In his wonderful book The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began, the literary historian Stephen Greenblatt traces the origins of the Renaissance back to the rediscovery of a 2,000-year-old poem by Lucretius, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). The book is a riveting explanation of how a huge cultural shift can ultimately spring from faint stirrings in the undergrowth.
Professor Greenblatt is probably not interested in the giant corporations that now dominate our world, but I am, and in the spirit of The Swerve I’ve been looking for signs that big changes might be on the way. You don’t have to dig very deep to find them.
Some are pretty obvious. In 2014, for example, the European Court of Justice decided that EU citizens had the so-called “right to be forgotten” and that Google would have to comply if it wanted to continue to do business in Europe. In May this year, the European commission fined Facebook €110m for “providing misleading information” about its takeover of WhatsApp. And in June the commission levied a whopping €2.4bn fine on Google for abusing its monopoly in search.
Internet giants, once above the fray, on the defensive in Washington
Internet giants, including Alphabet’s Google and Facebook, are moving to compromise on several major policy issues as they adjust to an abrupt shift in the political winds in Washington.
Just last week, the U.S. Senate took a big step towards advancing legislation that would partially strip away the internet industry’s bedrock legal protection, a 1996 law that shields companies from liability for the activities of their users.