you know the traditional response to match monopolies was with nationalisation You’ve been looking at the history and the practice of regulation and the management of monopolies. Where do you think things are trending at the moment in the way people are addressing these issues and where do you think they should be going?

Hettie: I think at the moment, we’re seeing a kind of fallout from the past 30 or 40 years of measuring economic well-being in terms of the marginal returns that consumers get back from the economy in terms of low prices, and it seems that tech monopolies present a real challenge to this paradigm. Because on one hand, you have companies like Amazon who offer really low prices, and on the other hand they accumulate so much power. So I think what we’re seeing now is the realisation that our tools of leaving the market up to itself, that were very much founded in a hands-off, ordoliberal model—

Dan: Right, so as long as prices were falling there’s there’s no problem with monopoly.

Hettie: Right. Consumers were very well-off with companies like Amazon, because they subsidise their products such as Prime and ebooks, so that we can afford these things, and they’re arguably cheaper than they’ve ever been. But I think Wendy’s right at pointing out that there is this enclosure of the commons that happens, because actually that metric of consumer prices and the ascendancy of that model really obscures other really important truths, like the fact that there are common things that we want to maintain. For example, books. You mentioned your work as a publisher—I think that’s a really interesting example of how Amazon, whilst offering really low prices, actually threatens the things that we value as citizens. So I think as we’ve pursued this model of measuring economic health in terms of consumer prices that we’ve actually obscured the way in which we as citizens engage with the economy. And so I think rather than measuring prices we should be looking at power, and thinking how much power are these companies accumulating, and at the expense of who.

Dan: Yes, yes. I mean again the sort of driving downward of prices in books, it’s one sector I know something about. Amazon still get their cut—Kindle publishing is very profitable for them—but it is squeezing small publishers in particular, and creating a new ecology of extremely vulnerable, extremely precarious standalone independent authors, who are in a one-on-one relationship with Amazon, and Amazon obviously can snuff them out in a heartbeat.

So, as we move away from the idea that monopolies are problems if they lead to some simple sense that the price of a given commodity is going up, and we start to think about a more diffuse idea of value and a more sophisticated sense of what we mean by value, how do you think we should be tackling the problem posed by the likes of Google and Amazon? Is regulation even possible?

Hettie: I think there’s a threat of looking at them—I know that the technologies they deploy are very novel and radically different to what we’ve seen in the past—but there’s a threat of over-emphasizing their newness and the effect that has on the economy. And so one way in which that idea of monopoly distorting value does diffuse to affect other areas is through the power that those employers exert over wages. So it’s something called a monopsony, when you have a monopoly employer. Imagine say a town where there’s one supermarket including the majority of employees. That company has the power to set their wages and also to potentially corrode things like workers’ rights. And so I think latching on to the idea of workers’ rights, and to what this does to us as a workforce, is one way of examining power. The monopoly isn’t just dangerous to consumer prices, it’s also perhaps more importantly dangerous for things we value as a society.

And then I think with the regulation question, again I completely agree with Wendy in the sense that we shouldn’t just be looking at letting the market naturally distribute goods in a way that’s very hands-off. We need to say, well actually, are these things not common goods? Are these things not things that we want to have in public ownership?

Because when private companies are profiting from the commons, they are depleting the commons at the expense of society’s members, and I think digital space, perhaps, is arguably a commons, because they are using our data and tracking our data and selling that as a resource to advertisers.

I think perhaps making it public—the amount of money that individual users make for Facebook through ownership of our photos and selling our data and exposing how many millions of years of free labour that users are putting into that platform, would be one way of potentially lifting the veil on the ways in which those platforms are making money at our expense.

Tom: Do either of you have a feeling that the public attitudes and political opinion is turning on these on these issues? I read a poll which I think we mentioned in the previous show that found that majority of people in the UK were worried about privacy and the use of personal data on these platforms. Do you know, any sort of general sense of the political discussions or on polling data, whether there’s been a big movement on these kinds of issues recently.

Hettie: I mean anecdotally at least, I can say that in America, where I’ve been the past few months, there is much more of the perhaps deep-seated fear that has come to the surface about monopoly power. I think in the UK we are also skeptical of tech platforms, but I think our conception of political freedom—historically, America has always been slightly different, and so fear of monopolies crosses both left and right. So on the right you get Republicans fearing monopolies as much as they do a big state, and then on the left, you get politicians like Elizabeth Warren advocating for more control of monopolies. And in the UK I’d really like to see more mobilizing behind that message, more strongly than they have been doing so.

Dan: I think culturally, that’s an interesting point. I think in Britain, both socialists and big capital quite like the idea of management monopolies, and there’s been this sort of terrible tendency on the left to think in terms of tidying up and managing capitalism more rationally, in a way that ended up looking for big partners in the private sector to work with.

Hettie: Also, in a way that’s very much about retroactively tinkering with problems that have arisen, rather than proactively planning to avoid those problems in the first place. I think that’s a tendency on the left, especially during the past ten years, and it’s refreshing to see a Corbyn government perhaps taking a different approach.

Dan: Yes, it’s been a sort of reflexive defensiveness, hasn’t it. It’s been about protecting or defending against further rightwards assertions, and Tom and I have talked about this before—the time it takes for that defensive reflex to be supplemented by a more creative sense of what might be possible.

That reminds me. The Tech Workers Coalition, Wendy. We’ll put some more information about that in the in the show notes, but that seems to be exactly the sort of partnership that the Labour left should be should be looking to forge.

Wendy: Yeah, definitely.

Going back to what you were saying earlier on public attitudes towards tech: I’ve been following what’s going on in the tech industry, and I think that there has been quite a change in the way people within the industry or just interested in the industry think about tech and I think they’re definitely more and more concerned.

And I think that there’s a very strong political element as well, specifically with Trump. Because I think what happened around the time of Trump being elected is that a lot of people who were rank-and-file workers within these tech companies, they started to become a little more politically conscious, and a little bit afraid of what was happening. Because I think a lot of people working in these companies are quite progressive and whether they’d supported Hillary or Bernie, they overwhelmingly did not support Trump. So I think a lot of them were quite shocked.

And what made it worse was that a lot of these celebrities within tech—so people like Peter Thiel, Sheryl Sandberg—they basically colluded with Trump in a lot of ways. They would go to meetings with him, and Peter Thiel I mean supported his campaign. And I think that was a moment when people within the industry, at the lower levels, started to realise that those at the top might not necessarily have the best interests of everyone at heart. And that maybe they were only really looking out for themselves.

I think that led to an increased political consciousness. And that led to the rise of Tech Workers Coalition and also Tech Solidarity, which is kind of a similar campaign [though less focused on w orker power]—I think that was born out of the anti-Trump backlash. And there have been other similar movements where a lot of tech workers—who were previously maybe not that political—but with Trump, and a lot of things that have been happening around Trump, they’ve started to realise that they need to start thinking about the world, that things aren’t just magically gonna get better. And that’s gotten a lot of them more politically active.

So I think there’s a lot of potential in movements like that. But I think at the same time, that’s not enough in itself. There has to be this change from the state as well. The really scary thing, going back to what Hettie’s been saying about monopolies, is that it’s really about power. The fact that they have all this power. And it feels like we’re moving towards an age where it’s no longer nation states that have power, it’s corporations. It’s these huge multinational corporations that just control so much of so many different people’s lives, often without them knowing it. And that is what’s really scary to me, because I feel like the longer we go down this path, the the more the avenues of possibility close off and so it feels like we really need to do something about it soon.

And I mean with what Labour’s proposing and the pathway that it sounds like they’re going down, that might be what we need. That might be our only path. There needs to be a way of negating the power of these corporations, of essentially shrinking their size. Maybe even killing them entirely, I don’t know. But that’s gotta happen soon, it feels like. Because otherwise it may not be possible anymore. There might come a time when nation states are just so weak in the face of transnational capital and these corporations that there’s just nothing that can be done.

Dan: Yeah that’s interesting. This touches on some things that we’ve been looking at this week, looking at the talk about banning Alex Jones and Infowars from YouTube. And also earlier in the year, Facebook changing its news algorithms in a way that was starting to de-emphasise certain kinds of media outlets. Clearly, these organizations have massive amounts of arbitrary powers, both kind of visible and invisible, in their ability to to make content widely available or to make it very obscure without banning it outright. They can make and break publishing platforms more or less than will.

Where think I disagree with you slightly, is I see them as very much willing handmaidens of the state, particularly the US state, but also major allies of the US like the United Kingdom. I think that the changes that they’re bringing about to the way they’re managing the news feeds and the way that they’re managing what they talk about with the sort of Russians subversion—I think they’re doing it at the prompting of their respective states. So my fear isn’t so much that they will become an autonomous independent power, but that by acting as auxiliaries of the state, they’ll restore a kind of smooth population management.

And the kinds of incursions that we saw with Brexit or with Trump or Corbyn or Sanders, for good and bad, these kinds of interruptions to normal service will be edited out at the level of the algorithms. That’s my two pence worth on that. But I agree with you entirely that unless we we act decisively at the level of the state, these things will become beyond the reach of democratic control.

Hettie: I think they risk justifying the recession of the state, in many ways, particularly when it comes to providing public services. One thing that I became aware of this week that isn’t totally new is UberHealth in the US, which talks to bring Uber and Lyft in as alternative ambulance provisions.

Dan: Clearly they’ve been they’ve been trying to wrap a kind of shiny tech camouflage around another level of privatization.

Tom: Just to add to what Hettie said, there’s definitely similar sorts of moves in education as well, with the integration of technology from Google and other companies, where they’re quite obviously integrating themselves into service delivery in such a way that they will have such power over the logistics and the service delivery, that they’re gonna be in a position where they just become a more or less essential part of the site, in a way, that they’ll be able to monetise it. And it seems that that’s what a lot of these tech companies do, is they have such long-term growth and investment strategies, so they’re sort of heading for state-like monopolies, because that’s that seems to be what their business models are made on, in a way. And for a state which doesn’t naturally want to provide public services, there does seem to be a sort of coalition of interest there, I think.

Dan: I’m sure that’s true, and I’m sure that’s particularly true in things like the NHS where the big tech companies are circling looking for ways of monetising both the provision and the analysis of data as well.

We’ve been talking for about about 35 minutes now, and what I’d like to do in the last section is to think quite practically about both policy proposals that we might want to think about but also what listeners can do practically in terms of media they can follow, and organisations they can become more aware of, so that we start to sort of push forward with an agenda.

Wendy, let’s start with you. What do you think is most important for our listeners to know right now? Where should people be going for different sort of takes on this. I think we’re all slightly vulnerable to just sort of picking up on what’s in our Twitter feed or on our Facebook in my case. So where should we be going for an independent take on these kinds of issues?

Wendy: That’s a good question. So I’m actually in the middle of compiling a list basically answering your exact question. I’m co-editing the next issue of Notes From Below—it’s a recent socialist publication that focuses on class composition, and the next issue is going to be about technology [now available: Technology and The Worker]. So we’re in the middle of getting pieces for that, and it’s about technology and organising and what can be done within the tech industry to make things better. Covering a lot of the things that we’ve been talking about today. Included with the issue will be a list of resources of things people should look into if they want to understand the problems with tech better [now available at Critical perspectives on technology: resources].

In terms of big takeaways: I’m biased [since I’m an editor], but New Socialist is gonna be putting out some more stuff. Not just by me—Hettie’s piece on monopolies was published there, and we are looking to get more stuff on tech as well, addressing technology from a very clearly left-wing perspective and trying to understand what can actually be done with, say, a Labour government that’s willing to tackle the big questions of ownership.

Dan: I would recommend to all our listeners to follow the New Socialist on Twitter [@NewSocialistUK] and to check out their website. It has been publishing some really groundbreaking policy papers, not just by Hettie but also by Tom and I! Tom and I wrote a piece on new media which is out there at the moment [Public Ownership of the Public Sphere].

So Hettie, where should we be looking and what should we be dreaming of or planning?

Hettie: So in terms of where we should be looking, I’m obviously biased to US sources because that’s where I’ve been recently. There’s a great Medium list by Matt Stoller called How to Educate Yourself on Monopoly Power, which I highly recommend. And then also I follow the work of the Open Markets Institute, which was founded by Barry Lynn, who was the guy who got kicked out of New America following his criticism of Google, and they have a weekly newsletter that is very interesting that touches on the US and the EU monopoly issues.

And then in terms of moving forward, I would like to see a broader paradigm shift in how we think of economic health that does encompass power rather than just consumers. But I think if we’re looking to change things from that consumer paradigm, then perhaps looking at something like discriminatory pricing, and the way in which surge pricing actually seems to break the consumer prices paradigm by increasing consumer prices in many ways, I think that there’s an argument to be made there that could be more on the kind of reformist side of things. But in an ideal world, I would like to see a conversation about economics that did estimate the power that these companies are accruing and criticize that and call it out for what it is.

Wendy: Yeah I totally agree with that. I just wanted to add, I don’t think you can have a conversation about the technology industry that isn’t looking at the economic structures that gave rise to it. Because the two are so inextricably linked, and the reason the tech industry is the way it is—the reason that these problems are occurring—it’s really just about the economic structures, at various levels. You have the whole startup mentality/mindset, where you as a founder have to succeed, you have to make your company as big as possible, and then that leads to people doing startups that don’t really contribute any value. Including mine. And you have so much money being poured into the industry, into creating these really useless startups, and I think that’s a factor that you really can’t separate out.

And then on the other side, with the tech giants, I mean if you look at the economic incentives, of course they will behave the way they do. Of course they’re gonna violate privacy. Any of the problems we have with tech companies—it’s not about tech. It’s really just about the economy.

I think the big problem with tech is that it’s kind of an accelerated microcosm of the problems with the economy, and because of that you can’t change much without almost fundamentally rethinking the economic incentives at play.

Dan: Well that’s a great note to end on, and it gives us a huge amount think about and it pushes us forward into the future, which is a space that’s been colonised by these bastards in Silicon Valley, and it’s time for us to claim it back. Democratic startups for the public good, you heard it here first from Wendy and, over the next few months and years I hope to see that that program and that agenda being being elaborated and developed further.