For example, this week, Sen. Amy Klobuchar introduced a sweeping anti-trust reform bill
. The ramifications down the line could be huge and change the way these platforms operate and monetise. Many outcomes are possible. Will Facebook be broken up? How much data can they use for advertising (in Europe, for example, the GDPR has restricted this to a large degree since 2018)? What if Amazon can’t make its own products anymore? What if Google’s not allowed - by law - to copy a smaller company’s idea? (Did I say “copy”? I meant “get inspired by”. Sorry). What if platforms were forced to move away from advertising altogether, and focus more on user than advertiser? Scott Galloway (yes, I’m addicted to the guy) has for long called for Twitter to do a subscription model
than be reliant on ads.
It’s very exciting to think about this. Basically, the free reign tech platforms have got for a long time, could be legislated away. Unlikely, but still. Platforms have done themselves no favour, losing support among employees, public, media and government (it must take something really special to unite this group of Democrats and Republicans).
If you need more examples, look what’s happening Down Under. The Australian government basically wants Facebook and Google to pay news outlets for utilising news snippets
. The platforms cry hoarse, saying they can’t operate that way and that they will need to leave the country. Calling their bluff, PM Scott Morrison says they’re welcome to leave, and MS Bing has jumped in on the opportunity saying “yeah, we’ll comply, mate
Now, that might seem small and isolated, but if it happens, it could unleash a tidal wave, other countries might follow suit. Indeed, GDPR’s bigger impact might be felt beyond its jurisdiction of Europe
. This could put Google in quite the spot, which is probably why it tried to develop a solution
which is still
likely not going to pass Aussie muster.
Again, I emphasise - sweeping legislation anywhere in the world is unlikely. But with the public and governments growing increasingly vary and aware of Big Tech’s overreach, it’s not improbable. And several things that got them to their current positions (asset-light, easy scaling, plug-n-play for advertisers) could work against them.
Another threat is by other
players and here’s where we realise all the platforms are kinda different. Last year, Apple, with its zealous stance on privacy, said an update would give users the opportunity to opt out of data collection by Facebook - leading to Zuck to cry foul and hilariously paint themselves as champions of small businesses (more on that in Issue 27 of Things of Internet
). Honestly, more than users / advertising leaving en masse or governmental legislation, that’s when I thought these platforms were truly fragile. If it weren’t for its strong enterprise play, Microsoft’s Office - dominant for decades - would have been trounced by Google Docs, much like how its own Internet Explorer obliterated Netscape all those years ago. Who knows what a Facebook could do tomorrow that might render, say, Apple obsolete (it sounds ludicrous right now, but so do many things that look perfectly logical in hindsight - tell anyone in 2005 that Samsung would be a bigger mobile player than Nokia and Blackberry). Each of these platforms has the scale and ambition to do something to completely render the other obsolete.
But the biggest issue, I believe, is not external, but internal.
Over the last few years, I think the biggest critics of Big Tech have been from the company themselves. From Google’s historic 2018employee walkout
protesting protection of sexual predators, to the recent push for unionisation
, littered with frequent protests around controversial government projects and racial inequality - the “smartest people” that Galloway spoke of, are having enough. Just a few days back, two engineers quit Google
over its controversial firing of a black AI scientist. It’s likely more are on the way. Just Google up (yes, I know) “Facebook employee quits” - you’ll find reasons ranging from inaction on misinformation, to profiting off hate, to more. Movies like Social Dilemma
have painted these companies as villains and working in one now is akin to working in, say, the oil and gas industry.
Basically, not where the best and brightest want to be. This, for me, is the biggest threat to Big Tech - more than an advertiser boycott (too small a drop), activist shareholders (ineffective with current voting patterns), government (too long a fight and Big Tech has more lawyers), or even each other (with all the anti-trust eyes on them, companies will be vary of stepping on each others’ toes too much and the seeming united front helps).