New docu-podcast: Defending Democracy (and US!) from Big Tech

Big Tech makes big decisions over our lives: What products we see, how we feel about world events, what to censor — to some degree, even what medical decisions we make.  Yet who controls Big Tech? The firms are so powerful and rich they really act as judge and jury now.  Increasingly, they are accountable to no one. So at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, we are exploring ways to balance the power of Big Tech.

My first contribution to that effort is this 3-episode docu-podcast exploring the depths of the problem…and the potential for solutions. The project is a collaboration of Duke University’s Ways and Means podcast and our Debugger podcast.  You can listen to all three episodes in the usual places — at the Debugger page on Apple Podcasts, for example — but below I’ve embedded players and transcript links so everything is in one place for you.

Guests include:

  • Marty Abrams, Information Accountability Foundation
  • Jolynn Dellinger, Duke Law School
  • David Hoffman, Cybersecurity Professor, Duke University
  • Chris Hoofnagle, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology
  • Jane Horvath, Chief Privacy Officer, Apple
  • Francella Ochillo, Next Century Cities
  • Alexys Ogorek, Law Student, Duke University
  • Barak Richman, Duke Law School
  • Johnny Ryan, Council for Civil Liberties
  • Bobbi Spector, Federal Trade Commission
  • Kyle Taylor, The Real Facebook Oversight Board
  • Rory Van Loo, Boston University Law School
  • David Vladek, former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection (Listen to his interview)
  • Michael “Buz” Waitzkin, Duke University Science & Society


In episode 1 — “Too Big to Sue” – I try to put tech firms’ vast power and influence into perspective.

Read the transcript (PDF)


Episode 2
Even Big Tech companies understand they wield too much power. Facebook’s attempt to create an Oversight Board is a nod to this reality.  In practice, it also demonstrates why this problem is so challenging. And how an effort to bring sense to the 2020 presidential election ended up as a Twitter food fight instead. In episode 2 of Defending Democracy from Big Tech, we take a deep dive into what’s been tried — self-regulation, lawsuits, outside independent organizations.  There’s lots to learn from our mistakes so far.

Read the transcript (PDF)

Episode 3
This isn’t the first time the American Way has been threatened by an industry with too much power and influence. What has been done in the past to rebalance the scales? We talk with a field of experts to learn what can be borrowed from the epic struggles of the past — in finance, food, drugs, the environment. How do we make sure that data works in the service of humankind, rather than the other way around?

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About Bob Sullivan 1612 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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