The world of technology is one of perpetual growth and incredible scale. Without doubt, it’s become one of the leading sectors of modern human living. While this can be a good thing, and it is in many ways, internet-based companies are perhaps growing at a rate we could never have planned for.
The power that we allow these companies to wield due to their influence, then, is relatively striking. If you look around the internet world, you see some major names sticking out: Google, Facebook, Amazon, eBay, Fiverr. These are major online platforms which have grown into massive companies. Each of them are cornering a large portion of their market for themselves.
That can be quite staggering, especially when see it in plain daylight just how big these companies are in the modern world. Are they too big, though?
It’s a common question, and one that can be hard to answer. It depends on how you look at these companies. In human history there has never really been a time where one company could look to serve so many. Google search engine, for example, is more or less accessible all across the globe. This means that it holds a unique position in that they are one of the few companies in the world to make it clear that their target demographic is every single person on the planet.
Is that too much, though? Is it a good thing we have companies of such size?
The drawbacks of global ambition
For example, it’s been made clear that giants like Amazon and Google have, in far more comfortable terms, the idea of ‘world domination’ in mind. While it might not be domination in the way we all imagine, they want to become major market leaders that, in effect, could never be usurped.
When you consider how many people you know use Google products or buy items from Amazon, it’s easy to see why. Competitors are few and far between, and even then they always come with something missing. When these major companies allow you to have your cake and eat it, why would you then settle for something that offers you less?
It’s just part of the human psyche as a whole. If we can have something that is better than the alternative, things like ethics and privacy soon become second-rate factors.
And that, sadly, is a big part of the problem. Those global ambitions mean that companies like these are increasingly pushing our ability to maintain privacy and anonymity to the limit. We accept it because they offer us shiny baubles to bait us in with. When a company launches their own direct food ordering service, people tend to only think of the convenience. They don’t think of the long-term impact that this has on the economy or employment.
So, by giving these companies so much power, we might need to accept that they have been handed a portion of power too much.
Taking back power – is it even possible?
As nihilistic as it may sound, it might be hard to give up the tools we have today. If everyone wanted to see a competitor arrive to Google who could help to force them to change tact, they need to stop using Google.
Given all of our Android smartphones – 150,000+ sold per hour, per day – often use Google products, that’s a hard thing to see take place. Add in the fact that Google sees around 1.4m active users in a single hour, too and it’s easy to see why they hold all of the power: we hand it to them on a silver platter.
It’s the same with privacy technology. Companies are able to sell us private virtual assistants who listen to our voice commands and act upon them in the house. In a single hour, over 3,500 people are using Amazon Alexa. That might not sound like much when extrapolated to the globe, but it is growing all the time.
That’s worrying. Tools like this are obviously very powerful and cool, but they pose huge risks to privacy standards and the like the world over. For that reason, it’s easy to see why stopping the rise of these companies is so hard to fathom. When they are handed power on a silver platter, it’s so easy to see the scale of their growth come forward in ways we could never have predicted.
Can that be stopped? It’s very hard to imagine today.
What does this mean?
For one, we should get used to these big name companies sticking around. Even through massive privacy faux pas and failures, they manage to stay at the very echelon of our society. When you factor in that over 33.3m people use Google in a single day, it’s almost impossible to see how a large group of those people could be convinced en masse to move to a new search engine.
Just take a look at how technology flows in real time. The sheer scale of these companies means that they take complete control of how we use these kinds of platforms. Who else could compete?
The same goes for social media tools like Facebook. Facebook does what it does best, so how can another company really make the same kind of impact? It’s nigh-impossible. We missed the chance to control the flow of information on companies and sites like this long ago: now it’s very hard to see a genuine solution to this problem.
While it might not be a huge issue to some, having companies which are too big to fail is never a good thing.
Take a look at the 2008 economic crash: the vast majority of the banking industry got away without censure. The community response to this was to launch Bitcoin. Bitcoin is producing over 150,000 transactions in a single day now. It’s a growing alternative to the centralized banking system.
It’s hard to see people making the same kind of changes in their use online, though. The big internet companies have their feet well and truly under the table; removing them now would be a huge challenge. As some of the first of their kind, the appear to have stuck their company flag into the idea they now own. Removing that flag might not be possible in some of these industries.
Watch this space for regular updates in the Technology category on Running Wolf’s Rant.