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Congressional big tech hearing: Facebook and Google’s involvement

Why are Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google in trouble?

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This is a two-part series explaining the “Big Tech” debate in detail. With the recent congressional hearing, we’ve taken a look at Apple and Amazon in Part 1.

The new synonym of social — Facebook

Facebook has been at the center of all discussions about online privacy and security. The social networking company has grown exponentially in the last decade, and it almost seems like nothing can stop it.

Starting as a simple social networking alternative to the likes of Friendster and MySpace, Facebook has improved radically as a product as well as a company. It proved that a free-to-use social network is possible with ads and went onto grow an empire out of it. While competition soon fizzled out, Facebook constantly innovated. Remember the time everyone was hooked to Farmville?

When the original product, Facebook, started reaching a saturation level, and younger users were looking for something new, it acquired Instagram. The fledgling app became a huge success, thanks to Facebook’s already available user base. Within a decade, Facebook acquired multiple strategic investments like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus.

For a brief moment, Snapchat was considered to be a danger to Instagram. And, Facebook had no qualms in blatantly copying its features. Today, Stories are an integral part of the Instagram experience. Thanks to its investment in augmented reality as well as virtual reality, the filter library on Instagram is filled to the brim with creative options.

Even though Facebook had an in-built instant messaging service called Messenger, Facebook acquired WhatsApp. The acquisition gave it an unimaginable reach in developing markets. Today, the company has billions of active users across the globe.

But, did you notice one trend? Facebook pretty much controls all of social networking online. Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp in one basket dominate the industry. Facebook has almost 2.5 billion active users.

The fact that it could practically mimic Snapchat without any liability proves how strong one company is. Now, the company is trying to bridge the TikTok vacuum with Reels and YouTube with IGTV.

A company mired with reckless management

Not only does its dominance stifle competition, but it also makes it responsible for a lot of user data. And, we all know Facebook’s reputation with privacy is quite muddy. It was revealed that data of more than 50 million users was used by foreign powers to manipulate the 2016 US Presidential election. Cambridge Analytica closely analyzed the preferences and opinions of these users and targeted them with political ads in a bid to change the voter’s decision and sway them towards a particular candidate.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed this psychological tactic was also used during Brexit. Political parties from around the world were clients, leveraging this as service. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has attended a congressional hearing in the past, and the internet is filled with memes about it. But, the primary concern continues to exist — is user data safe?

This question gets tougher to answer when we consider the scale at which the company operates. From the Upper Eastside to a warzone, Facebook has users everywhere. The company has always maintained that it follows industry-leading security standards, and users, as well as authorities, can trust it. However, the Cambridge Analytica scandal has introduced the common to the dangers of cyber warfare.

If ad targeting wasn’t enough, the story doesn’t end for Facebook. Experts widely criticize the platform for its lack of moderation and flow of misinformation. While rivals like Twitter have taken a wiser approach amid the looming presidential elections, Facebook chooses to stay away from intensive reduction.

Not just Facebook, even WhatsApp has long been in news for its misuse. The free flow of messages has led to mob justice instances that were actually instigated by misinformation. The app has introduced a wide range of measures to fight this, but it has brought negligible change on-ground.

Coming back to the “Big Tech” debate, should a company with a consistent history of shortcoming, be responsible for sensitive user data? We’ve already seen how data can be weaponized. What’s even more intriguing is, Facebook is technically an advertising company.

It quite literally acts as a middle-man between a vast pool of users and advertisers. While there’s nothing illegal about the business model, the company does need a wake-up call immediately and has to get its act together.

Google, the gateway to the internet

Google.com is often called the homepage of the internet. The search engine is everyone’s go-to website for two decades now. Anything you need is just a second away. The site lets you find something as general as a company’s website to an in-depth analysis from a white-paper PDF hosted on a university’s website.

Starting as a search engine, Google quickly expanded to new projects like Gmail, Maps, and YouTube. Its suite of applications is practically infinite and covers pretty much everything we need in the digital age. Google has more than 85 percent of the search engine market, and the nearest competitor is Microsoft’s Bing.

With the onset of the smartphone age, it acquired Android and changed history forever. Thanks to close partnerships with companies like HTC, Android got a much-needed boost to take on Apple’s iOS. Today, it also controls more than 85 percent of the market. Except for Apple, practically all other phone makers rely on it.

Over the years, Google has diversified massively. With a recent restructuring, Google has a parent called Alphabet. The parent company has interests in many more ventures like research and development-oriented X, self-driving car maker Waymo, DeepMind, and many more. It has a market cap of more than US$ 1 trillion.

Google rules the software world with its apps, operating systems, and enterprise packages. The most important point is, all of these services are free-to-use on a personal level. You have access to free email, maps, videos, music, and even news. It sells some add-ons like Drive storage or YouTube Premium, but these subscriptions aren’t its primary source of income.

Google, ruler of the free internet

Just like Facebook, Google also relies on advertising. In fact, Google is the world’s largest advertising company. It not only lets you deliver ads on its own products but also acts as a marketplace for advertisers and publishers. It single-handedly has a 37 percent share in America’s advertising industry (including offline). AdSense is widely used by other websites to monetize digital traffic.

Just like Apple, the problem with Google is its massive size and reach. It practically dominates multiple verticals like search engines, browsers, operating systems, and video streaming. Even a mammoth-like Microsoft has failed to challenge it with Bing. Regulators have fined the company multiple times for using its dominance to push its own products.

A majority of phones that ship with Android come bundled with Google apps. Without Google Play Services, one can’t leverage the Play Store. Indirectly, making it mandatory to partner with Google. Android is an open-source system, but it’s clear Google is the party that benefits the most.

When we combine all of these services and its associated analytical tracking, we realize Google knows everything about us. Google’s algorithms are constantly monitoring our preferences to deliver us more and more relevant content. A young venture like Google Pay in India came to a leading position within a short time, despite competition from fin-tech stalwarts like Paytm, PhonePe, and more.

When we consider the speed at which Alphabet is expanding, it’s clear it wants to play a fundamental role in our life.

Internet — man’s new best friend

“Big Tech” has another thing in common. They all play a critical role in our lives today and want to be as closer to us as possible. Apple wants to be your trustworthy hardware partner, Amazon wants you to buy everything from them, Facebook wants your entire social life, and Google makes it all possible, silently in the background.

On a regular day, I end up using their product at least a hundred times. Actually, my phone’s digital well-being feature says I unlocked my Android phone at least 100 times today, got 150 WhatsApp notifications, opened Instagram more than 15 times, spent 25 minutes window shopping on Amazon, and heard 3 hours of music on Apple Music. And, typed all of this on a MacBook Air.

This is the crux of the story. Big tech is all about wanting to be your best friend. Don’t get me wrong, these companies are also responsible for rapid innovation and unprecedented progress in computer science. The internet started as a top-secret government project. But gained lightning speed only when it was made public, and companies realized its business potential.

If you’re looking for a right and a wrong here, you’ve come to the wrong place. Standard Oil was a conventional entity that dealt in physical products like oil.

Data is equivalent to oil only in terms of valuation. With a fast-paced innovation cycle, these companies are constantly evolving. We can’t just break them into pieces based on geographical location. This is the reason why the big tech debate is extremely interesting. It’s an unprecedented situation and it’s clear that the big four have joined hands to fight the oncoming antitrust regulatory hurdles. The fact that all four companies agreed to appear for the hearing is a symbol of unity. Their survival is at stake and there’s no textbook answer to follow.


This is Part 2 of the series. We’ve covered Apple and Amazon’s involvement in Part 1.

Enterprise

Apple: Leaks are causing wrongly sized iPhone cases

Issues cease-and-desist order

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Leaks have always been an important part of the smartphone cycle. Before a huge smartphone launch, leakers have always found a way to release information before the actual company. Premature information normally doesn’t affect the actual release. However, some companies certainly want to clamp down on leaks. Apple, for one, has always despised leaks. However, the company now has a different purpose for doing so: to prevent wrongly sized phone cases.

Reported by Vice, Apple has issued a cease-and-desist order against a Chinese citizen caught leaking info about upcoming iPhones. The leaker supposedly released prototypes for the devices to the public.

According to Apple, leaks ruin the surprise for consumers especially since they spoil the company’s plans. Additionally, the company says that releasing information outside of Apple’s purview will dupe case manufacturers into making cases of the wrong size especially if the actual products are of a different size.

Historically, Apple has been antagonistic against people leaking company secrets. The company has even filed lawsuits against employees caught smuggling out company secrets. Despite how much hype that leaks can generate for the company, Apple really doesn’t like its leaks.

Currently, there have already been a substantial amount of leaks surrounding the upcoming iPhone 13 series. There have also been hints for next year’s iPhone 14 series.

SEE ALSO: iPhone 14 series might use titanium chassis

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Samsung promises to make foldable phones more mainstream

According to new earnings report

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Ahead of its highly anticipated Galaxy Unpacked event this August 11, Samsung has released its earnings report for the previous quarter. Though the reported figures show some impressive progress for the company, Samsung surprised even more by detailing what it’s planning to improve for the future: making foldable phones mainstream.

The recent earnings report tells two sides of a story. On the one hand, the company declined from the previous quarter by making only US$ 2.8 billion in profit, compared to the previous quarter’s US$ 3.83 billion. Though it’s a considerable decline, it’s not that much of a surprise. The smartphone market has certainly gotten over the hype from the Galaxy S21 series’ launch earlier this year. It’s still quite a sharp decline, though.

On the other hand, the quarter’s figures are an impressive improvement from last year’s earnings from the same quarter. The company only made US$ 1.7 billion in profit this time in 2020, marking a 66 percent YoY increase. Samsung’s bounce back from the horrendous pandemic era is apparent.

The company is attributing the success to its several branches including semiconductors and smartphones. However, to bolster its hold in the smartphone industry, Samsung’s goal is to “mainstream the foldable category.”

Given the company’s plans for the near future, this is indeed true. Samsung’s TM Roh has already confirmed that the upcoming Galaxy Unpacked event will launch more foldables in the Galaxy Fold series, rather than a new Galaxy Note series. Samsung is looking for stronger players in the fairly new market segment.

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: Could these be the specs?

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Huawei plummets from top 5 smartphone brands in China

vivo is now the top dog

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Though 2020 was bad for all smartphone makers, it was especially troublesome for Huawei. For years, the American government issued, back away from, and reissued bans that prevented the Chinese company from doing business on the former’s soil. Naturally, the bans were going to affect Huawei. Now, according to a recent smartphone ranking, Huawei isn’t even on the top 5 list in China anymore.

As released by the International Data Corporation, the Chinese smartphone rankings no longer include the once-proud leader of the pack, Huawei. The company has now dropped below the top 5 and lumped together with the “Others” category listed on the rankings.

vivo currently hold the top spot, capturing 23.8 percent of the market share. OPPO isn’t far behind with 21.1 percent of the market. Xiaomi holds the third spot with 17.2 percent of the market, echoing its rise in other rankings. Finally, Apple and newly emancipated Honor round out the pack with 10.9 percent and 8.9 percent, respectively.

All of the top 4 have increased their sales from the previous year, potentially owing to the vacuum left behind by its competitor Huawei. On a similar note, Honor sold considerably less compared its performance last year. The former Huawei sub-brand is potentially still reeling from its time under Huawei’s bans.

Though the company is still planning to release new smartphones soon, Huawei is definitely feeling the crunch from the American bans, resorting to alternatives and in-house solutions to component shortages.

In the meantime, Huawei’s Chinese rivals have moved to fill up the gap left behind by the former leader of the Chinese smartphone race.

SEE ALSO: Huawei P50 series to debut on July 29

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