Antitrust in big tech

It seems that the days of trusting the experts are well and truly over. The pervasive feeling of mistrust in the all powerful tech giants increases every day and is becoming impossible to ignore. Conflicts of interest are becoming more and more apparent. Google, for example, is not only a global internet platform, but also a competitor for the very products, services and content it helps people find ; a fact which cannot fail to make consumers nervous. Who can feel comfortable with their data being used by the very people that are meant to be protecting it? This also puts Google in the perfect position to smother competition and control the market. Similarly, Amazon are currently being investigated by the European Commission to check if they were abusing their customers information by using “competitively sensitive information.”

After Google’s $5 billion fine from the EU for  being caught imposing restrictions on OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), they will now be offering Android users an option to select their own search engine when the phone is initially starts. If users want to alter their choice after this, the phone will require a factory reset. Alongside the Google search engine, will be three other offerings. These will be chosen through a fixed bid process and annual auction. Still how that will actually work isn’t being made particularly clear for customers.

Google are also in question for the way they are handling their internal politics. They are accused of being anti-Conservative but at the same time being attacked by Liberals. Handing out exorbitant exit packages to executives accused of sexual harassment, leading to employee strike action, has done them no favours. Tightening up restrictions on employee free speech, where it is deemed that employees are breaking codes of conduct, such as misuse of internal mailing lists has also angered staff. Google’s continued work on a censored version of their search engine for China only adds to the feeling that ambition is overtaking integrity.

A similar dilemma has arisen at Facebook who recently declared that they will not be censoring or fact checking political ads for the 2020 US elections. Mark Zuckerberg even went so far as to reference Martin Luther King and the importance of Freedom of Speech in his defense of running political campaigns that have been proven to be untrue. This was then tested when Elizabeth Warren ran a false ad on the social platform about Mark Zuckerberg to highlight the issue.

Google has announced plans to limit ad blocking software on Chrome. Irritating consumers even further, will be the fact that the limitations will not be extended to customers who pay for the Enterprise subscription. Google claims that the limitations will increase security but again due to the amount they profit on ads, this is another glaring conflict of interests. Digital rights agency group EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) strongly refute and deny the claim that security will be increased in any way.

The ANA (Association of National Advertisers) found that most media agencies were at the very least guilty of a lack of transparency. It revealed programmatic advertising for strategies to improve ads that actually do nothing to improve ROI. Google representatives often contact customers to provide advice on improving their ads but it actually only seems to increase ad spend. Brands are demanding more transparency for how these recommendations are made and managed. It seems more and more likely that the best way to increase transparency and provide objectivity is to use a third-party agency to market fairly and provide adequate evaluation of effectiveness and most marketers agree there needs to be more regulation and governance.

Some tech giants are being seen to making efforts towards this goal. Facebook wants to “be clearer about the products and services that are part of Facebook.” How that will actually manifest itself remains to be seen. Some major advertisers have signed a letter from TAG (Trustworthy Accountability Group) committing to more transparency. The US Justice Department is reviewing “whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.” At this point, it is worth mentioning that Google have been investigated before and were determined to not be engaging in uncompetitive behaviours, yet it is Google’s name that keep cropping up again and again when mistrust is suspected. As these companies are hungry for market share and largely self-regulated there seems to be little being done to protect consumers from being sold to the highest bidder.

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