My mind spins back to the 1998 Microsoft antitrust case today. The Big Four: Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple heads battle against Big Brother to prove their not competitive…I mean monopolistic.
If it weren’t for that Bill Gates case in 1998, Google, the little start-up at the time, would have faced an unfair fight against Bing. Microsoft AKA Myspace might have actually become the default social network instead of Facebook. Crazy, right? And would Netflix or any other online video service would have been started? Who knows.
But, was it fair to make Gates open up his OWN operating system, his life work, to allow other browsers to appear? First, came Netscape in 1994. Anyone remember that good ol’ Netscape Navigator. Good times. Gates came onto the scene by releasing Internet Explorer the next year in 1995. From then on, Microsoft rolled out every Windows computer with only Internet Explorer. Until this day, if you fully remove Internet Explorer, you are bound to have some Windows tech issues. Don’t tell Congress that.
The new law ruled that Microsoft had to allow other browsers to co-exist along with other competitive openings for other companies. The industry became wide open and Gates took a back seat to the big four that we watch dominate the markets today. I will say though that it really warms my heart to see Gates pushing his foundation to fight viruses and help those who are less fortunate. A great way to spend the last half of his life.
So, what do I think of the Big Four? Yeah, they certainly have gotten greedy and opinionated. And there gray line in laissez faire is more green nowadays after the government sees how much the Big Four has dictated which way the stock market goes, especially during COVID-19. So, of course Big Brother has to step in and diversify the field. It’s like having a mutual fund. You diversify the risk. The government worries that if one company goes under or steps the wrong way, the market will follow. Spread the risk and keep the market more stable.
Look, I’m all for competition. But, we all know Facebook sways its content and has awful privacy practices. Amazon advertises third-party merchants with seller accounts and then copies them into cheaper, better selling Amazon products. Google prioritizes ads and its platform above others. Apple is now forcing apps to give up a third of their profits which is a page out of the Gambino crime family’s book.
On one side, I say, well don’t read Facebook. Advertise elsewhere. But, I definitely feel that when there’s a subscriber base that is dominant to other platforms, some checks and balances have to be put in place. For instance, if you want to sell something online, Amazon is where you go. But, should Amazon be allowed to compete with its merchants who already pay them selling fees by copying them directly? As in stores, sure, there’s competition with other merchants, but the store like Amazon shouldn’t be allowed to copy its merchants.
Google and Apple are offering spaces to advertise ads and apps. How much should they prioritize and how much of a commission should they get? Tough decision here. As for Facebook, Zuck’s been down this road before. Apart from invading people’s privacies, the government has a problem with spreading liberal chatter or fake news or content that is being influenced. That’s ridiculous to me. You don’t like it? Go to another site. Read the Times, the Post, Reddit, wherever else. That option doesn’t have a stronghold on businesses so that’s just a history lesson based on the Constitution.
In any case, this case today about the Big Four will be interesting and set the new precedent for what will come down the road for the tech service industry. I kind of feel sorry that the big mission here will be to grill our tech leaders to all hours of the day and night until they crack. I’m sure we’ll be seeing headlines and memes in the days to come.