Big Tech’s on the Hot Seat Today – Here’s Why Investors Are Fearful
Today Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com Inc. (NasdaqGS:AMZN), Tim Cook of Apple Inc. (NasdaqGS:AAPL), Sundar Pichai of Google/Alphabet Inc. (NasdaqGS:GOOG), and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook Inc. (NasdaqGS:FB) face members of the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, in what’s going to be a show.
And I think you know what kind of show I’m talking about.
House members are going to come out swinging because it’s an election year.
Vote-hungry Representatives want the public to see them as protectors of our privacy, pushing back on undue societal — meaning voter — influence, as promoters of equal employment opportunities within each of those CEOs’ colossal companies. And, because antitrust is the name of the game for this subcommittee, the House is going to push for equal access to the platforms, ecosystems, and consumers these giants control and profit handsomely from.
Today just might be a big deal. Today, we just might see how serious Congress is about breaking up these giants. Today, we just might hear what these monster companies might be forced to do to help struggling businesses they’ve quashed for years.
Issue #1: Antitrust is the Name of the Game
Antitrust issues include what and how Apple controls everything for sale in its App Store, including free stuff. Who gets access for how much, and who’s hurt?
How many stores, retail, and wholesale, has Amazon wiped out, and how many will the mega-online retailer prevent from starting up in recession? How many businesses and dreams has it and will it kill to keep growing? And, how does Amazon know what customers of outside sellers on its platform want, and how does it know how to make those things themselves and undersell the sellers on their platform?
Is Google the world’s biggest, most influential, most powerful, most profitable search engine? Google it, because that’s what everyone says to do, and that’s what just about everyone does. How do they control what comes up in a search and how are they paid for that? How much of the country’s ad budgeting does Google get? How does what’s on their site/platform influence people?
How about what we see, hear, read, and follow on Facebook? How much of it is real, or really manufactured by bots and “influencers” out to sway public opinion, society, voting? How come there’s no competing products to Instagram or WhatsApp? What if they were separated form Facebook, would new platforms be competitive, or will Zuck say they’d be less policed?
So many questions, so little time.
Issue #2: Data for Sale
Speaking of questions, here are some I hope are asked, from a new book by Darrell M. West and John R. Allen, entitled “Turning Point: Policymaking in the Era of Artificial Intelligence:
|What are the societal ramifications of your technologies?
How do you use your influence to make decisions and how have you done so?
How have you diversified your corporate leadership, your workforce, what are the current breakdowns for your company by race, gender, ethnicity, and U.S. states where employees work?
How do you “police” your products for racist appeals, hateful actions, or false information?
Do you believe private technology companies have an obligation to protect democracy, slow the spread of hate speech, and promote fair elections?
Do you internally define hate speech and fair elections? If not, why not?
What activities conducted on your platforms or by your subscribers and consumers of your products should be subject to regulation and which ones should not be?
How do you address the increasingly worrisome questions about whether what people are seeing or hearing on or through your platforms is real?
Do you believe technology companies have a responsibility to combat bias and enforce anti-discrimination laws on your digital platforms?
How much legal liability do you think technology companies should have for what happens on their platforms?
Do you believe law enforcement and immigration officials should use facial recognition technology to identify suspects and prosecute criminals?
How long do you think images stored for purposes of facial recognition should be held by law enforcement?
Do you think the internet should be governed by the net neutrality principles of anti-discrimination, a prohibition against paid prioritization, and no blocking or slowdown of online traffic?
How do you protect the integrity of your personal online identity and what steps do you advise other Americans to undertake to safeguard their online privacy and security?
How do you think the United States should handle relations with China regarding intellectual property, cybersecurity, and human rights?
How do you think the United States should handle relations with Russia regarding intellectual property, cybersecurity, and human rights?
What is the one digital product or service you wish had never been created and why that product?
Hearing honest answers to these questions just might panic investors.
Or, maybe not
Whether or not anything ever gets done about what the House pretends its pushing for, or what the Senate might pretend to go after, is always a matter of money, as in will the lobbying money the big companies pay prevail, or will Congress’s appetite for votes and the prospect of being in office longer, so they can make more money off their self-serving dealing, outweigh the money and payola they’ve already sucked up?
It makes a difference for the Big Tech companies on parade today.
Because, this upcoming election is that important.