Wednesday, 27 September 2017 05:28

Are Facebook, Google and Amazon too big?

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The question in the US today is whether Silicon Valley's biggest players need the same grilling usually reserved for Wall Street.

Who remembers life without big tech companies? Google can now answer our every question, Facebook lets us keep in touch with far-flung friends and family, and Amazon fuels our love of books and, particularly in the US, most any other physical product you could want.

Yet, concerns about whether these companies, every present in our lives, are becoming too big, too data-collecting, is manifesting from consumers to Congress and is the news of the day in Washington DC, where this writer happens to be spending the week.

The three giants have a combined market cap of US$1.6 trillion, but are as unmonitored as they are influential, the public says.

A USA Today poll says 76% of American adults believe technology companies are getting too influential in everyday people's lives, with 52% saying it's a bad thing, and only 24% saying it's a good thing.

The biggest concern about technology companies acquiring a non-technology company is monopoly occurring (30%), redundancies and job losses (19%), decreasing quality (13%) and data privacy compromise (12%).

More specifically, USA Today reports the public don't trust Facebook's algorithms about just what it chooses to show, and not show, from your friend's updates, whether Google's search links are trustworthy and have integrity, and whether Amazon.com will put regular brick-and-mortar retailers out of business.

US lawmakers are now placing these big players under scrutiny, claiming antitrust laws which applied to railroads and oil companies didn't touch disruptive tech companies, examples of American innovation, which enjoyed the faith and enrapture of the American public and legislators while appearing to propel them into a digital future.

A precedent has been set in Europe where Google has been fined US$2.7 billion, with regulators claiming the search engine giant unfairly advantaged its own shopping facilities in its results. Google denies the allegation.

Facebook is itself being quizzed by investigators over the sale of US$100,000 in Russian advertising during the recent US Presidential campaign. In response, Facebook says it will change how it sells political advertising.

Meanwhile, Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods for US$13.7 billion is being flagged by some Democrats as monopolistic.

The tech companies, in turn, deny wrongdoing and claim pressure will hamper growth. While the current US administration does not appear, at this time, interested in curtailing their size, political analysts say future White House contenders have little to lose by running a campaign against bigness.

The writer is currently in Washington DC, attending Splunk .conf 2017 as a guest of the company.

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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