This week the House of Representatives released a 451 page report on “big tech” – Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google. The document discusses practices such as “killer acquisitions” (buying a company to eliminate a potential competitor) and talks about restricting companies to a single line of effort. Battle lines are already being drawn both in DC and in SV.
The tech companies of course disagree with much of the report, using terms like “regulatory spitballing,” “outdated and inaccurate allegations,” and “false narrative.” Like most things in life, reality is a bit more complex. Economies of scale have been an argument for letting companies get big for decades. There are reasons that a large entity can create either faster or better or cheaper products/services than small ones. In an analog world of manufacturing, products, and services, the relationships are easier to trace, the IP more clear-cut, and the risks more evident. Trust is easier to gain and maintain.
But we are not longer living in a strictly analog world. We’re firmly in the digital epoch, and the goods and services are largely virtual. One challenge is that digital scales in a way that analog never could or will. That means that our old models and regulatory structures likely are not equipped for either the pace or scale of change. Trust becomes a murky and ephemeral beast.
So break them up or let them be? Not a clear answer, but many would argue that *something* needs to be done. Some of our first questions and metrics should be around the equity and sustainability of the ecosystem. Ethics is rarely on a development timeline, but it feels like it needs to be. That begs a whole other set of questions but better we ask them now then letting things just happen later.
To quote the band Rush, “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” RIP Neal Peart.