Let’s start with some housekeeping rules. Big tech refers to the quartet of the top four technology companies on the planet. Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon compromise this elite company of conglomerates that have taken the business world by storm. Actually, that’s not entirely true. If Big Tech had just monopolized the business world, we wouldn’t be writing this article.
The conundrum created by the excessive power of these companies is that they’ve outgrown their industries. Even though they are still classified as tech companies and their source of income, power and market share comes from selling their products and services, the real reason governments and governing bodies are taking notice is data. Data and information are considered to be the true currency of our times and nobody holds more of that currency than Big Tech companies.
The way we interact with them on a daily basis has created an ecosystem of relaying personal information in the most unassuming ways. Credit card details stored on laptops and PCs, passwords to personal accounts, spending habits, music preferences, retail likes and dislikes, religious and political opinions and standings, interests and hobbies. All of it and so much more is being funneled into this reality created by the big four tech companies and the truth is, you can’t really escape it.
Big Tech Getting Bigger
You’re not going to use Google as your search engine? You won’t have a Facebook or Instagram Account? You won’t own a smartphone or buy anything off Amazon? Doable? Maybe. But what’s certain is that your life will not be as convenient. The truth of the matter is that most people prefer to enjoy the convenience provided by the Big Tech companies without really thinking of repercussions of giving up their information in exchange.
This reality has empowered Big Tech with information vaults and a centralized control of information that when put together, can build detailed profiles and digital avatars for every single user of their products and services. Can you see how their power is spilling over from the business world into a form power only enjoyed by governments?
The power spillage does not stop there. Big Tech has stolen the spotlight and power from another segment of society: press. These platforms made digital journalism available to the masses, watering down the presence of printed press. The advertising money that used to power the media industry had to now go through a single vessel that got the main chunk of the pie. Big Tech did not only eliminate printed press but it also stole its audience and its money.
Now that we’re done with housekeeping and the basics, the title of the article will probably make a lot more sense. Governments are already acting on the matter with different action plans in place, but is it all a little too late? Let’s investigate.
A Break Up Seems Like The Mature Decision
Breakups are always hard and messy. Now take all you know about breakups and apply it to break up regarding these mammoth companies. Why break them up? On the grounds of doing too much. The main argument against them is that they hold both the platforms and products sold on them. That immediately creates a conflict of interest on how those platforms prioritise the content displayed on them.
Amazon for instance is the most well-known and established marketplace on the planet but it also has its own line of featured products that “surprisingly” pops up as the first option when you search for them. Can you see how that can thwart competition and fairness of ranking products? Google has repeatedly been fined for “abusing its dominant position by forcing customers to advertise solely through AdSense” as well as “manipulating shopping search results”.
The case built in favour of break ups is not limited to the use of content but it branches out to bigger issues regarding competition.
Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram is the best example portraying the scary monopoly these companies enjoy. Their unlimited source of funds, obliterating market share and endless resources allow them to swoop in and acquire any company that can even slightly threaten their supremacy. The result? The extinguish competition and become even bigger and stronger. The reason why that’s troublesome are obvious as a healthy market is one where participants have an equal shot at the top of the pyramid without fearing it will be swallowed by the company currently sitting at the top.
Whilst the case in favour of a bright-line breakup for Big Tech companies seems reasonable, the application is not that easy. Last July, the Justice Department launched an Antitrust Review on Big Tech companies and whether their practices are stifling competition. When asked if the current laws set in place can secure justice and transparency, the department’s antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, said the following:
“I don’t think so at this time. I think the laws we have are quite flexible. I think we just have to have proper, timely and aggressive enforcement of the antitrust laws.”
The deeper you look into these efforts for decentralizing power from Big Tech, the more interesting it gets. Chris Hughes, one of Mark Zuckerberg’s roommates at Harvard, one of Facebook’s co-founders and multimillionaire entrepreneur, has joined forces to bring down the same company that granted him his fortune. In a long opinion piece he wrote for the New York Times, Hughes cites the following:
“The financial rewards I reaped from working at Facebook radically changed the trajectory of my life, and even after I cashed out, I watched in awe as the company grew. It took the 2016 election fallout and Cambridge Analytica to awaken me to the dangers of Facebook’s monopoly.”
The fight for breaking up Big Tech is well on its way but the road is arduous and long.
Create a New Digital Authority
If breaking up what has already been created and established is an unrealistic goal, maybe controlling what you already have and not letting it get out of control is the next best thing.
In an ideal world the new digital authority would be comprised of people that are experts on the technical, legal and marketing aspects of online business. Current authorities are characterized by slow, bureaucratic procedures that don’t address problems in an effective or timely manner. The goal of this specialized team would be to do the exact opposite. Deal with issues as fast as possible and try to police the competition in the most efficient manner possible.
The problem with this solution is twofold. We’re already living in an era of congested, saturated governing bodies and adding another one would be a tough sell altogether. Furthermore, the nature of the digital space is not as easy to monitor, document or oversee. The new regulator would have its work cut out as trying to keep up with these tech moguls would be quite the task.
This is a never ending topic with a lot to sides to debate and discuss. Make sure you keep coming back to the Axios blog as this is something we will be revisiting in the not so distant future.