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Silicon Valley and the State: Amazon, Cloud Computing and Corporate Rule

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Stefanie Ullmann.

In 2018, Henry Farrell, Margaret Levi and Tim O’Reilly co-authored an article on Vox entitled, “Mark Zuckerberg runs a nation-state, and he’s the king.” On the one hand, this headline is objectively false: Facebook is not a state. On the other, the article reflects the growing unease amongst the public and within academia that technology corporations like Facebook exercise power beyond which can be expected of mere corporations—and that may be more like or on par with states. In this presentation, I will explore how the enforcement of property on and through the “cloud” has created new power dynamics between corporations, states and individuals. For example, Facebook routinely locks users out of their accounts; Google has prevented users from accessing their own Google documents if they are found to include “terrorist” content; and Amazon’s AWS caused the alternative media site Parler to go entirely offline when they terminated their service agreement after the Capitol Hill attacks. Additionally, states themselves are currently outsourcing much of their own digital infrastructure to corporate cloud computing providers. I will examine how corporations may have more control over individuals, and rely less on the state, in enforcing property rights by examining the effects of Amazon’s Internet of Things, the use of landlord tech, and how other “smart” property like cars may be remotely controlled.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group series.

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