Opinion Graphic fall 2020

Technology is evolving each day and changing global culture in the process. These changes are spurred by big tech companies led by Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google (FAANG). These companies have been scrutinized for the way they conduct business and have gained immense power in recent years, making many think they are untrustworthy.

One way Big Tech is gaining power is by limiting competition. When companies compete for business and promote their own products and services, this creates a healthy economy and benefits consumers. Companies want to profit, and customers want to buy the best available product at the best price. However, too much competition can be the death of companies, as they become less profitable and are driven out of business. Apple, for one, has been fighting lawsuits over its efforts to block out competitors, including in its app store.

Apple tightly controlled its App Store before a judge ordered that it be opened to competitors. Before that, Apple had limited the payment methods available for use in the store, prioritizing its Apple Pay method, which usually collected a 30% commission on every purchase. The judge ruled Apple had violated the law by preventing customers from using alternative payment methods. Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, the company that brought the suit against Apple, called the ruling a win for fair competition.

Apple should have the right to use its own payment method on its own platform, but the company should not block competitors from its widely used platform. The ruling helped reign in Apple’s power by maintaining fair and balanced competition, which is beneficial to the economy.

FAANG can influence culture through the content the companies release. Some new phrases like “just Google it” and “Facetime” have entered the lexicon as a result of Apple and Google. When people begin using terms associated with a company, it shows that a good business model is in place, and the company is growing.

Problems arise when companies have too much influence over culture. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a series of stories about Facebook called the “Facebook Files”. The stories focused on mental health problems linked to the use of the company’s platforms. One highlighted the fact that executives allegedly knew Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, was harmful to the mental health of teens but publicly downplayed the negative effects.

Company employees also alerted their bosses that human traffickers and drug cartels were using Facebook. Internal documents show that any response to this information was weak, and in some cases nonexistent. Executives have turned to artificial intelligence, or AI, to help combat the issues. Engineers developing AI to flag certain posts say the technology will take more time to develop than the public has been led to believe  and that it is often unreliable.

Facebook has tried to keep these matters private by not releasing studies or information to the public — a whistleblower who was a former product manager released the only known information. The company should not be allowed to hide information from the public when it involves something as serious as mental health.

As more information about Big Tech emerges, the federal government has been filing lawsuits and probing FAANG. These inquests might not be successful, but the government must at least try to cut down on FAANG’s power and protect fair competition and consumer safety.

Companies that gain too much power tend to no longer act ethically, but instead hide serious matters because their names and statuses allow them to. They can also limit customers’ options and try to crush the competition, sometimes by illegal methods. All these factors combined make FAANG too powerful and untrustworthy.

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