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Does Big Tech Have Too Much Power?

5 minute read
Rich Hein avatar
Find out what consumers and tech workers have to say about Big Tech’s growing power.

Does Big Tech have too much power? If you asked the general population, the answer would be a firm yes.

A recent Consumer Reports survey found that 75% of Americans are worried about the power wielded by big tech. Another survey confirmed these findings, with 64% of consumers feeling that technology companies have too much power, while 55% think that the government should impose more regulations.

Things don’t get any rosier when you ask employees at tech companies about their own companies.

More than three-quarters of tech employees think that Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google have too much power, with only 8% disagreeing, according to a recent survey. Just as concerning is the same survey found that 40% of big tech employees feel that tech does more harm than good.

And this is coming from inside the industry!

So, what is going on to give people this near universal feeling that big tech has too much power and needs to be reigned in?

Big Tech Is Just Too Big

All the big tech companies, from Amazon to Google, have blossomed in size and scope due to rampant mergers and acquisitions. Big tech use M&A to increase their market power and leverage, acquire new data to monetize, and to limit competition.

The American Economic Liberties Project lists historical M&A (mergers & acquisitions) for Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google to give you an idea of the scope and volume of these activities.

For instance, over the past 25 years, Amazon has done 118 acquisitions, including Whole Foods, Ring, Twitch and Box Office Mojo.

Apple has done 126 acquisitions over the past 34 years, while Facebook has done 92 acquisitions over 17 years, including monster deals like WhatsApp and Instagram.

Finally, there is Google, the king of tech M&A, with 264 acquisitions over 21 years, or 13 deals per year.

All this has led consumers to rightfully feel that big tech has grown too big.

One survey revealed 80% of American consumers now say that mergers and acquisitions unfairly undermine competition and consumer choice. Further, 30% favor breaking up tech platforms into smaller ones to remedy the consolidation.

Unfair Business Practices

All of this massive size and power gives big tech companies the ability to limit competition and manipulate market conditions to their benefit.

Nearly a quarter of American consumers say it’s not right for big tech companies to give their own products more favorable treatment than rival products in search results. Further, 52% say it’s fair only if the preferred placement is openly disclosed.

Another thing consumers are not crazy about, and you can count me on that list, is what is being called dynamic pricing, and I am sure you have seen this on Amazon. Basically, Amazon is looking at what zip code you live in, how much you have and are willing to pay for certain products, to modify their prices in real-time accordingly.

Learning Opportunities

Not surprisingly, 75% of American consumers view dynamic pricing models as a problem.

Big Tech and the Cops

In 2019 it was reported by the Washington Post that doorbell-camera company Ring, now owned by Amazon, secretly partnered with 400 police forces to share user personal information and video. Oh, and the Washington Post, that wrote this article, is also owned by Amazon, which is owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos. No conflict of interest there.

According to WaPo the rapid growth of the program, which began in spring 2018, surprised and concerned some civil liberties advocates.

Ring has tapped into “a perceived need for more self-surveillance and by playing on consumer fears about crime and security,” said Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, a law professor and author of “The Rise of Big Data Policing.” He thinks Ring has found “a clever workaround for the development of a wholly new surveillance network, without the kind of scrutiny that would happen if it was coming from the police or government.”

Ring tried for months to keep key details of its police-partnership program confidential, but public records from agencies nationwide revealed some details of the company’s shadowy collaboration with local police.

And if you asked employees within big tech companies like Amazon, they would tell you that after the police’s response to the BLM protests, 44% don’t want big tech to work with law enforcement.

In fact, after BLM, many tech giants, including IBM, Amazon and Microsoft, announced they were cutting or suspending ties with police departments, mostly around the selling and deployment of facial recognition technology.

What’s the Solution?

While the majority of big tech employees think their companies have too much power, they aren’t necessarily aligned on what the next steps or regulations should be.

Three-quarters of tech employees said big tech companies should be allowed to acquire other firms, while just 40% of big tech employees think that Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet and Apple should be broken up.

The public overall feels more strongly about regulation. 60% of American consumers favor stronger government action, such as new laws, regulations and enforcement, to both discipline big tech companies and reduce the amount of harmful content being proliferated.

I seem to remember some laws on the books from about a century ago that dealt with monopolistic companies and their abuse of competition and market dominance. Perhaps it’s time for the government to enforce regulations from the Sherman Antitrust Act and other established antitrust laws to mitigate monopolization and reintroduce competition and fair play into the technology marketplace.