Opinionated @ CFE

Mike Lee Channels Orrin Hatch’s Tech-Ignorant Ways


I’ve gone on the record saying that I think Mike Lee is a poser, someone who was at the right place at the right time saying the right things to get elected to the US Senate to replace “Bailout Bob” Bennett. I’ve doubted his sincerity from the moment the candidate nobody had heard of started a series of “lectures on the constitution” ahead of his official announcement. Just yesterday, he announced via Twitter and Facebook that he plans to take on Google in anti-trust hearings. The reasoning behind this shows a dangerous lack of understanding about both free markets and technology.

Lee almost immediately cites concerns from “those who follow the tech industry” that Google “could be acting to harm competition”. We should all be asking immediately who these concerned individuals are. Odds are good that those “concerned” are those who simply cannot build a better mousetrap and are trying to use the power of the federal government to give their own inferior products a leg up. (Yeah, Bing, I went there.) Without knowing the source of the complaints, we are left to assume the worst, that we’re in a Mandy Rice-Davies situation.

Lee then continues to express concern about Google’s dominance in the search sector. This, however, seems completely ignorant of tech history and how many other search giants have come crashing down. Remember when Yahoo was on top of the search game? It’s but a distant memory. I doubt many of you will even remember AltaVista or Webcrawler, but they too fell to better products. We’re already seeing a slow migration of some users to Blekko or Wolfram Alpha, frustrated that Google is having so much trouble keeping out the content farms and black hat SEOs. Even Bing has picked up a small following with a few innovative features designed around organizing like data.

Once a search engine no longer does search well, people will bolt and there is nothing to keep them from doing so. The kind of stickiness that Microsoft enjoys on the desktop does not exist on the Internet. If it did, Facebook and it’s unportable data ways would be a much better example of it, but even that may be solved if Diaspora ends up taking off. Google has its own list of very notable failures including Wave, Knol, Coupons, and many others.

Most of these services are currently being provided by other companies that figured out how to do it right. Foursquare beats Latitude handily. Twitter trounces Buzz. Orkut couldn’t even beat Friendster or MySpace, much less Facebook. Google TV just can’t best Apple TV, Roku, or Boxee. Google is not the unstoppable behemoth that its competition makes it out to be. As big and creative as they are, they, much like Microsoft, have spent billions on abject failures.

This brings up a greater point: the Internet is very good at fixing itself most of the time. Censorship is treated as damage and routed around. Closed systems that try to hold your data hostage (like AOL) collapse against the power and flexibility of open standards and communication. Google does a reasonably good job of letting you pick up your toys and going home if you so choose. In the face of all of this, I’ve got to wonder why a US Senator is going to resort to concern trolling, especially when it runs counter to his central campaign message that he would take a scorched earth policy with the federal government.

Let’s also get some perspective on their tracking activities. Answer this question honestly: how often does Google display ads that have absolutely no relevance to you, even when you’re logged in with your Google account? For me, it’s more often than not. If they can know exactly who I am, have access to all of my e-mail from the last six years, and still can’t show ads that mean sometime to me, they are nowhere near as dangerous to my privacy as many of us would like to think.

Senator Lee’s dangerously ignorant anti-Google screed shows that he and his staff lack adequate education on technologies issues. It also raises very serious questions as to who has pushed the Senator to take such low-information positions. In my book, this moves Lee from somewhat innocuous poser to a dangerous force in Washington. Sorry, Mike, but you’ve sealed your fate with this techie.

PS: As an extra gem, Senator Lee tweeted just moments later “No other business should come before the Senate that doesn’t focus on spending or debt until we have funded the government.” Except for his Google witch hunt, right?

6 Responses to Mike Lee Channels Orrin Hatch’s Tech-Ignorant Ways

  1. Excellent post, Jesse. I was incredibly skeptical of Lee in the beginning, and now it seems that my reservations are justified. Mike Lee, like many other conservatives, rhetorically supports free-markets, but his actions prove otherwise.

    He definitely hasn’t deceived this libertarian.

  2. It drives me absolutely nuts when elected officials claim they are getting a groundswell of feedback in support of their position on a particular issue and yet are unable to identify a single person who has contacted them. I fear that often it’s a hybrid of astroturfing and old fashioned bullshrimping.

    So, Senator Lee, who are these concerned techies that have your ear?

  3. The laser focus of the GOP on jobs is simple a sight to behold. Follow the money!

  4. Speculation:

    “This is a classic fund-raising ploy. You let it be known that you are going to hold hearings into “issues” relating to XYZ company’s “anti-trust” position.
    You say that the hearings will be coming in the months ahead. Then you fund-raise from all concerned; the companies being investigated and those that seek to dethrone them.
    When I covered politics in Massachusetts, they used to call this ‘the utility ball’ (because there it was all about shaking down the gas and electric and telephone companies.)”


  5. You called it. Senator Lee is a poser, and not innocuous. He won’t be happy until the federal government shuts down and defaults on its debt.

    I used to use AltaVista all the time. Now I just realized I haven’t thought of it for years.

  6. I met all the Senate candidates last year. None of them were perfect. Few had a real public record that meant much of anything, and the ones who had a record appeared to be in the pockets of big government. I took my chances on Lee who made the most convincing pitch about getting our federal government under control, and I challenge anyone to point out a candidate who was more believable (attacking entitlements in front of an unhappy crowd shows a man who’s consistent regardless of wind direction *cough* Romney).

    Lee never pretended to be a Libertarian, but he pitched himself as constitutionalist, and Google definitely spans interstate commerce. There are real privacy concerns that Google (and every telco) needs to be responsive to.

    Given the nature of politics, I’m skeptical of anyone involved. If you look at Lee and see an opportunist, I’ll look for proof, and help you take him down if I find it. If this was a money shakedown, let’s see the public record of donations released in the near future.

    As for shutting down the federal government, that sounds like a great idea. They do a lot more harm than good, and I think we could carry on without them for a while.

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