Once upon a time, the big techs had all the glory in the world, and rightly so; they made our lives so much easier, right?
So much so that we can’t even imagine a world without Google and its subsidiaries. Amazon made online shopping so sleek and affordable that it has become synonymous with digital shopping. Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In take precedence over anything as the go-to place for consuming news and information. Like do you remember the last time you came across news that wasn’t already all over your social media?
But the narrative around the big techs has swiftly shifted from being the knight in shining armor to the rich and powerful kids in the block.
These companies have come under public scrutiny for all the nasty things they have been doing behind the scenes.
The tech industry has grown tremendously over the last decade, or if we may say, a handful of tech companies have risen to the extent that they are the entire industry – Facebook (Meta), Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google (FAANG). This growth and concentration of power with these companies are concerning because they thrive on user data. They capture user data to give them better experiences, which helps them grow. They then expand into subsidiaries to capture more data, which also helps improve their primary offering, and the cycle continues.
For example – Google boasts over 90% of the market share as a search engine on mobile and claims around 85% of online-search-ad revenue worldwide. Amazon controls about 40% of America’s online commerce, and Meta, formerly Facebook, owns almost the entire social network industry.
The ungoverned power of these platforms has led to severe threats of – Weaponization of online information and the creation of competing realities, lack of transparency, surveillance, data manipulation, behavioral persuasion, and more without any concern for users with the sole intention of the platform’s success.
Social media firms have created a bubble to feed users the information that conforms to their existing beliefs. For instance, they spread fake news, the video where Barack Obama calls Donald Trump a complete dipshit. During America’s 2016 presidential race, Russia subverted the election to support Donald Trump using Facebook, and the company did nothing to quash the deceptive ads and fake stories.
These consequences may be unintentional, but they are severe, and the only way to prevent them is to promote innovation among newer tech companies. But the monopoly has become so addictive to the big techs that they have used questionable tactics to kill competition. Instagram and WhatsApp were acquired by Facebook immediately after they sensed a threat from the platforms at quite a price. When they tried doing the same with Snapchat, they rebuffed, to which Facebook responded by cloning the app’s features.
What Is The Solution?
The notion that regulators are inept in understanding such technologies and ideas and thus can choke innovation needs to go away. They may not fully understand it now, but it is the technology company’s responsibility to help them understand and formulate laws in the interest of all. Narratives like this have facilitated regulatory permissiveness and lax enforcement by government agencies and legislatures across the globe.
Some lawmakers lack technical understanding and thus can’t identify the shortcomings of the technology platforms and take timely action or implement effective policies and regulations. For instance, In the EU, decision-makers, who are more willing to act and lead capable regulatory institutions, struggle to find suitable remedies to the problems they identify.
International alignment on data protection and content policies is also essential, especially when different countries have different objectives with technology.
As for the current state, technology companies need to be self-policing to avoid exploiting data and the privacy of its users. For instance, In 2019, Facebook deployed a new fact-checker to help it cope with the spread of misinformation. They also hired thousands of people to help monitor content and changed its ad policy to accommodate a stringent vetting process.
They need to adopt ethical business practices and be more transparent with their data management practices. Many are asking for protection from the unchecked power of the tech giants. There are growing political and societal pressures that have led to efforts to rein in big tech. Canada is also discussing the big tech monopoly; they have recently passed a bill that seeks to regulate the kind of content media streaming services prioritize on their platforms. The EU is also working towards mitigating the risks posed by the big techs. On the other hand, Poland has proposed a law to ‘limit’ the censorship tendencies of the tech giants. Likewise, other regions are also defining rules to protect users’ interests.