Wednesday, January 16, 2013


A robber baron, originally, was an unscrupulous and despotic nobleman of medieval Europe. The term is also used to describe wealthy and powerful unscrupulous industrialists of the 19th century who used exploitative practices to amass their wealth. They would exert control over national resources, gain a high level of government influence, pay extremely low wages to their unfortunate employees, quash competition by buying out competitors in order to create monopolies and eventually raise prices and limit services, and devise schemes to sell stock at inflated prices to unsuspecting investors in a manner which would eventually destroy the company for which the stock was issued and impoverish investors. (Wikipedia)

I did a bit of light research on Google's two entrepreneurs, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, then went on to look into that other internet giant, Amazon, and its CEO and founder Jeff Bezos (below). Are these three individuals some of the 21st century's equivalents of 19th century robber barons? They are now certainly among the wealthiest individuals in the USA, multi-billionaires, (allegedly more than 20 billion each, and # 11 and 13 on the Forbes 400 list). All three experienced meteoric rise from the mid 1990s onward, in tandem with mushrooming of the internet.

I am becoming frustrated and annoyed with Google's ongoing shenanigans. Having forced me into using their Chrome browser because Blogger's (now owned by Google) new interface is incompatible with the most up to date version of Internet Explorer my XP pro operating system is compatible with, there then arose an issue with the e mail address associated with my Blogger/Google account. I am to be forced to provide a second e mail address. I don't want to do so. Chrome will not function without my doing so. Firefox to the rescue. What'll happen when Google buys out Firefox?

Google has become way, way too big for its boots with too many tentacles! Much as I admire the skills and talent involved, and the wondrous search engine, I can't help thinking that the interests of users have, latterly, been well and truly sidelined. I don't know how Google treats its staff, but they tend to treat users of their services with deep disdain.

Amazon, on the instruction of their CEO, do put the interests of their customers first at all times, but often to the detriment of their staff members. Staff are badly paid and in some cases expected to work excessive hours in poor conditions with no sick pay should they fall ill. Amazon's undeniable efficiency is achieved at the expense of its workers - in conditions loosely comparable to Walmart's staff treatment.

Admittedly, these examples of 21st century robber baronitis are not nearly as nasty as 19th century counterparts, they are not the worst 21st century examples either, but they are two very familiar to all who spend time online every day. There is, though, potential for even worse to come. Google has access to information on everyone who uses the internet, and on what we do online. If such information were to be only slightly expanded, maybe released to government by mandate, results could prove to have unpleasant consequences - doesn't take much imagination to see that!

Google and Amazon: two examples of how excellent innovative ideas from brilliant minds, with initially good intention, can become corrupted by intoxication of success and then morph, like some unwieldy drunk, into an entity the men may not have originally envisaged. They are now blinded by the size and power of the behemoths they created.


James Higham said...

This is where we are in agreement and Jesse and Karl and Zero Hedge - the robber barons need bringing down.

It has to stop at that though because further steps after they've fallen is where we fall out. We conservatives don't believe in any form of socialized overseeing and you left-liberals do.

We'll never agree on that but we can agree on the corporate criminals and banksters. So let's all combine with that goal of removing them in mind.

Wisewebwoman said...

I know a few Google employees, T and they are treated like royalty. Unbelievable benefits/bonuses.

Unlike Walmart which to me is the worst example of all of exploitation and employee abuse.


Twilight said...

James Higham ~~ Agreed. Unless ordinary people, left and right politically, begin forgetting their differences and start concentrating on their common enemy nothing will ever improve. It's partly the old "divide and conquer", herd 'em into two pens, routine that got us where we are - but we're all too blind to realise it!

Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~ Really? Interesting. It's a pity the Google barons don't extend their helpful attitudes to the users of their services.

A combination of Amazon's customer service and Google's staff treatment would seem to be the ideal then.
So why can't it happen, I wonder?

mike said...

I hear you, Twilight! You left-out Facebook, which sells private information. uses contract labor for the menial tasks like warehouse and shipping, so they are technically off the hook regarding employee treatment...the sub-contractor is the culprit. Amazon just lost a California court case however, because it was shown that Amazon was in essence the "employer" of the sub-contractor (the contract was set-up strictly for Amazon's benefit). Google does treat their employees very nicely from what I've agreement with WiseWebWoman.

Internet companies (people!) have completely exploited the users...cookies everywhere! It's a shame that I now prefer the internet to be regulated for my own privacy. These companies utilize the tactic that information is gathered to better their products...yeah, right. Strange how we always find these companies make money from their information gathering.

I try my best to defeat Google...I never use their internet products. I HATE being tracked by Google. AdBlock ( is a wonderful tool to prevent Google tracking and is free for Firefox (costs for InternetExplorer).

The internet ain't what it used to be. I have a website with e-commerce and you wouldn't believe the things the big internet barons are allowed to do. The search engines allow one web-crawl for keywords about every six to twelve months...make one change to your website and it's blackball...your site can no longer be found by someone's search.

Of course, I can pay to have my website in the prominent first several pages...the more I pay, the more it trends to the first search page. I don't pay and I can't be found...maybe on page 235 of the search results! Google charges per hit, other search engines charge per hit or annual fee for search prominence. I receive solicitations from these search engine companies and they warn me that failure to use their services may make it very difficult for me to be found on the internet. Blackmail!

E-commerce is a huge racket, too. I'm charged a premium simply to have the service, which is essentially a credit card processor. I'm charged a monthly fee, a percentage per transaction based on transactions per month, another fee for the "card not presented" transaction, and the card is not processed for several days (I wait for payment although I've shipped product). If a customer should have a dispute, I'm charged $25, if I don't make settlement immediately, even if the customer is wrong!

In the early 1900s, the Rockefellers were scrutinized for their business practices regarding their oil business. They sold products below cost to drive competitors out of business. When Sinclair Oil merged with Standard Oil, antitrust practices were brought forth. Much of the internet today has that same quality. The internet is controlled by a handful of companies. The new IPv6 internet will be out soon...perhaps Google will own it someday.

Twilight said...

mike ~~ I almost mentioned
Facebook, its creator being in the same category as those featured - but decided against it, limited myself to two companies whose products/services I've used a lot myself over the years. Facebook has always been on my "avoid whenever possible" list. By the time it hove into view I was already becoming cynical about the whole social-networking scene.

Yes, Amazon's head baron has been very crafty regarding obligations to those doing the hard work so necessary for his empire to run using sub-contractors, who then treat the workers little better than third-world sweat shop workers.
I recall events during a recent horrendous heat wave when Amazon-used warehouses (in Arizona?)didn't have air conditioning and workers were becoming sick. There were all kinds of horror stories coming out then. I think I read that Amazon has since provided funding for installation of air conditioning....probably forced to do so.

We're all exploited without always realising it. Internet technology is still so new - there's nothing to which we can relate back for helpful comparison. We're in completely new territory; those with the brains and skills spearheading things all have had an easy ride over us for some years. More people are wise to it now though, but probably too late to make any difference - other than to refuse to use any of the products/services - which is becoming less and less feasible unless one wishes to be a hermit.

Thing is - both Google and Amazon started out with, I like to believe, only the best of intentions. But something in human nature will not be satisfied with achieving something good, and just never knows when to stop, to know when enough is enough, peak has been achieved - so on they go, expanding and expanding and the rot sets in.

Thanks for your additional thoughts and info on this! :-)

Chomp said...

A New Feudalism? Was this the historical phase we passed through and still are passing through?

Many think so, not too many, but many times rightly so they think...

Twilight said...

Chomp ~~ Hi! Yes, robber barons and feudalism go hand in hand. Because the detail has changed, when compared to the ancient version of feudalism, today's version is not always immediately recognisable as such. It's another example of something we've "boiled into" (like the frog in a pot of cold water on top of the stove, heating so gradually it didn't notice the danger).

I guess the seemingly ingrained pattern is simply a part of human nature on planet Earth, and will continue to spiral around and around for as long as humans survive. We should have learned how to deal with it, stop it from developing, but with each new turn of the spiral we are tricked.
:-) Our communal memory isn't good enough.

R J Adams said...

Oh, Twilight, I feel for that frog!
Google infuriates me, also. I've used Chrome of late because it's the fastest browser for slow connections. IE is taboo in this house. I hate Microsoft even more than Google. Now we're on DSL I shall be trying Opera again. I found it fine when I used it before, but it was too slow for our dismal internet connection.
I do believe we're seeing the latest round of feudalism appearing. If anyone doubts it they should research what is happening to the British NHS right now. The barons are dismantling it brick by brick and selling them to the private sector. Just a brick at a time, so no-one notices. The present Minister for Health is on record as stating he, "...prefers the American health system."

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~~~ Oh! I hate to hear that about the NHS!

Yes, this time around the feudalism will be some countries it has never gone away or even subsided slightly.

I suppose I have to admit to a love/hate relationship with both Google and Amazon. I wouldn't be blogging without Google's now-owned Blogger, and Amazon has been a boon on many occasions to me, living out here in the sticky sticks. They could both do better though. I guess that's how the serfs (my ancestors) used to feel about the Lords of the Manors. ;-) Groan.