Its great that some American Google workers have decided to unionise (in practice, a significant proportion of their EU staff will already be unionised), and they are right to point to ethical issues as the reason for doing so. In the medium term, we are going to see some sort of professional regulation in software engineering, if for no other reason than to ensure that Terminator and Black Mirror don't become a reality.
The situation with customers and users is different. They already have ultimate power over Google since they can simply go elsewhere. The best way that we can keep Google decent is by ensuring that competing services can emerge. Unionising customers/users would actually make them more invested in Google which would be self-defeating.
So can the employees, in theory. Unions exist because in reality it isn't that simple - arguably it's very similar when using it. Though I wonder how that could be dealt with through a union instead of plain old regulation.
Engineers have professional associations. That never stopped a single engineer from building weapons of mass destruction. Lawyers are subject to perhaps the most intricate body of professional regulations and so lawyers rarely ever do anything that might hurt society at large. Professional organizations exist to benefit their members. They don't exist to prevent social ills. That is the role of government. A bar association for software engineers won't prevent Skynet. Government regulations setting limits on the powers attached to AI might.
This only works if all governments agree on this rule. AI is an economic competitive advantage, and it’s in every countries best interest that advances in AI are developed in their borders.
> A bar association for software engineers won't prevent Skynet. Government regulations setting limits on the powers attached to AI might.
A government regulation will only ensure that the government get the AI power fist, they need it to combat terrorism or something. And anyway, Skynet was a project of the government ...
Patent trolls and the copyright mafia are a scourge on society... the amount of progress that they have blocked for decades is astonishingly bad.
And that's not even coming remotely close to the lawyers that aided organized tax theft (aka "tax optimization") or threatened the foundations of democracy itself (Giuliani and the rest of Trump's associates).
Tax optimization is generally promoted by accountants not lawyers, though tax is an area that both accountants and lawyers can practice and so some lawyers are certainly involved in tax avoidance advising. Though as tax is also one of the few areas where advisors can go to prison for their advice (and moreover, for advice that was technically within the bounds of the text of the law at the time the advice was given), few lawyers are willing to get involved in tax avoidance that is borderline tax evasion.
Guiliani and the rest are facing disbarment or worse for their roles in threatening the foundations of democracy. Like most punishments, this one must take place after the offending act is committed, since we can't preemtively discipline someone for something they haven't actually done (yet).
I always think this kind of "free market" thinking is spoken by people with an incredibly narrow world view.
You, personally, might be aware of all the evils and ills to which these companies subject their users, but the average consumer is blissfully ignorant or simply doesn't care.
You might be educated or enlightened enough to be aware of the risks these services pose, but again most people aren't. Is the average WhatsApp user (especially in the huge markets such as India where people are generally poorer and less highly educated) really going to care about the implications of privacy policies etc.?
Those users aren't even going to think about switching to a competing service because (e.g.) all their friends and contacts use WhatsApp.
When a company gets as big as Google, Facebook, etc. then competition starts to not matter and that's why the "free market" idea holds zero weight.
Getting enough people to to stop using Google products for a day - or enough creators to set their videos to private for a day, for instance - would have an impact, but sadly is probably impossible to organize on a large enough scale to be effective.
This is like saying if you complain about the government you can always "simply" move to a different country.
I wonder if a union would make sense for a certain size of customer?
Citation needed. Unions are something that's actively discouraged within US multinationals' EU offices as well, so I wouldn't be so sure the overall picture is rosier in Europe than it is in the US.
Neither maps precisely onto the conventional American definition of a "Union"[*], nor onto the AWU, which is a members-only union. I'm not sure how many Google employees in europe are Unionized, but I know works councils exist in multiple nations.
[*]: My understanding is that a works council is government mandated, and a small group of employees can set one up, they have some formal negotiating power like a NLRA union, but don't represent all employees, and have a limited set of things they can negotiate about (for example they can deal with work conditions, but I don't think they can negotiate pay or strike). EU trade unions are big national organizations, one per industry that do lobbying and counter corporations. Conventional US NLRB unions have a monopoly on negotiations with the company, but require 50%+ membership. Members only unions have no formal legal power beyond non-retaliation, but can still negotiate with a company (about anything).
It's definitely rosier in most aspects insofar as protection of employee rights is much better at a legislative / public level in Europe, and therefore there's more supports available.
These may however often be your company's HR dept. ticking boxes (HR departments of course by and large existing to protect the company from potential employee complaints first and foremost, rather than to protect employees). In the case of a US-based office where such state-mandated supports are absent, and the employees have put together a body to enable collective bargaining, the supports—while less official and state-supported—may be of more immediate material benefit as they practically address current grievances.
> some EU countries mandate also union members into those
Do you have a reference for this? I'm curious to know which do and which don't (it's certainly not anything that's been brought in at a Directive level).
That could trivially exist. There is PE licensing in other areas of engineering (and used to be in software) although it's not super-common outside of civil engineering given the purpose is mostly to sign off on stuff that goes to government regulators. Of course, it probably doesn't make much of a difference--the ACM and IEEE already have codes of ethics. And, by the way, that now means you probably can't be a software engineer if you don't have a 4-year degree from an accredited school along with some other requirements.
Google's custoners are the entities that purchase the products Google produces with that raw materials (i.e., data).
This will help get you up to speed.
It is by no means their bread and butter. In fact, it's been argued (by Thiel) that much of Google activity outside its core business is a smokescreen for its monopoly and other exploits in data harvesting/advertising.
I suggest you list to the link above. You're not the customer.
For the search engine (e.g. not GSuite), Google's customers are actually the advertisers and not the users. This is not meant to be a cynical take but just stating financial reality. The advertisers are the ones paying billions into Google's revenue to maintain the expensive data centers and host petabytes of disk space for Youtube videos. Because money flows from advertisers to Google, the advertisers are the ones that caused Adpocalypse.
The websurfers querying the search engine are users or consumers and not the paying customers. Not sure how a users' union would have much leverage since they don't pay. If they're unhappy, they can use another search engine (e.g. Bing) or influence indirectly (e.g. boycott advertisers which causes Adpocalypse.)
Well, advertisers require traffic. If traffic adjacent to Google ads dried up, so would the value proposition of Google's products to its advertising customers. In this way, users collectively could exercise leverage on Google and its advertising clients by boycotting sites/services that serve Google ads (though good luck organizing that).
The number of people who care enough about privacy to consider joining a union dedicated to protesting Google Ads but not enough to already use ad blockers isn't going to meaningfully affect traffic.
I control a decent chunk budget on Google Ads (although probably not comparable to Fortune 500 spend) and would happily sign up for a customer union, along with a "users union" if one were to create one :)
That doesn't mean they don't exist in the US. They do. For instance Consumer Watchdog.  This group does critically look at business practices and models of big tech. 
Another example would be the Consumer Federation of America.  This organization is an umbrella that federates plenty of local and regional consumer groups.  The CFA also does a ton of lobbying with the FCC and other departments. 
Those are the more "generic" consumer groups. Looking at specific "consumer groups" that lobby on behalf of technology consumers, the most visible organization would be the Electronic Frontier Foundation. 
If you want "discussions with Google" in the most broad terms. That's what Congress and the EU Commission have been doing with their string of hearings last year. Both public bodies are still build on the idea that they represent millions of people through the vote. If consumers want to engage in a discussion with a multi-billion dollar industry on equal footing, public hearings and investigations would be how that goes down.
google can very well ignore a union of consumers. The most they can do is stop using the services in sync, and arguably the fact that they're trying to organise a consumer union rather than take their business elsewhere is a red flag that they'll find it difficult to do so.
To put it another way, assuming that the sum of all workers is as important as the sum of all consumers, there are ~150k google employees and ~4.5 billion consumers. since these numbers are several orders of magnitude apart, to have a real effect you'd need about 10k members of a consumer union to have the equivalent force of a worker union with a single member.
It's relatively straightforward for a worker to stop doing their job for a couple of days/weeks and then resume activity. It is not straightforward at all for a private consumer to stop depending on google for a couple of days, and pretty much impossible for a business.
First question would be: how big would this union need to be to make Google do/not do things?
Second question would be: emphasising that it takes away power from the individual (or in your idea's case, the individual Google customer), who would sign up to that?
What I could see is another company forming that resells Google Cloud, and gets better discounts and better representation because of it. Normal market stuff.
I can see Apple developers starting a union too.
Basically anything that's a platform where people make money could rightfully have a union.
You don't have to rely on existing assumptions about unions, or customers vs user, or many other concerns I see raised in other replies. The fundamental thing you're trying to do is influence decision makers and a large group of people is certainly one way to do that.
The effectiveness of such a group will come down to factors such as how well you manage message, what access you can get, and what degree (and from how many angles) you can apply pressure and persuasion.
If nothing else starting a place where Google users can collect, vote on, and discuss their top priorities could form the basis of discovering how large a group you can attract, where the passion exists, and what resources you can muster toward the effort.
Ultimately, this fizzled out (just like StudiVZ after its acquisition and subsequent demise vs Facebook), but I still believe there is merit to the idea.
I find it unlikely that there's any issue that cuts across all of Google's customers (advertisers, publishers, cloud users, gsuite users, etc), so a Google Customers Union probably does not make sense.
A customer union would have to be able to credibly threaten: all our members will stop using your products until you agree to our demands.
It’s hard to imagine enough G customers doing this. The customers who care enough about privacy to take simple steps like using DDG and installing ad blockers, aren’t a big source of revenue for G anyway.
I suspect the same would be the case with a users union: nobody would join because why would they. Complaining and getting outraged about google being evil is fun, but changing it requires effort.
A large enough group of people directly switching as members and influencing others to do the same can work to keep a company in line. It'd be unique and awesome.
You'll never get anything vaguely resembling a large enough percentage of Google's customers to matter to care about the issues at all.
I know that sounds dismissive, but if you step outside the "people who know and care about tech and privacy" bubble for a minute, it's plain as day. The overwhelming majority of people just don't care.
If anything, they like seeing more pertinent ads. They like that the Google Assistant tells them when there's traffic on their route and they need to leave early. They like the results, and they don't even realize there is a cost, much less one that should matter to them.
And being "below its peak" is completely irrelevant to the practicality of this endeavor when we're talking about a drop from, say, 99% to 94%.
The overwhelming majority of people are not only not annoyed enough by big tech to take action, but would immediately retreat from any such action the moment they realized what it would cost them.
A miniscule fraction of the people who use these services, or even pay for these services, care enough about their misdeeds to stop using them personally, much less to join some sort of advocacy group about it.
Practically, the hard power any such organization is going to have would start with their spending dollars (and possibly their signal... A lot of Google's "special sauce" is big data from big usage, and if usage goes down, software quality suffers). Google would (and does) listen to a significant percentage of their dollars-base saying "Change this or I'm taking my ads to Facebook and my infrastructure to AWS." They may perhaps listen to a significant percentage of their user-behavior-base saying "Change this or I'm using Bing," though it'd have to be a hell of a large organization to make a dent.
First time I read the term, and online searching doesn't give me relevant results.
Kind of surprised similar groups haven't appeared for AWS, Google, and Azure customers*.
* edit: I mean customers, people paying hard cash. Users relying on free services need to figure out some form of leverage and band together behind that.
Why is it needed?
What enforcement would there be, if the search engine were not performing to the union's expectations and needs?
Good old fashioned competition has usually been the way people deal with a service or product they didn't find satisfactory. Try DuckDuckGo, Bing, Yahoo, Ask, Baidu. Vote with your feet.
I still think Google is the best general search engine out there, but DDG is my daily driver because it's good enough and provides a bit more privacy (or so I imagine).
* You are renting an apartment from a huge company. The company changes a policy. There is no way for you to unionize with your neighbors to fight that.
Ditto for trying to fight any big corp like Comcast, ATT, etc.
Our powers are diluted whereas the big forms have warchests that a single individual can never match.
A govt was supposed to do this but it is not working.
Doesn't mean that we wait for the govt. The time is now and we must act otherwise these but companies will keep running and ruining the planet.
But as others have pointed out, you really just created a government or a consumer group, and the creation and maintenance of that group is a non-trivial challenge by itself.
Too many Google customers gets wronged without the ability to get reparation or to talk to an actual person, and considering the size of Google that is unacceptable with the impact they have on everybody's lives.
It's a group I founded that is focused on researching and regulating Google's search monopoly. Google has abused its power and many, many users of Google know it. There wasn't really a place or group that can give voice to that anger though so I created the club. As others have pointed out, we aren't Google's customers, we are just users of their software, the advertisers are their customers. I don't think we have enough power as just users to be able to get to a point where we can negotiate with Google directly and issue demands and extract concessions. The power that we do have, as workers within the tech industry who understand what Google is doing, is talking with regulators and showing them how and why they should regulate Google. I've found regulators to be extremely receptive and grateful for the research I have provided them (i.e. https://knuckleheads.club/2020/10/07/we-crawled-our-way-into...). Many of these regulators have the same general complaints we do and want to dethrone Google from being king of the internet. I support the Alphabet Workers Union and am super happy to see it exist and I am working hard to establish the club as a way for people working outside Google to make changes to how Google behaves.
I am - or rather my business is a paying Google customer and I would welcome this.
That's what governments are for, Google must change the way they do "business" (unlikely) AND still be broken up. The exact same for other tech behemoths.
That's not gonna happen however, they already own everything including government and public opinion.
Still, it’s private enterprise. If public exposure doesn’t work on certain issues, I think some kind of regulation is ultimately required.
You can get stuff like this to work if it's pathetic and emotional enough (9/11 minute of silence, clap for essential workers from your balcony) and if it's low-cost (shutting up for a minute) or no cost (holiday). And that still is highly regional. Even "The West" are not that many people.
Sadly, your proposal checks none of the mark. Don't get me wrong, I don't think it would be bad or anything, but you know, people are people.
A customers union? Are you fucking kidding me? How much anti-consumer shit does a company have to do before you’ll realise they’re not in business to serve your needs, they’re in business to serve you ads.
The vast majority of companies are in the business of providing you something you need or want, be it a service or a product or both, in exchange for monetary compensation. That's kind of the definition of "serve", to provide a service.
You do not need a union, you need to move on. Let Google fail if they can't figure it out.
Also, is there any evidence that Google censors search results?
(Disclaimer: I have not actually checked to see what the baseline distribution of websites is, I'm just guessing.)
The purpose of this smart contract could be even more general purpose than that, in being structured as a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO), with accounts voting to decide what the accounts will collectively do.
I commit to not buying Starbucks for 90 days in order to support a mandate that they reduce their plastic usage 20%.
Or, I will not pay for UFC PPVs for 6 months to protest Dana White's support of Donald Trump.
It'd be nice to quantify resistance to corporate endeavors on a populist level. Of course, given current social circumstances, it would be hard to keep it civil.
The first thing to notice is that the calculus of unionization or collective action is very different than what we historically know. As a user, whether you see yourself as a customer or a laborer vis-a-vis Google, in both cases your position is different than traditional customers or laborers. The importance of convenience for all your transactions is much bigger. We probably aren't willing to spend an hour a week going to union meetings, because Google isn't as significant to us (as users) as a traditional employer, and because we have a similar relationship to a variety of other companies (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, etc.) as to Google, which would by analogy thereby entail a lot of time.
Moreover, it is much harder to build a social relationship with people in similar positions. At a job, or at a checkout line, you meet people in the same place as you. With a Google service, it's just doesn't happen naturally that you encounter people (and can easily and spontaneously communicate with people) in the same position as you (even though there are likely so many more). The companies themselves control how you inhabit their "space" - whether you can "meet" other people in the relevant way currently depends, for instance, on whether there is a chat or forum connecting you to those people. And of course, relying on their graciousness for that space is not going to go down well most of the time  as soon as this collective organization starts becoming significant. (This sort of control of how social interactions take place has been compared to the British enclosures.)
There are probably a number of valuable ways to collectively organize in this space. But the above considerations, and the fact that our own skills (and hence ability to contribute) are in programming and design, led a few friends and I to an idea: that we could create those spaces for collective organization via browser extensions and phone apps. The idea is that you install a browser extension (we haven't started on the app), and join one or more unions (or campaigns). The browser extension, based on the policy files of the unions you've joined, can a) block the website for some period of time for all its members, with some message; or b) display a banner when a member visits a site. The union members discuss and decide what the policy will look like. From there you can organize boycotts and make demands.
(https://izens.net/ (and the browser extension) is still in it's early phases, so feedback is much appreciated!)
 I agree that it may be misleading to think of it as a consumer union in most cases, for reasons other people have mentioned. On the other hand, the Posner & Weyl idea that we are data laborers suggests it might be a labor union. Ultimately, none of this matters much to the broader points.
 Compare this to moving out of WhatsApp, which I'm in the process of doing. I can use WhatsApp itself to get in touch with the people I want to coordinate with, thus making that coordinating relevant and timely.
Shameless self-promotion: I've speculated in the past that software can help here, eg, by hooking into corporate account APIs to trigger automatic mass cancellation of orders. That's one of the examples of potential "transformative legal technology" in this (sadly paywalled, sorry) academic article: https://utpjournals.press/doi/abs/10.3138/utlj.2017-0047
It _may_ be a side effect of the discussions that occur here occasionally.
Occasionally? HN is obssessed with Google. Everyday there is at least one hit piece on HN front page. Out of all the problems in this world and the tech industry, in HN logic Google is the utmost priority.
The way they worked is people would vote for representatives that help make decisions that were in the interests of people, and this would reign in the power of extremely large and powerful companies.
In some parts of Europe they still have these.
Unfortunately in the US companies were foolishly permitted to both purchase the voting power of representatives and directly influence the will of the people to render the government virtually useless (though still a useful distraction for the people)
I like OP's suggestion of having a consumer's union. In an analogy to a software stack, having the government responsible for this is analogous to building a monolith, while making unions is analogous to a microservices solution. Integrating this role into the government could become bureaucratic and comlicated, maybe ineffective because of it, but a consumer's union might work but with it's own set of particularities.
Unions are mainly about giving workers a unified voice, in the democratic sense -- this is what most of us want, and we all agree to abide by it. The main job of a union is doing that voice, rather than having to leave that up to the many individuals, who usually lack the experience to do it well. It's nearly always routine, and if the word "strike" is even mentioned it's because things have seriously gone off the rails.
Google could theoretically empower a users union to represent users, in the same way, and the government could beef that up with laws. It's not impossible.
The impossible part is how you elect union leadership. Not with hundreds of millions of people. Unions are fractious enough as it is with tens of thousands of workers all united by similar work environments. The election would be nearly as hard as electing a US President -- more so than any individual Senator.
Happens every day in business. People switch vendors all the time. Saying that Google is too big and it would never happen is a bit myopic don't you think?
Why not ask the reverse question? “Why do we have a government instead of just having a workers union?”.
This is actually the political project of anarcho-syndicalists : workers could self-organize the production and the collective life through democratic federalist instances.
The idea has been theorized since at least 1906 in the Charter of Amiens , an historical text of syndicalism : https://www.marxists.org/history/france/cgt/charter-amiens.h... where we can read “the union, today a resistance group will be, in the future, a group for production and redistribution, the basis of social reorganization.”.
At least in France, the biggest workers union (CGT) is still organized in a way that would allow this, by having both geographical and per-industry-branch instances (sorry I lack the proper words to describe this in English).
It is also what the Spanish CNT did during and after the Spnish Revolution of 1936 [4,5].
By "instead", do you mean having no government whatsoever? Who'd be responsible for traditional government responsibilities in that case? (such as police, firefighters, water/sewage, garbage collection, etc.) I don't think unions can take on any of those tasks in any meaningful sense (e.g. do you get 5 firefighter corps from different unions to come to the same fire in an apartment complex?)
Mostly for historical reasons - it was workers unions who fought and paid in blood for worker rights, and no one (other than the Nazi regime and various real-Communist countries) tried to have governments assimilate unions.
Another reason is that governments are slow as molasses to react to changes. A union is way faster and it has (by its existence) a direct connection to the immediate needs of the workers.
In the middle between the two extremes tend to be where the local maxima is. The ideal setup is industry wide governmental organizations and industry wide unions, so there is a fast food union that regulates the price all fast food companies pay their workers, an industry minimum wage instead of a global minimum wage. This is how Switzerland does it, and it works quite well. This way different industries get tailored results for their workers and businesses that works best for them. Likewise, because all companies have to follow these regulations, new non-union companies can't swoop in and undercut the older unionized companies running them out of business, which is what happened in the US and one of the reasons we have so few unions today.
In this ideal setup there is industry wide governments representing consumers, so there is a fast food government that works on food regulations for customers. These governments have a larger federal government that passes guidelines smaller governments can follow. So eg, there is a country wide FDA that sets guidelines, and each kind of smaller government can choose to follow it or modify it as necessary to meet their specific situation.
However, for this to work, customers exclusively need to be represented in the government, not businesses. Likewise, for this to work unions need to be represented by just the workers.
There has to be a way to balance the demands of the workers vs the demands of the customers vs the demands of the businesses. If business fail over this, it's not handled well, so there needs to be some sort of pro business oversight as well (usually handled by a court system of some sort, but it doesn't have to be handled this way). For this to work properly there has to be severe limits and regulations on the power of unions and governmental organizations. Too much power to unions and goverments and businesses are restricted, which can be harmful to the larger economic economy, similar to how fishermen are limited in how many fish they can catch to not squash the ecosystem. Because of this there needs to be a government for businesses, eg minimum profit margin laws and what not. Workers and consumers can not milk the cow to its death, it needs to be healthy and happy too, so much so others are inspired to create a business.
This kind of system does exist today, in part in many European countries. Switzerland and Nordic countries are the closest. The only difference is governments are based on party, and those larger governments have strong power over smaller industry regulators. If the larger government has too much power over industry regulators it opens the door for corruption. There needs to be a balance of power to hit a local maxima.
A consumer union, to have enough momentum to actually make the Googles and Amazons even blink, would need hundreds of thousands of members. That vast quantity would need to agree to collective action and then follow through. If the consumer union reps determined the best way to convince Google to make a change was to hit them in the pocket book then the majority of the union members would have to cancel subscriptions and deal with the inconvenience.
It is my pessimistic opinion that the general consumer base would not follow through on whatever action the union selected. In the unlikely event they did follow through, even a hundred thousand users dropping a Google product or leaving Amazon Prime would barely impact those companies enough to make them alter their policies or improve their service levels.
Civil society organizations are what historically made democracy stable in both the USA and in Britain (Francis Fukuyama explores this point in some detail). They counterbalance both the government and commercial organizations. We really should be thinking more about how to organize to make common cause without it turning into a question of who controls the government at a particular time. To a substantial degree, the stable and useful function of government in a market democracy is providing a fair way for different groups to sort out their differences -- in this case, Google and consumers -- and that can't work when the government is seen to belong to one of those groups.
People organize to engage in collective action outside of governments all the time. In addition to labor unions, consider civil society nonprofits. It's not bizarre or (as another comment suggested) some kind of tech-bro magical thinking to say "hey, the government isn't regulating this group of people, let's organize to get some collective power going."
I don't think this is accurate. Having users logged in while using Google Search is worth far, far more to Google than the GSuite sales bump from having free Gmail users.
Sounds like a good idea!
> The way they worked is people would vote for representatives that help make decisions that were in the interests of people, and this would reign in the power of extremely large and powerful companies.
Ah yes, people were so sophisticated before the internet. I find it hard to remember how things even worked.
The representation was a fantastic solution for the communication over distance problem.
Today it would be rather silly to propose representation. I don't need anyone to represent me. Strength in numbers is enough.
While big [worker] unions are powerful they do tend to get distracted by large issues. Smaller tailored unions spend all of their time on their much smaller scope.
It is also very helpful for Google to see which issues users would like to see addressed. They probably have them documented internally already but cant find a way to prioritize them. There could be constructive dialog rather than a moaning contest that addresses only the company most moaned about.
As with employee unions, being a member makes the employer act entirely different.
That said, we throw away a lot for this "efficiency" and end up with corrupt political parties and lobbies that act completely against our interests. Maybe we can't have a true democracy unless everyone is putting a lot of time into participating in decision-making, rather than just hitting the ballot box once every couple years. I actually think this idea of doing things the "hard way" usually getting better results applies in almost everything, personally.
There are lots of alternative models out there to the one that is glorified in the US, invented by the Founding Father deities some centuries ago. There has been more than a little innovation since. Worker co-ops -- which have existed for almost as long as the US, or longer in some sense -- have experimented with many structures where workers or consumers, or both, share power in how the company is run. Alternative government structures with more direct representation and delegation have also been attempted, e.g. the democratic confederalism approach in Rojava, which also includes worker and land co-operatives for organising their industries.
I think this discussion is also leading towards the suggestion that Google's services should become more like utilities and therefore be publicly owned and managed. Basically nationalised. This makes a lot of sense when you consider how powerful the search engine is and how much of every person's data and flow of information is controlled by Google. However, it wouldn't make sense, or at least it wouldn't be fair, for the US to be the government that nationalises Google, since it's not only the US population which uses this "utility". It seems we need to invent a new kind of concept that considers the global population as a "public" that owns and controls these vital global resources.
This has to be peak tech-bro thinking. Also, it is obviously not the solution. What would prevent this, ahem, union from developing the same cancer US (and by extension) Western governments have right now?
The problem is at a societal level, which makes it so uncomfortable. If you discuss this, you are also discussing astronomical SF salaries, Move Fast And Break Things, Software Is Eating The World and all that stuff the HN community is very proud of.
So let's dicuss a not government-government instead! Also see the AM/FM dilemma (Actual Machines / Fucking Magic)...
Employees Unions are unions. The needs supplied by a Customer's Union should, in part, be supplied by a Government. The other needs could be called a "Consortium" or a "Industry Working Group".
If it were targeted specifically at Google, there might be legal ramifications. So such a Working Group might need to be focused on Ad-buyers or SEO Professionals at large.
Such groups already exist.
It digs into how corporations are essentially psychopaths — they put profit first, and if they appear to be good or generous, it's only because the money it takes to cultivate that image is going to be a net benefit to them.
This legal person is effectively controlled by a very small group of people, but it outlives them as these titles are replaced (new CEO, changing board). Everyone else contribute to its function, but not its interests. They are recruited to work for the entity through an uneven symbiotic relationship, where the entity covers the simple short-term needs of individuals.
It then uses it the power amassed to benefit itself, and those in control. Either by simply being large, or by trading the immense resources it can produce.
To the entity, the individual is no more important than a random cell in your body (left small toe fibroblast anyone?). And just like in your body, only a small number of cells get to drive the machine.
This is very different from a grouping of individuals, where individuals are merely cooperating towards a democratically elected goal.
Anyway, corporations, for-profit that is, are driven by one tenet & one tenet alone, which is their bottom-line. And they only answer to their ruling shareholders. Customers, employees, their own product, the USA govt, etc are all secondary.
That is not neccessarily bad (It would suck if the tax office would entirely redefine itself every couple year) but it is something to be aware of.
But that's where governments can come in, and implement things like basic worker rights.
As for countries themselves, we could argue that they also live in a context of all the other countries, but I would say that for the reasonably large ones it is the case their political will is roughly equivalent to the collective sum.
To this point maybe no more or less than the sum of its Named Officers' political wills.
They're using involved in lobbying the government, but not just that: also resolution of disputes between members and companies and doing product reviews, for instance.
Imposing your authoritarian will on people in a competitive marketplace is authoritarian socialism. It would be one thing if Google offered something akin to a monopoly. But they don’t. Full stop. Everything they do as a service is done by someone else (and better in most cases).
(1) my first gmail address, opened when i was 10, forwards messages to my current gmail, but both recovery emails are for a domain my dad no longer owns and the last passwords i remember are no longer valid. i answer enough security questions to make them say 'let us look at it' but my hopes are not high...