Even before Facebook hit 200 million global users last week, making its population larger than that of Brazil and Japan, it became a global monopoly on par with Google. For centuries, monopolies have been perceived as antagonistic to functioning capitalist systems. But can monopolies actually be a good thing on the web?
That question—Is monopoly a good thing in most things digital?—is central to a debate today between PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel and Harvard Law School professor Jonathan Zittrain, who leads a seminar at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society this semester called “The Internet: Ideas at the Frontiers.” It’s a question that is fundamentally changing the way we approach technology and corporate regulation around the world.
If you type “Facebook is a monopoly” or “Facebook a monopoly” into that search engine monopoly, Google, you pull up two comments about how Facebook knows too much. In other words, although Facebook has emerged as the new digital phone book for the world—as well as the world’s largest repository for personal data—nobody seems to be talking about what this means for the future of online anti-trust and capitalism in general. Could it be that a utility which works best when the most people use it, should be granted global monopoly status?
As part of a live stream event brought to you by the Berkman Center and Big Think, Thiel, a macro hedge fund manager and technology expert, and Zittrain, author of the book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, will address other important questions such as, How will the internet-driven centralization and decentralization of information continue to impact the balance of power between state and non-state actors? As well, Thiel and Zittrain will discuss what role the internet will play in helping to fulfill the promise of creative destruction discussed by economists like Joseph Schumpeter?
Visit Big Think’s special Berkman Center idea page here at 4:45 p.m. and tap into the most cutting-edge conversation happening on technology today.