McNamee warns of the dangers of a new data economy

A Silicon Valley investor for over 35 years, Roger McNamee is a tech venture capitalist with several successful companies to his name. An early mentor to Mark Zuckerberg and an investor in Facebook, McNamee spoke candidly for 45 minutes about the history of Big Tech and its progression during the CME Group’s 12th annual Global Financial Leadership Conference in Naples, Florida. 

Founding Partner of Elevation Partners (with U2’s Bono) and author of Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe, McNamee covered a number of topics, but spent the bulk of his time focusing on the big four tech companies (Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft) and the myriad reasons he believes Silicon Valley has lost its way over the last 15 years.

“I’m worried about a world where four companies control the market,” McNamee said.

McNamee recalled a time when tech startups and the Valley were catalysts for innovation and growth in the 90s and early 2000s. As a former mentor to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, McNamee played a key role in ensuring Facebook did not sell to Yahoo early on. He told the then 22 year-old Facebook founder, two things he learned in the investment business:

1.     In the history of entrepreneurship, no person had the right solution at the right time in history, twice.

2.     If a business is going to be successful, it has to be from the creator. Nobody else will be able to deliver.

But McNamee says his view changed in the run up to the 2016 election. McNamee saw the dangers of what a company with the power and size of a Google can do given the breath of data it owns.

McNamee notes that, while Big Tech firms could offer some of the greatest invention of all time to come out of Silicon Valley, internet platforms are underregulated and should be more heavily scrutinized. Facebook “did nothing to protect democracy; nothing to protect civil rights,” he said.

As an example, McNamee noted U.S. Postal workers are not allowed to read through the data that passes through their hands, but that is what Google and Facebook do every day. Relating it to the Millennial generation, “with over one billion users, Pokemon Go will be the largest behavioral experiment of all time for years to come.”

To say he has a new goal now would be understated, noting “I want to undermine surveillance capitalism,” ending his comments saying: “Political action is what we need to do now.”