Google’s visit to Congress was a powerful reminder of who is really influencing our lives and culture.

When it comes to controlling the workings of the digital world, Congress is pretty much helpless.

(Google CEO Sundar Pichai /Photo by Sam Churchill/Flickr)

Congress brought Google to Washington and quickly learned who is really in charge.

Not in the traditional sense of power or authority, perhaps. But the tale was told when the company’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, finally gave in and sat before Congress for a clumsy and ultimately fruitless grilling.

Daisuke Wakabayashi, the New York Times’ Google reporter (yes, it’s a thing), recounts the moment it happened. A new Times report on location tracking “came up repeatedly during the hearing and in conversations afterward,” Wakabayashi observes. “Even for people well versed in technology, the volume and specificity of location-data collection was shocking.”

“While many expressed concern about the bigness of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, there wasn’t a consensus on how to deal with them. A federal privacy law with real teeth seemed uncertain, and not many folks expected antitrust regulation even in the face of European action.”

In other words? Even the Beltway potentates who don’t bat an eye at the mind-boggling size and scale of the federal government were floored, dwarfed, by just one slice of what today’s tech companies do. And what’s more, they just can’t wrap their minds around what role they’re supposed to play in it all.

That’s why Pichai was so comfortable sticking to a bland, almost meaningless script. Google provides useful services, he “patiently” explained—crafted to deliver what people want, and to use what they want to help them figure out what they want. Who wouldn’t be at least passingly interested in what’s popular or trending? Google just puts it out there.

Of course, that’s not exactly true. Google’s algorithms are private, not public. It’s just that lawmakers know they can’t exactly get under the hood and start telling a company whose speech to favor by how much for how long.

There’s a decent amount of pressure building to impose more government regulation on tech companies, it’s true. And to a degree, companies want it! Facebook doesn’t want to spend its time being on the hook for the content its users churn out or glom onto. It’s a platform, not a publisher, according to the Zuckerberg mantra. But Facebook is aware that bad publicity around content is a serious problem—so serious, in fact, that it’d be great if the government just took on the obligation to deal with it.

Google, however, has had reason to worry. In part, that’s because President Trump has indulged critics on the Right who want, in effect, to break up the biggest tech companies. They’re convinced that bias is inevitable, and because Silicon Valley is full of communist trans furries, or what have you, there’s no option but to use the government to take their power away.

That’s a sea change from the old mainline conservative view that private corporations are free to run their culture and hire their people as they please. But it does reflect changing reality. The proper interplay of big corporate wealth and social justice is not at all a settled issue on the Left today, and the pivotal role of digital technology in the debate is a big reason why.

Yet Trump himself appears not to care all that much about the digital concerns of his anti-woke base. He’s a pre-digital guy himself. Yes, he’s a Twitter adept, but that goes to remind us that Twitter is really more like television for everyone than it is like, say, social credit. Trump is probably just as stumped about what role government should play in regulating digital technology as Congress—aside from harboring a general sense that neither tech nor anything else is really going to achieve one big happy global world.

And that, in sum, is because digital tech is mastering the world and dividing the world—a big shock to pre-digital generations, but a fact of life for those coming after. Younger people have been raised in a technological soup so thick that they know very little can dilute it. Governments are going hard after content and pushing to get their share of taxes on the proceeds. But when it comes to controlling the workings of the digital world, they’re pretty much helpless.

That could change over time as the world’s younger generations age into positions of real government power. But the digital world—from round-the-clock location tracking to robust social credit systems and beyond—is even bigger than Google. And however useful its tools, they’re anything but neutral. Americans who want to reclaim their political agency in a digital age will have to scale down the Beltway no less than the Valley.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

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Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


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via Gage Skidmore / Flickr and nrkbeta / flickr

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