America’s Congress Antitrust Hearing: What we can learn from it and why the Zimbabwean Government shouldn’t have one at all.
A series of lessons consumers and regulators in Zimbabwe should learn…
Now it may seem like those two lessons are contradictory, but in fact they aren’t. If you’ve watched the video above (courtesy of The Verge) you’ll find the basic reason for why this hearing was held, as well as the one year investigation preceding it . In simple terms, Amazon, Google , Apple and Facebook have become monopolies in their own right, and like any monopoly they essentially are making sure they don’t gain any meaningful competition through either stifling innovation or growth of smaller businesses, gathering data on them, or misusing their power in ways that actually harm consumers and users of their platforms. And of course, since these company’s are all monopolies, that means no matter what disadvantage they come with, consumers likely can’t move to anything else because there aren’t any compelling or adequate competitors partially because these companies have made sure that isn’t the case. We’ll break down what every company’s main transgression (according to the hearing) are below:
Pretty much the poster boy for American Congress hearings, Facebook has been attending congress hearings ever since the Cambridge Analytica scandal from 2016, over it’s massive amount of user data that’s been mishandled, sold to nefarious actors and misused by the company over the past few years. This data of course comes from Facebook’s extensive social media empire, ranging from the site itself to it’s messenger app to Instagram and even to WhatsApp. Outside of Twitter and SnapChat, Facebook essentially owns the world’s biggest social media platforms, and it’s been shown that the company literally achieved that dominance by buying the competition, and continues to buy any small startups that may in any way cause a threat in future. It’s easy to see this as just great business strategy, and to some extent it might be. But if this same company has caused the crushing of multiple small businesses, purposeful radicalization of many of it’s users into angry fighting mobs , multiple data leaks that have targeted people around the world and even the negative influence of its own country’s elections, then obviously said company needs to be put in check.
The Sundar Pichai-run company is often given the image of a bunch of plucky nerds trying to build great things and fumbling along the way, similar to the cast of HBO’s Silicon Valley , but Google time and time again prove they are a much more sinister force when no one is paying attention. After already having hearings and penalties from the European Union over the past two years, this time Google is mainly charged with it’s dominance in searching the web, something which may seem rudimentary but if you think about it, how else would you navigate the internet without often searching for something on a search engine first, and for 90% of us that search engine is Google Search. The problem here is Google has of late not exactly been handling search fairly, in fact often manipulating which results come at the top of a search query, partially due to it’s ad business , which CEO Sundar Pichai was also interrogated over, but also in order to keep directing users to it’s own services, hence keeping them within Google’s own ecosystem and gathering more user data on them, which some users may not be willing to have gathered on them. What’s more frightening is that due to Google Search being the dominant search engine, and Google manipulating what users get when they use it, Google is essentially manipulating a user’s experience of the internet , and of course no one wants that.
The world’s most valuable company is given a lot of flack for being anti-consumer time after time by both Apple users and fans of the competition. Apple makes tons of choices time and time again that users don’t actually want in the guise of a luxury experience, and as we discovered over the past few months, it’s rigid and stringent attitude isn’t directed just at customers, but at it’s app developers as well, especially those who develop iOS products. However the strict practices Apple takes towards developers are much more sinister, with the recent BaseCamp debacle showing the company to be a bit of a mobster-like bully to developers that can command a certain amount of profit, essentially forcing them to give the company money unless they want to be booted off the Apple App Store. This is what Apple was mainly interrogated over, with CEO Tim Cook trying to avoid the accusation of Apple’s monopoly power by claiming that both developers and users could easily switch to Android or Windows, or more ridiculously the Xbox or the PlayStation, which of course makes no sense as only Android is any real direct competitor to the iPhone and the Android app ecosystem works considerably different to Apple’s own.
And finally we get to the firm run by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, a fact which the antitrust committee made sure to bring up as Amazon’s transgressions might be the most directly monopolistic. The firm over the past few years has essentially been “stepping on the little guy” in two main areas:
By seemingly analysing seller data on its online store, then picking specific products doing well on the store, having their own versions manufactured then selling those copycat products sold at a cheaper price on the Amazon store with perks such as faster deliveries or a recommendation from amazon themselves.
By using analysis data from their Amazon Web Services(AWS) cloud hosting platform to study up and coming startups and copying their idea or even more directly copying the ideas in the startups involved in Amazon’s incubation fund.