A fast changing political landscape has found prominent critics of tech giants — including Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google — arise on both sides of the aisle in the US. As Ben Smith writes for BuzzFeed, coming from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, Steve Bannon and Bernie Sanders both want big tech to be regulated like a utility, as Bannon said just last week in Hong Kong.
Smith writes about the backlash, which extends far beyond the extreme ends of the political spectrum:
Opportunists and ideologues have assembled the beginnings of a real coalition against these companies, with a policy core consisting of refugees from Google boss Eric Schmidt’s least favorite think tank unit. Nationalists, accurately, see a consolidation of power over speech and ideas by social liberals and globalists; the left, accurately, sees consolidated corporate power. Those are the ascendant wings of the Republican and Democratic parties, even before Donald Trump sends the occasional spray of bile Jeff Bezos’s way — and his spokeswoman declines, as she did in June, to defend Google against European regulators.
With the tide turning against big tech in the US and Europe, what’s going on in China? Is there similar backlash to companies like Alibaba and Tencent who are disrupting the old guard of hulking state-owned enterprises and traditional retail kings and developers with close government ties?
One can only judge from Jack Ma’s public confidence that he has backing in high places to take on the old economy. In an interview with Stephen Engle of Bloomberg released Friday, when asked about criticism from tycoons such as Wahaha’s Zong Qinghou, who famously said the internet is destroying manufacturing, Ma did not seem worried.
“We are having the kind of resistance over the past eighteen years almost every day. We see people like Mr Zong a lot. But this is the evolution, the revolution of the technology. People like these older tycoons in the old economy, in their early days, they destroyed a lot of lower level companies. We are helping manufacturing.”
Engle went on to press Ma on the role Alibaba will play in SOE reform, battling vested interests that want to keep the status quo.
“We are pushing that and this is why a lot of banks don’t like us in China. We’re not necessarily interested in buying the banks to change it, but because of us chasing them around, they reform.
Chasing big state-owned banks around? That doesn’t exactly sound like someone who is concerned about political conflict. One way Ma says he has stayed so close to the fire without being burned, is by staying a step ahead of regulators. “We probably regulate ourselves much more strictly than the regulators,” Ma said.