What do you think of when you hear “Big Tech”? Do you worry or rejoice?
Is Big Tech a looming behemoth, always looking over your shoulder, relentlessly harvesting your data, and forcing you to use their platform if you want even a semblance of a social life?
Or is Big Tech a beneficent provider of an infinite playground of possibilities, inhabited by your friends, your soon-to-be friends, and the rest of the world?
Chances are, depending on your politics, age, mood or healthy paranoia, your attitude to Big Tech is both.
The truth is that the internet is now an uneasy compromise. To use the ‘free’ services and platforms that Big Tech companies provide they mercilessly monetise your information. Remember if the product is free, the product is you.
We know that Big Tech has too much power over both our private lives and public discourse, but we still use Instagram. And we complain about it on Facebook and tell others via WhatsApp or FB Messenger – ironic really. What is the old saying? Tell it to someone who cares.
GadgetGuy asked Honorary Gadgeteer, US-based Sam Bocetta, a fiercely independent, journalist to give us the USA slant on Big Tech.
After all, there are major movements over there to pull the teeth from FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google). Sure more companies could be called apprentice FAANGs, so we are not specifically pointing the bone at #DeleteFacebook.
His last article ‘Alexa invades your privacy and how to stop it’ raised more than a few ‘irebrows’ at Amazon.
Sam’s views reflect the US popular sentiment. And FAANG et al. are gearing up for the fight of their lives – government legislation could make what they are doing now in an unregulated arena highly illegal.
And his article is timely as very senior FAANG representatives appear on 16 July before the US House of Representatives congressional committee in a hearing to discuss the tremendous market power wielded by online platforms.
This hearing comes as the US House Judiciary Committee is probing competition in digital markets as part of an investigation with both Republicans and Democrats expressing bipartisan concern about the power exercised by FAANG. In Australia, the ACCC has released similar preliminary findings and specifically its impact on the concentration of market power and the broader implications of digital platforms.
Breaking Up Big Tech – the big stick approach
Some influential politicians and opinion leaders say that that Big Tech has gotten “too big.” The US public tends to agree although its only half of the story. FAANG might say it is a narrow-minded, not real-world solution.
The argument to break up companies to reduce monopolies and improve competition is not without basis. It makes sense to use the hard-fought US Anti-trust laws that have served it so well since it was first introduced in 1890 as the Sherman Anti-trust Act to deal with anti-competitive behaviour (gouging) in Steel, Sugar, Oil and Railroads. From that came the US Federal Trade Commission in 1914 to investigate and stop unfair methods of competition and deceptive practices. Again not unlike Australia’s ACCC.
The 1890 argument still stands. If one company controls an entire industry [or segment], there is no competition. Prices go through the roof, and quality does not have to be a priority.
Technology companies based in Seattle or Silicon Valley now account for five-out-of-the-five (100%) of most valuable companies in America (and the world). This led to a spate of well-informed commentary last year from lawyers like Columbia’s Tim Wu to economists like Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff – Big Tech needs control.
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has thrown her considerable weight behind it. One of her major campaign proposals is that since “FAANG has too much power, and they’re using that power to hurt business, stifle innovation, and tilt the playing field against everyone else … It’s time to fight back. That’s why I have a plan to break up big tech companies.”
The problems with the big stick approach are many.
As Wired argued this month, the US Anti-Trust Laws are simply not up to the task. Even if they were, it is far from clear that using these laws to break up Big Tech would actually solve the problems that people have with it. Rather than stopping Facebook collecting data and affecting elections, ten new companies would pop up doing the same thing.