Big tech companies like Facebook and Amazon are facing annihilation, but they only have themselves to blame.
When Americans go to the polls in November, one of the issues they’ll be voting on will be whether big tech companies should be broken up. It’s become an election promise for most of the Democrat frontrunners, with Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden all proposing the use of strengthened anti-trust laws to remove the influence of what they claim are monopolistic companies.
At least part of that is due to the threat that big tech poses to the democratic process; President Donald Trump’s surprise success in the 2016 election was partly pinned on the efforts of Cambridge Analytica, which harvested the data of millions of Facebook users in order to target political advertising better.
Also in question are big tech’s business practices. Presidential candidate Ms Warren believes that Facebook’s purchase of competitors Instagram and WhatsApp constitutes an anti-competitive practice. Facebook has also been accused of copying features from rival apps, including Snapchat.
At the same time, Amazon participates in its own marketplace, allowing them to leverage their own service to force smaller competitors and sellers out. For example: the oft-cited story of Amazon massively lowering its own prices in order to force a diaper seller out of business after said seller refused a buyout offer. Amazon ultimately shut the company down after acquiring it.
Then there’s the issue of taxes. Amazon’s attempt to open a new headquarters in the Manhattan borough of Queens – which it claimed would create 25,000 jobs – was met with stiff opposition from residents and politicians after it became apparent that the company would receive more than $3 billion in government subsidies despite paying almost no federal taxes.
“I have nothing against Amazon, but no company pulling in billions of dollars of profits should pay a lower tax rate than firefighters and teachers,” Mr Biden tweeted in June.
“We need to reward work, not just wealth.”
But more than anything, the reason why the issue is a Democrat campaign promise is because it’s popular. The world has become more suspicious of big tech companies due to their willingness to sell their users’ data to the highest bidder. Public relations disasters – like the leak of a Facebook experiment where the company determined they could manipulate users’ moods by altering what they saw in their news feeds, or Amazon’s cloud computing contract with the CIA – have not helped the situation.
In fact, the only time that the idea of breaking up massive companies that support hundreds of thousands of jobs has been as popular was during the GFC, when citizens and politicians alike called for more stringent regulation of Wall Street.
At the outset of the last decade, the role that big tech would play in society was unknown. Many thought they could create a more connected and open society, while providing net benefits in terms of innovation and employment. Others were wary of the amount of information those companies commanded and how they might use it. In 2020, the matter is settled. Far from being benevolent innovators that merely wanted to improve our lives, many tech companies have actively made them worse. If big tech companies are broken up, they’ll have brought it upon themselves.
Deutsche Bank and a number of its US arms have agreed to pay US$150 million ($216.1 million) in penalties for compliance failures around its...
ASIC has issued a stern warning to companies that they must “tell the story” of how their business has been impacted by COVID-19 or face...
APRA has issued directions and imposed a new license condition on Suncorp Portfolio Services after investigating a matter referred by the ro...