We have developed some thoughts about how to regulate Google. Putting the sentence “crawling the web is a natural monopoly that Google has control of” into the regulation machine churns out some standard solutions, namely state ownership and control of resources involved in web crawling (or at the very least extensive regulation by the government of those resources). We believe that just like part of the development of capitalism during the industrial revolution was the socialization of natural monopolies like roads, water/sewage pipelines and electricity distribution, part of the development of capitalism during the information revolution will involve the socialization of the new emerging natural monopolies like web crawling.
Where this gets complicated, and part of why we aren’t publishing more of our thoughts on regulating Google right now, is that the scope of web crawling extends beyond the borders of nation states. To our knowledge, all previous natural monopolies were contained within the geographic boundary of a single governing institution, whether it be a municipality or nation state. The internet exists within and without nation states and the internet wasn’t designed with borders between nations in mind. The template for regulating natural monopolies doesn’t apply cleanly when the natural monopoly transcends borders and exists globally or even universally.
What is happening with TikTok highlights the contradictions involved when nations attempt to regulate products of the information revolution. Information nationalism and digital protectionism will be prioritized over engineering and economic efficiency every time. Regulating information technology requires a perspective that goes beyond the obvious solutions software engineers might think of and must take the concerns of national security seriously. There is historical precedence for the socialization of natural monopolies from the industrial era via municipalization, nationalization, and decolonization, but we are at a loss for examples of socialization of natural monopolies from the information era. We don’t even have the language for the socialization of a resource for everyone everywhere; the terms internationalization or globalization don’t mean what we would want them to mean.
Sometime soon we will be publishing what we think should happen and what we think will happen. These two futures diverge and we believe that, while the gap between them exists, it will entrench Google’s control over the internet further. We believe that nothing short of socialization of these resources will work to remove Google’s control over the internet. Our hope is that in publishing this work right now we will let the genie out of the bottle and start a process towards socialization that cannot be undone.
We do want to publish one thing regarding regulating right now, specifically litigation that could be pursued by private actors against Google.