Breaking up 'Big Tech:' Issues regarding digital media monopolies
Big Tech – we know it, we use it. And it’s the topic of a large debate, especially relating to whether it needs to be broken up.
Let’s clarify some things first. “Big Tech” is the term used to refer to Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google (and occasionally Microsoft). These “four firms are lumped together so often that they have become known as Big Tech,” according to The New York Times. They are the top dogs of the technology industry and they control a majority of the sector.
The idea of breaking up Big Tech is reminiscent of the antitrust crusade that started in the late 1800s and continued into the early 1900s. Back then, the government was focused on dismantling large monopolies such as steel, oil, railroads and sugar. It also evokes the spirit of the recent media regulation, or more so deregulation.
In all of these situations, an industry was controlled by a handful of companies, which the government and public don’t want for a number of reasons. Maybe it’s because these monopolies could control the prices and inflate the market far beyond what it’s actually worth, or maybe it’s because they’re virtually eliminating competition within the industry. With technology's case, the situation is a bit different.
Of course, Big Tech companies have monopolistic qualities. They dominate their sectors and absorb some of their competition or control every aspect of their production process, or both. They also have access to millions of internet users’ data, which today is like gold.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle support the idea of breaking up Big Tech, but no one has been as vocal about it as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Part of her campaign advertisements include her support and plans to dismantle these technology companies, focusing specifically on Amazon, Facebook and Google, citing the fact that these companies — or monopolies, as she calls them — are hurting small businesses and destroying innovation.
On the other hand, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an internal meeting at the company, “breaking up these companies, whether it’s Facebook or Google or Amazon, is not actually going to solve the issues,” in reference to election interference and hate speech, among other things.
So should we break up Big Tech? Well, that’s kind of a hard question to answer and there are a lot of factors to consider.
There have been quite a few scandals in the past few years relating to these companies, especially Apple and Facebook. Apple had the whole planned obsolescence ordeal and Facebook? Well, let’s just say its slate will never be clean.
I think the most important issue is the use of user’s data. It can help companies figure out how to market toward your demographic and collectively, it provides insight into your life. Keeping that information private can be important.
We also need to think about how much we use these companies and how they benefit us. Millions of people use Google every day and many of its other applications (i.e. Gmail, Google Drive, YouTube). As a college student, I need those tools in order to do all of my classwork. We use Amazon to purchase things that might not be readily available in stores around us. If I live on campus without a car and I don’t want to Uber to a store, I can just order what I want from Amazon and it can be delivered to me.
If these companies were to be broken up, how would it affect all of their resources?
For example, Google falls under the head company Alphabet. Alphabet owns multiple companies that are dedicated to groundbreaking research and innovation. The companies Calico and Verily are focused on healthcare and disease research, while Sidewalk Labs is looking for ways to improve cities. The company DeepMind Technologies is making headway in artificial intelligence and Jigsaw searches for solutions to geopolitical problems.
If we crack down on these technology companies, what would happen to these subsidiary companies?
People’s anxieties over Big Tech are understandable, but breaking up the companies doesn't necessarily seem like the best solution. It all depends on what the government and legislators would define as dismantling these companies and how it would affect the general populous.
Regulation could be another way to go. We could keep the companies in check by enforcing strict rules that prevent them from sharing any of our data without our explicit permission. Whatever the decision, something must be done about Big Tech’s sway.
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