Now that’s the kind of headline journalists like to write. But unfortunately, now that you’re reading the article, the subterfuge must be exposed. We’re not talking about parasites that look for hosts, and we’re not talking about infected food. Instead we’re talking about the Korean movie sensation that just won a big sweep at the Oscars, called Parasite. The story today is that a Spanish brand of potato chips that appeared in-shot in the movie has enjoyed a big hike in sales due to the large numbers of people watching the film and spotting the packaging.
Bonilla a la vista, a family-owned manufacturer in northwest Spain, in the Galician town of Arteixo, reportedly ships around 40 tonnes of its produce to be sold in South Korea each year. The distinctive ‘tin of crisps’ was present in a scene where a poorer family which is infiltrating a richer one, is sitting around in the Parks’ family living room chowing down and drinking booze.
The manufacturer didn’t even know the product had found its way onto the silver screen until they noticed social media influencers had begun posting images of the branding on their Instagram feeds.
Ofcom gets regulatory role as government seeks to rein in the internet
There has been talk of internet regulation for almost as long as it has been around, but with a few high profile cases of the EU commission fining giants like Google, the concerns about things like social media bullying and revenge porn, and also the alleged distortion of elections by online misinformation, it has arguably reached a tipping point.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has published its response to a consultation which was put out to the public last April, saying that a new crop of powers will be created for Ofcom to exercise aimed at combatting “harmful and illegal content”.
There was major concern about the proposals when the consultation initially launched, with many fearing it would involve what amounted to a crackdown on free speech. Included were ideas like making social media executives criminally responsible for harmful content as a way of forcing them to take better control of what was posted on their platforms. This may not seem all that bad if you don’t like Mark Zuckerberg, but depending on the remit, it is feared this could include even small-time bloggers and indeed anyone posting anything on the internet, which would have a chilling effect on what could be written online.
For example, who would adjudicate what is ‘harmful’? Could this include unfashionable political speech? What about uncomfortable reporting on true facts which has the effect of causing public anger about certain issues? Now that the consultation is over, Nicky Morgan the culture secretary, along with home secretary Priti Patel, have insisted that the framework will protect free speech, and that a narrow, clearly define range of businesses.
Said Morgan: “With Ofcom at the helm of a proportionate and strong regulatory regime, we have an incredible opportunity to lead the world in building a thriving digital economy, driven by ground-breaking technology, that is trusted by and protects everyone in the UK.” Only time will tell what such platitudes really mean for the future of freedom of the press.
Tech behemoths under the microscope
Furthering the theme of tech firms facing the regulator, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTA) has ordered five of the country’s largest tech firms, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Facebook, to hand over detailed records pertaining to their acquisitions of hundreds of smaller firms over the last 10 years.
It is part of a series of antitrust (or competition, for British audiences) investigations, and to determine whether the FTC is getting enough advance notice of companies buying each other to adequately enforce consumer protection laws designed to prevent major monopolies from appearing, and damaging consumer choice.
By way of example, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has said that his firm buys another small company once every two or three weeks.
There is a growing sense on both sides of the Atlantic that these companies have created for themselves unassailably dominant positions. Facebook (in owning Whatsapp and Instagram too) dominates social media. Google dominates search and search-related advertising. Amazon is coming to dominate online retail, often by aggressively pricing incumbents in certain product areas out of business.
On the one hand, there should be room for companies to acquire smaller minnows whose technology they want or need, and mergers and acquisitions have always been an obvious feature of a capitalist system. But on the other, most of us didn’t see the hegemonic status of these companies coming, and it is true to say that in some sectors they are figuratively eating absolutely everything in their path. I’m keen on the regulator sticking an awkward oar in and see if some breaking up might be necessary.