July 31, 2021

The Big Tech Threat

Guest Opinion
By Isiah Smith | June 12, 2021

Behind every great fortune lies a great crime. — Honore de Balzac

Big Tech is not really who we think they are.  We think they are simply hotbeds of innovation that represent the pinnacle of human ingenuity and creativity.  They are also symbols of technology’s malign influence. And like the late John D. Rockefeller, they are latter-day robber barons.

Rockefeller (1839-1937), founder of Standard Oil Company, became one of the world’s wealthiest men by eliminating his competitors and acquiring and combining competing companies into one corporation. He also lowered his prices, undercutting his competitors and forcing them out of business. He pressured customers not to do business with his competitors and persuaded railroads to give him lower rates than his competitors.

A deeply religious man who attended church each Sunday, he abstained from alcohol and tobacco his whole life. His only known vice was destroying his neighbors’ businesses and ruining their livelihood.

If you believed that Standard Oil had nothing in common with Big Tech, you would be wrong, and you would miss the threat these giants pose to our democracy and way of life.

Big Tech — Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook — permeates every facet of our lives. All of us, at some time in our lives, use their services at least once. Some of us use multiple, if not all, of their services. These companies have expanded at a breathtaking speed, creating an explosion of services, most of which we have less than a full understanding.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg followed Rockefeller’s playbook when he acquired Instagram and Whatsapp. This acquisition removed Facebook’s two main competitors, effectively eliminating its competition.

Google has created a dizzying number of services such as Gmail, Google Adwords, Adsense, Google Analytics, and so on.  Amazon has become the monster that devours everything in its path. It has become the “marketplace of everything,” from books to beauty supplies. If you need it — or think that you do — Amazon has it. Amazon, in a move Rockefeller would envy, undercuts its competition by offering everything it sells at prices your local shops cannot match. Remember Borders Books? I do. Big Tech decimated that venerable Ann Arbor, Michigan, company!

Big Tech shrewdly, and cold-heartedly, removes competitors from the market by either manipulating the market through lowering prices up to 50 percent or claiming to offer services for “free." But free things cost too much! Because, you see, what Big Tech really wants is your data. As in data from billions of users. Big Tech monetizes their users’ data and sells it to advertisers. None of the proceeds goes to you.  They also use it to more accurately anticipate their users’ needs and desires, thereby increasing their ability to manipulate consumers.

And you give it to them freely!

Zuckerberg has apologized 10 times in 10 years for violating customers’ privacy. One day he’s might really mean it.

Facebook has been involved in numerous privacy scandals. These privacy violations make it easy for companies like Facebook to capture ever-increasing shares of the market. And Microsoft? Around the world, 87.7% of computers Windows! Microsoft not only creates Windows Operating Systems but also sells laptops. Big Tech penetrates every market while simultaneously eliminating competition.

Eliminating competition creates monopolies. Once competition has been vanquished, Big Tech can literally charge whatever it wants to charge. Have you noticed how the price of Microsoft Office keeps steadily rising?

It’s like the wild, wild West with few rules and fewer consequences. Big Tech has the power to crush innovation and stifle new competition by preventing new companies from entering the market. We become slaves to these giants for every service we need.

Big Tech also spies on us. Microsoft tracks every move you make on your computer. Amazon compiles everything you do on their site, purchasing patterns, etc. You might think this is OK, but I find it spooky that the moment I “Google” fitness, I instantly receive a fusillade of sponsored ads featuring every variety of fitness machine known to man!

As consumers, we have a bit of power left. We can resist the endless gathering of personal data. Choose different services that try to protect your data. At least become conscious of what these giant monopolies do and fight to get your privacy back. Buy locally!

On November 18, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt’s administration attempted to break up Standard Oil under the Sherman Antitrust Act. On May 15, 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Standard Oil’s monopoly illegal and ordered it to divest itself of its subsidiaries and forbade it to re-establish its monopoly.

Rockefeller had the last laugh, however. Like Bezos, Zuckerberg, Gates, et. al, he held such a massive number of company shares that his fortune went from millions to billions of dollars. Robber barons' greed is inexhaustible.

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