【经济学人】网络科
技巨头应如何监管?

“当我们 越来越依赖亚马逊网购,通过谷歌获取信息,运用脸书社交,就越将 自己置身于错误的信息和狭隘的文化当中,将自己 封闭于个人世界,聆听同一种声音,思考同一个想法——这将是 一个没有思想的世界。”

——富兰克林·弗尔 

 

网络科 技巨头应如何监管?

 

【经济学人】网络科
技巨头应如何监管?

 

译者:黄倩霞

校对:刘   蕊

策划:刘   璠

 

Taming the titans

驯服巨人

 

本文选自 The Economist | 取经号原创翻译

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Google, Facebook and Amazon are increasingly dominant. How should they be controlled?

谷歌、脸书、亚马逊 越来越成为市场的主导。该如何应对?

 

NOT long ago, being the boss of a big Western tech firm was a dream job. As the billions rolled in, so did the plaudits: Google, Facebook, Amazon and others were making the world a better place. Today these companies are accused of being BAADD—big, anti-competitive, addictive and destructive to democracy. Regulators fine them, politicians grill them and one-time backers warn of their power to cause harm.

不久前,西方科 技公司总裁是许多人梦寐已求的工作。科技公 司吸引了数以十亿计的投资,获得了铺天盖地的赞许:谷歌、脸书、亚马逊让世界更美好。但如今,这些大 企业却被指责危害市场竞争,使人上瘾,威胁民主。不仅成 为规则制定者和政客诘难的对象,先前的 支持者也忌惮它们的巨大能力会造成危害。

plaudit n. [‘plɔːdɪt]  enthusiastic approval 喝彩、赞美

 

Much of this techlash is misguided. The presumption that big businesses must necessarily be wicked is plain wrong. Apple is to be admired as the world’s most valuable listed company for the simple reason that it makes things people want to buy, even while facing fierce competition. Many online services would be worse if their providers were smaller. Evidence for the link between smartphones and unhappiness is weak. Fake news is not only an online phenomenon.

对科技 公司的抵制大多具有误导性。认为企 业一旦做大就一定会出现不道德的行为更是大错特错。苹果公 司是全球最具价值的企业,原因很简单,因为即 便身处激烈的市场竞争当中,它依旧 能生产出人们愿意买的产品。对互联 网服务供应商来说,规模变 小就意味着提供的服务质量变差。人们指 责手机会带来不幸福,这点并不足为据。假新闻 也不是互联网独有的现象。

 

But big tech platforms, particularly Facebook, Google and Amazon, do indeed raise a worry about fair competition. That is partly because they often benefit from legal exemptions. Unlike publishers, Facebook and Google are rarely held responsible for what users do on them; and for years most American buyers on Amazon did not pay sales tax. Nor do the titans simply compete in a market. Increasingly, they are the market itself, providing the infrastructure (or “platforms”) for much of the digital economy. Many of their services appear to be free, but users “pay” for them by giving away their data. Powerful though they already are, their huge stockmarket valuations suggest that investors are counting on them to double or even triple in size in the next decade.

但大型科技公司,尤其是脸书、谷歌和 亚马逊确实影响了市场的公平竞争。部分原 因在于这些企业免于承担许多法律责任。不像出版商,脸书和 谷歌几乎不需要为用户行为负责,多年来,亚马逊 上大部分美国用户也绕过了消费税。这些科 技巨头根本不用参与市场竞争,因为它 们就是市场本身,为数字 经济提供着最基本的平台。很多服 务看起来是免费的,实际上,用户在 用自己个人信息为这些服务“买单”。这些巨 头企业实力已经足够雄厚,但从它 们惊人的股值仍可以看出投资者们的热情,他们还 指望这些企业能在未来十年里扩大一倍甚至两倍。

 

There is thus a justified fear that the tech titans will use their power to protect and extend their dominance, to the detriment of consumers. The tricky task for policymakers is to restrain them without unduly stifling innovation.

由此,担心这 些科技巨头会以牺牲消费者利益为代价,维持巩 固市场主导地位,是情有可原的。对政策制定者来说,如何限 制这些企业的垄断行为同时不阻碍科技创新,这是个棘手的问题。

detriment  n.  [‘detrɪm(ə)nt] harm or damage 损害、伤害、不利

 

The less severe contest

竞争“不”激烈

 

The platforms have become so dominant because they benefit from “network effects”. Size begets size: the more sellers Amazon, say, can attract, the more buyers will shop there, which attracts more sellers, and so on. By some estimates, Amazon captures over 40% of online shopping in America. With more than 2bn monthly users, Facebook holds sway over the media industry. Firms cannot do without Google, which in some countries processes more than 90% of web searches. Facebook and Google control two-thirds of America’s online ad revenues.

这些科 技巨头的垄断优势获益于“网络效应”。就像滚雪球一样:亚马逊 吸引更多的卖家,就会带来更多的买家,随之就 会有更多卖家入驻,不断循环。据估计,百分之 四十的美国人用亚马逊网购。脸书月用户达二十亿,在社交 媒体中占绝对主导地位。许多企 业依靠谷歌运作,在一些 国家百分之九十的人上网搜索都用谷歌。美国网 络广告的总收入脸书和谷歌占了三分之二。

 

America’s trustbusters have given tech giants the benefit of the doubt. They look for consumer harm, which is hard to establish when prices are falling and services are “free”. The firms themselves stress that a giant-killing startup is just a click away and that they could be toppled by a new technology, such as the blockchain. Before Google and Facebook, Alta Vista and MySpace were the bee’s knees. Who remembers them?

美国联 邦反托拉斯检察官对科技巨头公司的态度仍保持中立。他们正 审查这些公司是否存在损害消费者的行为。这是非常困难的,因为这 些科技公司的服务价格越来越低,很多甚至是“免费”的。在这些科技巨头看来,大企业 很容易被新的创业公司取代,也有可 能会被新技术推翻,比如区块链技术。在谷歌 和脸书出现之前,Alta Vista和MySpace主导着市场,现在谁还记得它们呢?

 

However, the barriers to entry are rising. Facebook not only owns the world’s largest pool of personal data, but also its biggest “social graph”—the list of its members and how they are connected. Amazon has more pricing information than any other firm. Voice assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant, will give them even more control over how people experience the internet. China’s tech firms have the heft to compete, but are not about to get unfettered access to Western consumers.

同时,进入市 场的门槛越来越高。脸书不 仅掌握着世界上最多的个人数据,也是世界上最大的“社交网”——拥有众多用户,且彼此之间相互联系。亚马逊 掌握着最有价值的信息。语音助手如亚马逊Alexa、Google助手,让这两 家公司进一步掌控了用户的网络行为。在技术层面,中国的 科技公司能够分庭抗礼,但面向大部分西方消 费者这点却很难做到。

unfettered adj. [‘ʌn’fetəd] uncontrolled 不加约束的

 

If this trend runs its course, consumers will suffer as the tech industry becomes less vibrant. Less money will go into startups, most good ideas will be bought up by the titans and, one way or another, the profits will be captured by the giants.

如果这 一趋势继续发展,科技产业缺乏活力,消费者 因此会受到损害。创业公 司获得的投资减少,巨头公 司买断了大部分科技创新,赚得盆满钵满。

 

The early signs are already visible. The European Commission has accused Google of using control of Android, its mobile operating system, to give its own apps a leg up. Facebook keeps buying firms which could one day lure users away: first Instagram, then WhatsApp and most recently tbh, an app that lets teenagers send each other compliments anonymously. Although Amazon is still increasing competition in aggregate, as industries from groceries to television can attest, it can also spot rivals and squeeze them from the market.

现在已可以初见端倪。欧盟委 员会控告谷歌运用自己开发的手机运行系统——安卓系统,推广谷歌旗下应用。脸书不 断收购未来会对自己构成威胁的公司:先是Instagram,再是WhatsApp,又如最近的初创公司tbh,该公司 开发了一款面向青少年用的应用tbn,用户可 以在该平台匿名称赞朋友。虽然亚 马逊总体上在加大市场竞争,零售业电视销售业都足以为证,但同时 亚马逊也注意着可能会撼动自己地位的对手,把他们挤出市场。

attest  v. [ə’test] to show or prove that something is true 证明、证实

 

The rivalry remedy

应对措施

 

What to do? In the past, societies have tackled monopolies either by breaking them up, as with Standard Oil in 1911, or by regulating them as a public utility, as with AT&T in 1913. Today both those approaches have big drawbacks. The traditional tools of utilities regulation, such as price controls and profit caps, are hard to apply, since most products are free and would come at a high price in forgone investment and innovation. Likewise, a full-scale break-up would cripple the platforms’ economies of scale, worsening the service they offer consumers. And even then, in all likelihood one of the Googlettes or Facebabies would eventually sweep all before it as the inexorable logic of network effects reasserted itself.

如何应 对巨头企业的垄断?根据历史经验,有两种可行的方案,一种是 拆解垄断的大公司,如1911年标准石油案例(美国最高法院1911年要求 造成市场垄断的标准石油公司拆解成34家独立公司),第二种 是将该行业规定为公用事业,如1913年美国 电话电报公司案例(1913年美国 电话电报公司垄断长途电话市场,美国政 府对其提出反垄断起诉,公司最 终承诺停止收购其他小型电话公司)。但如今 这两种方案都有很大的局限性。传统的管控方式,如控制物价、限制利润都很难实施,因为目 前大多数产品都是免费的,而且可 能会打击先前的投资和创新成果。同样地,大规模 拆解会很大程度上削弱企业的经济规模,降低企 业为用户提供的服务质量。即便拆 解了这些大企业,“小谷歌”、“小脸书”之类的 分公司或许也会再次横扫市场,印证“网络效应”。

inexorable adj.  [ɪn’eks(ə)rəb(ə)l] an inexorable process cannot be stopped 不可阻挡的、无法改变的

 

The lack of a simple solution deprives politicians of easy slogans, but does not leave trustbusters impotent. Two broad changes of thinking would go a long way towards sensibly taming the titans. 

政客们 想不出简单的解决方案,也打不出适合的口号,但反托 拉斯检察官们却不至于束手无策。两种思 维方式上的深刻转变能够有效削弱这些科技巨头的市场垄断地位。

impotent adj.  [‘ɪmpət(ə)nt] unable to take effective action because you do not have enough power, strength, or control 无能为力的

 

The first is to make better use of existing competition law. Trustbusters should scrutinise mergers to gauge whether a deal is likely to neutralise a potential long-term threat, even if the target is small at the time. Such scrutiny might have prevented Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and Google’s of Waze, which makes navigation software. To ensure that the platforms do not favour their own products, oversight groups could be set up to deliberate on complaints from rivals—a bit like the independent “technical committee” created by the antitrust case against Microsoft in 2001. Immunity to content liability must go, too.

第一种 是运用好目前的市场竞争法。反托拉 斯检察官们应该仔细审查企业并购,判断是 否有可能消除潜在、长远的威胁,即使被 收购的企业目前规模还很小。如果先 前就有这类审查,脸书收购Instagram、谷歌收购导航软件Waze的案例就不会发生了。为确保 科技巨头不偏重自己开发的产品,还可成 立审查小组审议对手的投诉——如2001年反微 软垄断案后成立的“科技委员会”。科技公 司必须对平台上发布的内容负起责任。

 

Second, trustbusters need to think afresh about how tech markets work. A central insight, one increasingly discussed among economists and regulators, is that personal data are the currency in which customers actually buy services. Through that prism, the tech titans receive valuable information—on their users’ behaviour, friends and purchasing habits—in return for their products. Just as America drew up sophisticated rules about intellectual property in the 19th century, so it needs a new set of laws to govern the ownership and exchange of data, with the aim of giving solid rights to individuals.

第二,反托拉 斯检察官们还需要重新思考科技市场的运作模式。最核心的一点,也是经 济学家和监管者经常提及的一点,如今个 人数据已经成了人们购买服务的新货币。因此,科技巨 头公司在提供免费产品的同时获得了用户行为、社交圈、购物习惯等宝贵信息。美国在19世纪制 定了一系列知识产权法,如今需 要新的法律来监管对个人信息的拥有和交换,让个人权益受到保护。

 

In essence this means giving people more control over their information. If a user so desires, key data should be made available in real time to other firms—as banks in Europe are now required to do with customers’ account information. Regulators could oblige platform firms to make anonymised bulk data available to competitors, in return for a fee, a bit like the compulsory licensing of a patent. Such data-sharing requirements could be calibrated to firms’ size: the bigger platforms are, the more they have to share. These mechanisms would turn data from something titans hoard, to suppress competition, into something users share, to foster innovation.

事实上 这意味着让个人更好地掌控自己的信息。如果用户有需要,关键数 据应该即时提供给其他公司——欧洲银 行就可实时提供用户的账户信息。监管者 可以要求科技公司向竞争对手匿名提供批量数据,收取一定费用,类似专利强制许可。这种共 享信息的要求可以根据企业规模作调整:企业越大,要共享的数据就越多。这种机 制能避免巨头企业独享用户数据,抑制市场竞争,从而营 造数据共享的环境、促进创新。

hoard [V, VN] to collect and keep large amounts of food, money, etc., especially secretly 贮藏;囤积;(尤指)秘藏

 

None of this will be simple, but it would tame the titans without wrecking the gains they have brought. Users would find it easier to switch between services. Upstart competitors would have access to some of the data that larger firms hold and thus be better equipped to grow to maturity without being gobbled up. And shareholders could no longer assume monopoly profits for decades to come.

这两种 方法实行起来都有难度,但好处在于,在削弱 巨头企业市场垄断地位的同时,不会影 响到企业提供的服务。用户也 会有更多的选择。创业公 司能共享巨头企业的数据,就更有 可能发展壮大而不至于被吞并。未来几十年里,股东也 不可能再指望垄断能带来暴利了。

gobble v. [‘gɒb(ə)l] to eat something very quickly, especially in an impolite or greedy way 狼吞虎咽