Taming the robber barons of the Internet: Facebook and Google

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

Let’s take a week off from politics and talk about….The Internet! (foreboding music plays).

Well, actually not the whole Internet (do not ask me about being a cat on Zoom, I have no clue — I consider Zoom to be an insecure platform and only use it very reluctantly to watch county commission meetings), just Facebook and Google, who are the two worst offenders when it comes to privacy, selling your data without permission and looting of content providers.

There are other bad actors on the ‘Net, but these two companies are probably the worst. For a long time, we’ve been at their mercy, but that seems to be changing.

Australia passed tough new laws to make the Facebooks and Googles of the Internet pay publishers for the snippets of content they share (often all people ever read). As a side note, it would also hit “vulture” sites that run two to three paragraphs of original content from other sites and add a link — these sites are literally parasites, sucking ad revenue from the sites that bother to create original content.

Also, Apple is moving to change its iOS 14.5 iPhone/iPad operating system to ask users whether an application can share data on their phone or pad device. Facebook is losing its crap over a move that could strangle what appears to be a shady practice — but a big revenue center.

Just so you understand where I’m coming from, before I returned to covering local news, I edited some of the country’s largest tech magazines (remember magazines? Yeah, I miss them, too) and covered the dawn of the digital tech era, from the early days of the Web, the launch of DVD, etc. from 1995 to 2006. In the interim, I kept my hand in writing here and there about tech, so I make sure I keep fully up to date.

I’ve watched with some horror as Facebook mutated into a dangerous pusher of rumor and dubious Web sources while strangling legitimate news sites. At the same time, many are critical of the data harvesting FB uses — there are continued allegations that Facebook accesses the microphone on your iPhone or Android device and listens in to your conversations, even when you’re not using your phone. I can’t prove that, but too many times I have been discussing something with friends or family only to immediately see advertising on Facebook related to what I was speaking about. You may well have seen this too.

Additionally, it appears Facebook mines data from pretty much every one of your other apps — including contacts — to target very specific advertisements to you. It also appears to know where you go (when you bring your phone), what you do and who you interact with. Corporate Big Brother is in your pocket or purse.

Similarly, Google tracks pretty much every move you make online. If you use any of their connected devices or an Android phone or pad, it harvests even more data.

Google and Facebook dominate the digital advertising market — something like 90% of ads on the Web comes from those two sources, shutting out competition from publishers, driving down pricing. If you wonder why your local school board or municipal meeting isn’t being covered any more, this is one of the reasons: publications can’t cover meetings without having money from ads to pay people.

And yes, that last bit is self service for me and this publication: we’ve seen traffic grow but revenue drop by more than 2/3rds over the last six years. We literally went into debt trying to maintain content and audience before finally being forced to cut back.

While it stinks to be a publisher these days, the bigger issue is your data — you should decide how it is used and resold (yes, companies sell your data and make loads of cash).

Apple and Microsoft appear ready to take on Facebook and Google on this front and it appears that some governments beyond Australia appear ready to follow its lead to protect content providers.

You may want to reach out to your members of Congress to see what they have to say about the issue — and what they plan to do about it.  

It is your data — you should decide how (and if) it is used and be compensated for its resale.


You may have seen the issues about the lack of vaccine — hell, you probably have been frustrated in trying to get an appointment for yourself or a family member. Based on the comments on some of our sites, people are finding it hard to get information, let alone appointments for their shots.

While Chester County’s Web site probably needs more and better information about the vaccination process — the feedback I’m getting is that it is confusing, especially for older, less Web-savvy users — the primary issue is the lack of vaccines coming to the county from the state. 

The blame for that does not fall on Chester County Health, which has run an extremely organized and effective system to get shots in arms — and is ready to expand that effort. 

The problem: County Health is not getting enough vaccine from the state.

Yes, the state is not getting enough vaccine from producers and the federal government — the ramp up continues to be slower than hoped, after what was a botched effort by the previous administration in Washington, D.C. But it has also been distributing vaccine to less effective operations — more than half of vaccine doses coming to the county have been shunted away from Chester County Health.

The good news: more vaccine is coming and it appears that the state will start using common sense in terms of distribution and will increase the percentage of those doses coming to Chester County Health in the coming weeks. One hopes that the county will improve its outreach to the community to better explain the process to the public.

It is frustrating for all involved — but it seems fair to expect an improvement in supply in the coming weeks.

It is hard to be patient, I know, but I suspect that things will look a lot different in March. By April, it is hoped that anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one and the effort will move to persuasion of those less interested in getting their shots.

We’re close. Hang in there.

   Send article as PDF   

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment