FROM TECH DARLINGS TO TECHLASH
WHAT’S GOING ON
Once seen as the saviours of democracy, openness and free speech, sentiment towards the tech giants we idolised only a few years ago is starting to turn sour (namely Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook).
The tech giants have brought huge benefits to the world and continue to do so. They have opened up access to information never imaginable, improved how we communicate with each other and have revolutionised how we do business on a grand scale. However concerns about the power and influence they hold is mounting. These concerns are coming from people within the industry itself as well as their shareholders and investors, and it’s not just Facebook people are concerned about.
- Over the past few months, Trump has berated Amazon for its postal service financial model, ‘claiming’ the company is not paying its fair share in market rates. Similarly, New York University Professor Scott Galloway recently stated that Amazon’s power has become so big that ‘it can inflict serious damage on competitors just by sending out a press release’.Early this year, Apple investors published an open letter placing pressure on Apple to ‘improve the parental control features in iPhone and iPads’ citing research that links negative psychological effects of young children who over-use technology.
- In early April, 39 year old Youtube content creator Nasim Aghdam went on a shooting rampage at the Youtube headquarters after claims that YouTube had ruined her life for ‘unfairly censoring her videos’ making them ineligible for advertising revenue which she came to rely on. This came on the back of mounting tensions between YouTube and its creators when the company changed the requirements for ad payments with many seeing it as a direct threat to their livelihoods.
- Only weeks ago Google showcased its artificially intelligent bot that calls people up and pretends to be human causing many to question the ethics of allowing a conversation with a robot to take place without being made aware (this similarly applies to the current chatbots that many of us are probably already conversing with unknowingly).
- Recent controversies have also seen Facebook being accused of ‘weaponising misinformation on an industrial scale and undermining the foundation of democracy.
Even the founding fathers of digital technologies are starting to question their growing power. Tim Berners-Lee the creator of the World Wide Web has recently hit out at the big tech companies in an open letter stating:
“The web that many connected to years ago is not what new users will find today. What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared”.
The tech giants have grown so fast that their influence has only become apparent now that they are so entrenched in our lives. Consequently we are now finding ourselves grappling towards novel forms of remedy:
- Europe is at the forefront of this which has seen regulators impose serious sanctions on tech companies that abuse their dominance.
- The French government also recently issued a ban on all students across the nation from using mobile phones while in school which will come into effect in September this year.
GROWTH MANTRA’S PREDICTION
- The traditional solution for supercilious corporate power is usually through anti-trust legislation, however we don’t expect this to gain much traction as the tech giants are so embedded in everything we do. Many also argue that we created these tech giants, ‘with our demands driving their inventions’ which we eat up each time they bring it to market (and who hasn’t spent hours stalking their ex on Facebook?)
- While there has been speculation that Facebook may consider a paid user model after Mark Zuckerberg stated earlier this year that there will ‘always be a version of Facebook that is free’ (leaving open the possibility that Facebook may someday offer a paid version), we don’t think this will happen. Even after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, how many of us deleted Facebook? While celebrities like Cher and Elon Musk did, the movement didn’t catch much momentum. Community ties and even work obligations make it difficult for people to bid farewell to Facebook for good.
- So where does that leave us? We believe it will be left up to the tech companies to reign themselves in and start acting more responsibly.