Epstein Argues that the Government Should Proceed Cautiously in Regulating Tech Companies

Google: A Threat to Civil Liberties?
Richard A. Epstein
Defining Ideas
December 4, 2012

Part of the price that successful corporations pay for innovation is their exposure to increased calls for extensive government regulation. Those who call for such regulation claim that dominant firms, especially in modern high-tech industries, will be guilty of at least two forms of malfeasance. First, the firms will abuse their monopoly power—whose very existence is often in dispute—to extract huge profits from consumers. Second, the firms will acquire vast amounts of information that will then be used for improper purposes that pose a serious threat to both privacy and civil liberties.

Google becomes a natural focus point here for two reasons. First, it holds a commanding position in the search market; second, each user’s click adds to its treasure trove of valuable information about the consumer and the firms with which he interacts. These realities in part explain why Robert Epstein, a Harvard-based psychologist, recently wrote a four-part expose for the Huffington Post titled, “Regulate Google Now.”

It is, of course, impossible to insist that these claims, whether addressed to Google or anyone else, should be dismissed out of hand. There is nothing about the large size or great success of a firm that should insulate it from the general laws that routinely apply to their smaller and less powerful competitors. But, at the same time, it is important to note the unfairness of conjuring up a novel class of wrongs that subject large and prosperous firms to additional forms of civil or criminal liability.

Richard A. Epstein