Technology has provided numerous opportunities that didn't exist as little as 10 years ago. With the push of a button, we can watch a random video clip from 1970, or order a left-handed back scratcher delivered to our door in 24 hours.
And yet, there's a downside.
What happens when the companies providing us with this technology get too big? What happens when they invade our privacy or use their size to engage in unfair business practices? Google's Project Nightingale is a primary example of how the big tech companies invade our privacy. The company partnered with Ascension Health, a network of providers in 21 states, to get access to patients' health records. The deal is supposedly to provide Ascension with batches of aggregate health care data. However, given Google's less-than-stellar track record on data privacy, the public is right to be concerned. The Wall Street Journal broke the original story and discovered that both doctors and patients were unaware that their data was being shared. Just last week a bipartisan group of US Senators wrote to Ascension Health, asking for more details of the partnership, as it is unclear who has access to what patient data.
Thankfully, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is looking out for the interests of North Carolina's consumers. Last fall, Attorney General Stein announced that the state would be joining a multi-state investigation of Google for antitrust practices. The mess with Project Nightingale will hopefully be a part of that investigation. It's not just Google that should have Attorney General Stein concerned. Amazon is also engaging in unfair business practices. Recently, several national labor unions asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Amazon for:
• depressing wages in markets where the company is a major employer,
• favoring the products of companies who pay for other Amazon services, and,
• tying search rankings to the products of companies who directly boost Amazon's profits.
Here in North Carolina, Amazon directly impacts our workforce by hiring many delivery drivers on a contract basis – meaning that no medical benefits or paid leave are offered the way a traditionally hired employee might receive. In the long term, hiring contract workers drives down the wages at other delivery companies such as United Parcel Service and the US Postal Service as these employers must cut costs to compete.North Carolinians deserve a complete picture of how these big technology companies like Google and Amazon are impacting our economy and putting our private personal information at risk. Attorney General Stein has made a good start with his antitrust investigation of Google. It's time to expand that playing field to include Amazon.