In addition to warning that U.S. President Donald Trump represents an immense “danger” to civilization, billionaire George Soros used the spotlight of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday to urge the international community to take seriously the threats posed by Facebook and Google, which he said could ultimately spawn “a web of totalitarian control” if they are not reined in.
Particularly alarming, Soros said, is the prospect of Facebook and Google – which he scathingly deemed a “menace” to society – teaming up with “authoritarian states” to “bring together nascent systems of corporate surveillance with an already developed system of state-sponsored surveillance.”
Such “unholy marriages” could result in a strain of authoritarianism “the likes of which not even Aldous Huxley or George Orwell could have imagined,” the billionaire investor cautioned.
Soros went on to compare the tech giants’ impact on the internet – and social media in particular – to the effects of fossil fuel giants on the environment.
“Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment,” Soros said, warning that the days of internet monopolies like Facebook and Google “are numbered.”
“But the fact that they are near-monopoly distributors makes them public utilities and should subject them to more stringent regulations, aimed at preserving competition, innovation, and fair and open universal access.”
If tech companies are permitted to retain overwhelming control over information, “far-reaching adverse consequences on the functioning of democracy” could result, Soros concluded.
“The power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies,” Soros said.
“It takes a real effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called ‘the freedom of mind.’ There is a possibility that once lost, people who grow up in the digital age will have difficulty in regaining it.”
Below is a short clip of Soros’s speech.