Billion-dollar fines can't stop Google and Facebook. That's peanuts for them

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During the same 48 hours this week in which Facebook agreed to pay the largest corporate fine in the history of the US Federal Trade Commission for massive and repetitive violations of a similar agreement from 2012, and the US justice department announced a sweeping antitrust investigation of Facebook, Google, and Amazon, the company also announced it’s doing better than ever.

On Wednesday Facebook reported to its shareholders that it made $16.9bn in the second quarter of 2019 – a 28% increase over the second quarter of 2018. At that rate, it takes Facebook only 27 days to pay the $5bn fine from the FTC.

That’s one reason Facebook stock surged on Wednesday after the major announcements of regulatory intervention. Meanwhile, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, the other major target of government scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic keeps moving up both in market capitalization and revenue. No collection of scandals, errors, embarrassments, hearings, threats of regulation, fines, or public scoldings like this one seem to able to stall these two companies in their quest to become the operating systems of our lives.

The world has never seen anything like Google. The world has never seen anything like Facebook.

When pundits, legislators, and regulators propose interventions to curb the excesses of these companies, they invariably reach back in time for patterns to guide them. They try to compare a mid-20th-century US telephone company like AT&T to a global collection of servers and algorithms that delivers links and advertisements to billions of people who are trying to find driving directions, weather forecasts, or to settle bar bets. They imagine – foolishly – that “data are the new oil” and compare John Rockerfeller’s Standard Oil monopoly of the late 19th century to a social networking service that allows 2.4 billion people to upload text, video, and images about their lives and politics.
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