c. Financial Times

"Automation is information and it not only ends jobs in the world of work, it ends subjects in the world of learning.
It does not end the world of learning. The future of work consists of earning a living in the automation age.
This is a familiar pattern in electric technology in general. It ends the old dichotomies between culture and technology,
between art and commerce, and between work and leisure. Whereas in the mechanical age of fragmentation
leisure had been the absence of work, or mere idleness, the reverse is true in the electric age. As the age of information demands
the simultaneous use of all our faculties, we discover that we are most at leisure when we are most intensely involved,
very much as with the artists in all ages."
- Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), p. 378.

Big Tech & Society: Policy & Activism
School of Media Studies
The New School
Spring 2021

Instructor: Peter Asaro asarop AT newschool.edu
CRN: 8890
Time: Monday, 6:00 - 7:50 pm (ET)
Location: Synchronous Online (ZOOM)

Course webpage is here: http://peterasaro.org/courses/2021BigTech.html

Course blog is here: http://bigtech2021.wordpress.com/

Course Description

A handful of internet companies have captured vast global markets for their products and services, and leveraged their platforms to capture even more. Several are now valued at more than $1 trillion, with greater wealth and reach than many countries. These companies and their technologies have become integral to our economy and reshaped our social lives. These companies are also increasingly being accused of holding monopolistic power, violating anti-trust laws, engaging in anti-competitive practices, violating individual privacy rights, engaging in unfair labor practices, enabling anti-social behaviors, contributing to political division, and empowering violent extremism including terrorism and genocide. Given the power and resources these companies have, and the great potential for both positive and negative impacts on society, how can the public hold them accountable?

This course will examine the social and legal issues raised by the biggest and most influential of these companies, from Amazon's growing monopoly over retail sales, to Google and Facebook's growing monopoly over advertising, to the impact on traditional media from newspaper journalism to film and television, to the rise of the sharing/gig economy, to the battle over net neutrality, to social media's anti-democratic effects, and to how the algorithms these companies deploy impact society and how much of their power is derived from the collection of personal data and its often biased analysis and application. In addition to analyzing the legal and social issues raised by the practices of these companies, we will examine the various policy proposals for reigning in their power, from anti-trust laws to privacy protections, we will consider what regulations might achieve a better society. We will also look at grassroots activism aimed at confronting the power of these companies. From boycotts to worker-led initiatives and platform co-operativism, we will consider the power of the people to shape these companies outside of governmental regulation.

Students will be required to make regular blog entries based on the assigned readings, participate in online class discussions via Zoom, and write two 7-9 page papers, or create short multi-media presentations, during the course of the semester.


Class Attendance & Participation 30%
Blog Entries & Comments: 30%
First Paper or Media Project 20%
Second Paper or Media Project: 20%

Class Attendance and Participation: 30%

You are expected to have thoroughly and thoughtfully read the assigned texts, viewed the assigned videos, and to have prepared yourself to contribute meaningfully to the class discussions. For some people, that preparation requires taking copious notes on the assigned readings; for others, it entails supplementing the assigned readings with explanatory texts found in survey textbooks or in online sources; and for others still, it involves reading the texts, ruminating on them afterwards, then discussing those readings with classmates before the class meeting. Whatever method best suits you, I hope you will arrive at class with copies of the assigned reading, ready and willing to make yourself a valued contributor to the discussion, and eager to share your own relevant media experiences and interests. Your participation will be evaluated in terms of both quantity and quality.

As this is a seminar, regular attendance is essential. You will be permitted two excused absences (you must notify me of your inability to attend before class, via email). Any subsequent absences and any un-excused absences will adversely affect your grade.

If you must take the class "asynchronously" due to scheduling or time-zone conflicts, you must make arrangements with me for your class participation at the beginning of the semester. In most cases this will consist of watching the posted videos of the weekly discussion, and posting an additional weekly blog entry with your reflections on the week's topic and readings (approx. 1 page or 500 words).

Blog Entries & Comments: 30%

You will be required to make weekly blog entries commenting on the assigned readings and any additional related material you discover on your own and wish to share with the class.

You will be required to create an account on WordPress (if you do not already have one), and will receive an email invitation to be added as an author to the private collective course blog. Everyone will be posting to a common blog page, and this will be readable by your classmates, but not by people outside of the class. When writing and making comments, you are expected to treat other students with the same respect and courtesy as you should in the classroom, and to cite the sources of any text or quotes you use in accordance with academic honesty policies.

You are also expected to read the posts of your classmates, and encouraged to comment on other people's posts each week. Posts will not be graded but I, and other students, will read them and occasionally comment on them. There will be 12 posts worth 2 Points (on-time) or 1 point (late) required through the semester (not required on days when papers/projects are due), thus 24 points, plus 6 points for comments on the posts of other students, totalling 30% of your grade.

Blog posts will be due before the start of each class. They are time stamped when you post them, and late posts will only receive half credit (1 point). There is no specific assignment for each post, but they should express your reactions to and reflections on your readings and the topic for that week.

First Paper or Media Project 20%
Second Paper or Media Project: 20%
There will be no final exam.

There are two research projects required for the semester. There are 2 options for each: Research/Analysis Paper Option, and Media Project Option.

First Paper or Media Project Due: March 8
Paper Length: 3000-5000 words (approx. 6-10 pages), Media Projects of equivalent effort

Second Paper or Media Project Due: May 11
Paper Length: 3000-5000 words (approx. 6-10 pages), Media Projects of equivalent effort

Project topics can address any aspect of the topics and materials discussed in class. Projects should include materials beyond what is directly covered in class, as appropriate for your topic. In other words, they should require research. You media journal and blog entires will provide many ideas for projects, as will class discussion. You should develop one of these into a more in depth analysis through additional research to try to answer a question, or argue a position, you feel is important.

Research Paper Option
This will take the form of a 3000-5000 word (Times New Roman, 12pt font, double spaced) term paper. You should draw upon sources from the course readings as well as beyond the course readings. You should cite your sources properly.

Media Project Option
Media Projects can take the form of film and video pieces, audio documentaries, websites, interactive media, performance pieces, infographics, a social media campaign strategy, or other ideas. In addition to the actual media product, you will need to submit a short written piece explaining your project, its motivations, methods and what you did to realize it.

Papers should be submitted to me in electronic form by email (Word Perfect, MS Word, PDF, HTML and plain TXT are all fine). All assignments are due at 6pm at the start of class on the day they are due. Late final papers will not be accepted, as I must turn in grades shortly thereafter.


All readings will be available electronically, via the web, in PDF, MS Word, HTML, or similar format. You are welcome and encouraged to buy any of the books used.


All of the Zoom lecture/discussion sessions will be recorded. Recordings will only be made available to members of the class through a Google Drive.

NOTE: By attending this class you consent to being recorded.

Weekly Topics & Readings

Week 1: January 25
Course Introduction

Course Syllabus Overview

Student Introductions

How to create a WordPress Account, and make a Blog Entry

Discuss in Class (please Watch and Explore BEFORE class):

Watch: Werner Herzog, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, 2016, 98 min.

Explore: Jon Huang, Karl Russell and Jack Nicas, "Apple's Value Hit $1 Trillion. Add Disney to Bank of America and... You're Halfway There," New York Times, August 2, 2018.

Thursday, January 28
"Digital Care & Cruelty" Panel Discussion (Zoom),
Big Data at the Margins Lecture Series, Western University, Canada

Week 2: February 1
Surveillance Capitalism & The Attention Economy


Shoshana Zuboff, "The Coup We Are Not Talking About," New York Times, January 29, 2021.

Shoshana Zuboff, "The Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization," Journal of Information Technology, 30(1), 2015, pp. 75-89.

Watch: Jeff Orlowski, The Social Dilemma NetFlix, 2020, 94 min.

Watch: VPRO Documentary, "Shoshana Zuboff on surveillance capitalism," You Tube, December 20, 2019, 50 min.

John Lanchester, "You Are the Product," London Review of Books, August 17, 2017.

Antonio Garcia Martinez, "I Helped Create Facebook's Ad Machine. Here's How I'd Fix It," Wired, September 22, 2017.

Watch: Tristan Harris, "How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day," TED, July 28, 2017, 17 min.

Watch: Tim Wu, "Talks at Google: The Attention Merchants" YouTube, December 16, 2016, 35 min.

Cecilia Kang, "Democratic Congress Prepares to Take On Big Tech," New York Times, January 26, 2021.

Lisa Lerer and Astead W. Herndon, "Lawmakers Look at GameStop Furor and See a Populist Issue to Seize," New York Times, January 31, 2021.


Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Public Affairs, 2018.

Tim Wu, The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads, Vintage Books, 2016.

Watch: Tim Wu, "The Attention Merchants", 2017 Grafstein Lecture in Communications, University of Toronto Law School, YouTube, April 13, 2017, 88 min.

Week 3: February 8
The History of Anti-Trust


Maurice E. Stucke and Ariel Ezrachi, "The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the U.S. Antitrust Movement," Harvard Business Review, December 15, 2017.

"History of United States antitrust law", Wikipedia.

Watch: "Google, Facebook, Amazon And The Future Of Antitrust Laws," CNBC, August 16, 2019, 12 min.

Watch: "The Evolution of U.S. Antitrust Law," CNBC, August 16, 2019, 12 min.

"Breakup of the Bell System", Wikipedia.

Watch: "How AT&T Doubled in Size After a Government Breakup," Tech Insider, March 2, 2018, 8 min.

Watch: "The Breakup of AT&T in the 1980s," The Communicators, C-SPAN, November 19, 2012, 27 min.

Listen: "Antitrust 1: Standard Oil," Planet Money, NPR, February 15, 2019, 23 min.

Listen: "Antitrust 2: The Paradox," Planet Money, NPR, February 20, 2019, 23 min.

Listen: "Antitrust 3: Big Tech," Planet Money, NPR, February 22, 2019, 23 min.

More on Attention Economy:Charlie Warzel, "I Talked to the Cassandra of the Internet Age," New York Times, February 4, 2021.


Robert W. Crandall, "The AT&T Divestiture: Was it Necessary? Was it a Success?," U.S. Department of Justice, March 28, 2007.

"Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890", Wikipedia.

"Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. United States", Wikipedia.

"United States v. AT&T", Wikipedia.

Week of February 15
NO CLASS due to Presidents' Day

Week 4: February 22
Microsoft, Google & Apple Antitrust Suits


"United States v. Microsoft Corp.", Wikipedia.

Watch: "The Microsoft Monopoly," The Science Elf, March 9, 2019, 18 min.

Victor Luckerson (2018) "'Crush Them': An Oral History of the Lawsuit That Upended Silicon Valley," The Ringer, May 18, 2018.

Chris Butts (2010) "The Microsoft Case 10 Years Later: Antitrust and New Leading “New Economy” Firms," Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property, Vol. 8, No. 2, Spring 2010, pp. 275-291.

Watch: "Why Google is Being Sued by the Justice Department," Wall Street Journal, October 20, 2020, 6 min.

Rani Molla and Adam Clark Estes (2020) "Google's Three Antitrust Cases, Briefly Explained," Vox, December 17, 2020.

Lauren Feiner (2020) "Google's Antitrust Mess: Here are All the Major Cases it's Facing in the U.S. and Europe," CNBC, December 18, 2020.

Martin Coulter (2021) "Google faces two fresh antitrust lawsuits in the EU over its data gathering and advertising practices," Business Insider, January 25, 2021.

Watch: "What Facebook, Google and Others Can Learn From Microsoft's Antitrust Case," Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2019, 8 min.

Dipyan Ghosh and Loully Saney, "Why Action Against Google is Not Enough," Foreign Policy, October 20, 2020.

Barry Collins, "Apple Accused of 'Bullying' App Developer Blix," Forbes, February 13, 2021.

Valentina Pop, "Epic Games Files Antitrust Complaint Against Apple in Europe," Wall Street Journal, February 17, 2021.

Jack Nicas, "Big Tech's Unlikely Next Battleground: North Dakota," New York Times, February 14, 2021.

Mike Isaac, Daisuke Wakabayashi, Damien Cave and Edmund Lee, "Facebook Blocks News in Australia, Diverging With Google on Proposed Law," New York Times, February 17, 2021.

Watch: "Developers vs. App Store: Apple's Fights, Explained," Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2020, 8 min.

Watch: "The Apple App Store Exposed: Worst of the Tech Industry," TechLead, June 18, 2020, 10 min.


Watch: "The Story of Microsoft: How A Computer Club Took Over The World," Jack Chapple, October 29, 2019, 18 min.

Watch: "How Does Microsoft Make Money? (Not Bill Gates's Microsoft Anymore)," The Market is Open, October 8, 2020, 18 min.

Watch: "The Invention And History of Google," Silicon Valley: The Untold Story Discovery UK, June 10, 2018, 6 min.

Watch: "How Google Search Works (in 5 minutes)," Google, October 24, 2019, 5 min.

Week 5: March 1
The Case(s) of Amazon


Kiri Masters (2020) "Amazon Antitrust Report Reveals 'Strong-Arm' Negotiating Tactics With Brands," Forbes, October 8, 2020.

Todd Bishop (2020) "Report: Amazon to be hit with antitrust charges as soon as next week over third-party seller data," Geek Wire, June 11, 2020.

Tyler Sonnemaker (2021) "Amazon hit with class-action antitrust lawsuit alleging it colluded with major publishers to illegally drive up e-book prices by 30%," Business Insider, January 14, 2021.

Leah Nylen (2020) "Why Amazon may have the Most to Lose from Tech’s Hill Showdown," Politico, July 29, 2020.

Lina M. Khan (2017) "Amazon's Antitrust Paradox," The Yale Law Journal, Vol 126, No. 3, January, 2017, pp. 710-805.

Maureen Tkacik "What Jeff Bezos Hath Wrought," The New York Times, February 8, 2021.

Edward Ongweso Jr. "Why Amazon Is Flooding the Country With $15 Minimum Wage Ads," Motherboard, February 25, 2021.

Lauren Kaori Gurley "Secret Amazon Reports Expose the Company’s Surveillance of Labor and Environmental Groups," Motherboard, November 23, 2020.

Watch: "How Amazon Paid $0 Federal Income Tax in 2018," CNBC, April 3, 2019, 12 min.

Watch: "Amazon's Playbook for Crushing Startups," TechAltar, November 7, 2019, 10 min.

Watch: "Amazon Accused of Driving Small Companies Out of Business," Bloomberg Politics, July 29, 2020, 7 min.

Watch: "Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos," Frontline, PBS, February 18, 2020, 114 min.


Watch: "The Story of Amazon: How A Bookstore Conquered the Internet," Jack Chapple, September 2, 2018, 18 min.

Week 6: March 8
First Paper/Project Due (no blog post)
The Rise of Silicon Valley


Adrian Chen (2019) "The Confidence Game: How Silicon Valley Broke the Economy," The Nation, October 14, 2019.

Fred Turner (2017) "Don't Be Evil: Fred Turner on Utopias, Frontiers, and Brogrammers," Logic, Issue 3, December 1, 2017.

Watch: "Silicon Valley: How Stanford, Science, and War Made Tech History," Big Think, July 22, 2019, 10 min.

Watch: "Jonathan Taplin - How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy," TTI/Vangard, May 1, 2017, 30 min.

Watch: "Silicon Valley: The Untold Story, Episode 1," Discovery Channel, July 24, 2017, 43 min.

Watch: "Silicon Valley: The Untold Story, Episode 3," Discovery Channel, June 25, 2018, 43 min.


Watch: "Secret History of Silicon Valley," Computer History Museum, December 4, 2008, 62 min.

Margaret O'Mara (2019) The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America," Penguin Press, New York.

Jonathan Taplin (2017) Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy," Back Day Books.

Watch: "Jonathan Taplin on Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Undermined Democracy," Singularity Weblog, May 15, 2018, 75 min.

Antonio Garcia Martinez (2016) Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley," Harper, New York.

Scott Galloway (2017) The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google," Penguin Press, New York.

Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson (2020) Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality," Liveright Publishing Corporation, New York.

Week of March 15
NO CLASS due to Spring Break
(Saturday, March 13 to Sunday, March 21)

Week 7: March 22
Digital Capitalism


William H. Janeway (2015) "Unicorns: Why This Bubble Is Different," Forbes, May 28, 2015.

Watch: "If You Know Nothing About Venture Capital, Watch This First," Forbes, March 23, 2016, 2 min.

Watch: "Ernestine Fu: All You Need to Know About Venture Capital," Stanford University, March 25, 2020, 40 min.

Watch: "Venture Capital - Silicon Valley Ponzi Scheme - Chamath Palihapitiya," MAK, November 12, 2019, 13 min.

Robert H. Frank (2021) "The Economic Case for Regulating Social Media," New York Times, February 11, 2021.

Nick Srnicek, "Platform Capitalism," London School of Economics, Lit Fest, 2017.

Keach Hagey and Vivian Ngo, "How Google Edged Out Rivals and Built the World’s Dominant Ad Machine: A Visual Guide," Wall Street Journal, November 7, 2019.

Dipayan Ghosh, "How the Free Market Incentivized Facebook’s Harmful Monopoly," Center for International Governance Innovation, January 6, 2021.

Dipayan Ghosh and Nick Couldry, "Digital Realignment: Rebalancing Platform Economies from Corporation to Consumer," Harvard Kennedy School, Working Paper No. 155, October, 2020.


Nick Srnicek (2017) Platform Capitalism, Polity Press, 2017.

Watch: "Chamath Palihapitiya, Founder and CEO Social Capital, on Money as an Instrument of Change," Stanford Graduate School of Business, November 13, 2017, 56 min.

Week 8: March 29
The Sharing Economy, Gig Work & Platform Cooperativism


Lia Russell "The Silicon Valley Economy Is Here. And It’s a Nightmare," The New Republic, January 16, 2020.

Sarah Kessler "The Unequal Geography of the Gig Economy," The Atlantic, June 5, 2018.

Edward Ongweso Jr. "What Is 'IC+', Uber's New Plan to Warp Labor Laws Nationwide?," Motherboard, November 19, 2020.

Watch: "The Cooperative Platform Economy: A Conversation with Trebor Scholz & Yochai Benkler," Civic Hall, February 27, 2017, 86 min.


Sarah Kessler (2018) Gigged: The Gig Economy, the End of the Job and the Future of Work, Random House, 2018.

Trebor Scholz (2017) Uberworked and Underpaid: How Workers are Disrupting the Digital Economy, Polity, 2017.

Trebot Scholz and Nathan Schneider (eds.) (2017) Ours to Hack and Own: The Rise of Platform Cooperativism, A New Vision for the Future of Work and a Fairer Internet, O/R Books, 2017.

Week 9: April 5
Tech Workers, & Unionization


Ben Tarnoff and Moira Weigel, "Silicon Valley Workers Have Had Enough," New York Times, January 26, 2021.

Michael Corkery and Karen Weise, "Amazon Union Drive Takes Hold in Unlikely Place," New York Times, January 25, 2021.

Scott Shane and Daisuke Wakabayashi, "'The Business of War': Google Employees Protest Work for the Pentagon," New York Times, April 4, 2018.

Google Employees, "Letter in Protest of Project Maven," 2018.

Letter From Academic Researchers in Support of Google Employees, "Google should withdraw from Project Maven and commit to not weaponizing its technology," ICRAC, May, 2018.

Lucy Suchman, Lilly Irani and Peter Asaro, "Google's March to the Business of War Must Be Stopped: We stand with thousands of Google employees, demanding an end to its contract with the US Department of Defense," Jacobin, May 16, 2018.

Kate Conger, "Google Employees Resign in Protest Against Pentagon Contract," Gizmodo, May 14, 2018.

Kate Conger, "Google Plans Not to Renew Its Contract for Project Maven, a Controversial Pentagon Drone AI Imaging Program," Gizmodo, June 1, 2018.

Polina Godz, "Tech Workers Versus the Pentagon: An Interview with Kim," Jacobin, June 6, 2018.


Week 10: April 12
Safe Harbor: Section 230 of Communications Decency Act


Timothy B. Lee (2020) "The Internet’s most important—and misunderstood—law, explained," Ars Technica, June 10, 2020.

Kate Klonick (2020) "Everything you need to know about Section 230," Lawfare, July 17, 2020.

Stewart Baker (2020) " What Should We Do About Section 230?," Lawfare, February 19, 2020.

Watch: "What is Section 230 and why do people want it repealed?," 60 Minutes, CBS, January 3, 2021, 13 min.


"Section 230", Wikipedia.

Explore: "CDA 230: The Most Important Law Protecting Internet Speech," Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Watch: "The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet," The Cato Institute, April 27, 2019, 93 min.

Casey Newton (2020) "Everything you need to know about Section 230: The most important law for online speech," The Verge, December 29, 2020.

Week 11: April 19
Online Speech: Encryption, Censorship, De-Platforming & Content Moderation



Aaron Jue and Jason Kelley, "EFF at 30: Saving Encryption, with Technologist Bruce Schneier," Electronic Frontier Foundation, December 9, 2020.

Brian Hauss, "Devin Nunes' Cow Has a First Amendment Right to Call Rep. Nunes a 'Treasonous Cowpoke'," ACLU, December 1, 2019.

Alex Hern, "Facebook, Apple, YouTube and Spotify Ban Infowars' Alex Jones," The Guardian, August 6, 2018.

Dipyan Ghosh, "Taking Trump Down Has Exposed Social Media’s Inherent Contradictions," Foreign Policy, January 26, 2021.


Week 12: April 26
Privacy & GDPR


2018 California Consumer Privacy Act

Russell Brandom, "Everything you need to know about GDPR," The Verge, May 25, 2018.

66 comments GDPR gives companies a new set of rules for sharing data online By Russell Brandom Updated May 25, 2018

Watch: "Apple vs Facebook: The Privacy Battle" Tech Vision, December 26, 2020, 6 min.


Week 13: May 3
Net Neutrality, Equality of Access, and the Right to Repair or Algorithmic Bias



Week 14: May 10
No Blog Entry, Work on Final Projects

The Case of Facebook

Watch: Frontline, "The Facebook Dilemma, Parts 1 & 2," PBS, October, 2018, 55 & 54 min.

Evan Osnos, "Can Mark Zuckerberg Fix Facebook Before It Breaks Democracy?," The New Yorker, September 17, 2018.

Sue Halpern, "The Ad-Hoc Group of Activists and Academics Convening a 'Real Facebook Oversight Board'," The New Yorker, October 15, 2020.

David Remnick, "The Supreme Court of Facebook," The New Yorker, February 12, 2021.

Watch: Mark Zuckerberg Testimony to House Finance Committee, C-SPAN, October 23, 2019, 5 hours.

Natasha Singer, "Book Review: facebook, The Inside Story, By Steven Levy," New York Times, February 25, 2020.


Watch: Independent Lens, "The Cleaners," PBS, November 12, 2018, 86 min.

Watch: David Fincher, The Social Network, 2010, 120 min.

Antonio Garcia Martinez, "I Helped Create Facebook's Ad Machine. Here's How I'd Fix It," Wired, September 22, 2017.

Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein, "Inside the Two Years that Shook Facebook--And the World," Wired, February 12, 2018.

Craig Silverman, Ryan Mac and Pranav Dixit, "Facebook Is Turning A Blind Eye To Global Political Manipulation, According To This Explosive Secret Memo," BuzzFeed News, September 14, 2020.

Steven Levy (2020), facebook: The Inside Story, Penguin, 2020.

Submit (electronically) Final Paper/Projects Due by 8pm ET, Tuesday, May 11.