Congressional big tech hearing: Facebook and Google’s involvement
Why are Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google in trouble?
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.
NVIDIA briefly becomes a US$ 1 trillion company
Right in the middle of Computex 2023
Arguably, NVIDIA is one of the top contenders for MVP during this year’s Computex 2023. Though the brand didn’t exactly add anything new to its iconic GeForce RTX lineup, it made a lot of significant strides in the technical and entrepreneurial aspects of technology. It’s a strategic lineup of announcements. For a brief moment, NVIDIA has briefly breached US$ 1 billion in valuation in the middle of Computex 2023.
Right as the annual trade show started, NVIDIA wasted no time in announcing a new partnership with MediaTek for an upcoming slate of automotive processors. Then, days later, the company unveiled a bombastic set of announcements during its own keynote presentation. One such example is an advanced AI engine which can generate fluid conversations as an NPC in a video game.
It went beyond artificial intelligence, too. The keynote saw the introduction of the NVIDIA GH200, a “superchip” that the company calls “Grace Hopper.” The unbelievable processor comes with 72 cores, 96GB of HBM3 memory, and 576GB of GPU memory.
Supercomputers and artificial intelligence are on page one of NVIDIA’s playbook this year. It looks like the strategy is working. On Tuesday, the company’s share price peaked at US$ 419.38 per share. As a result, the company’s value bumped up to US$ 1 trillion, placing it in an esteemed club with others like Apple.
It was a short-lived victory, though. The day ended with the share price settling back down to US$ 401.11. The valuation closed at around US$ 992 billion.
Besides the Computex keynote, NVIDIA has been on a roll over the past few years. The company’s GPUs skyrocketed in popularity during the pandemic, helping profits today.
SEE ALSO: NVIDIA develops an AI for NPCs
Meta faces record-breaking US$ 1.3 billion fine
Over cybersecurity concerns
Lately, Chinese companies, such as TikTok, found themselves in a tizzy over alleged cybersecurity issues in the United States. Cybersecurity isn’t a localized concern, though. All over the world, tech companies are finding themselves under the microscope for the same issue. Recently, Meta was on the receiving end of such a policy in Europe.
Ireland’s Data Protection Commission has announced a record-breaking US$ 1.3 billion fine against Meta, via The Verge. The fine, which has been in the making for ten years, is in response to the company’s transferring of European data to its servers in the United States. Lawmakers are adamant that the handling of data opens up cybersecurity concerns in the European Union.
Meta alleges that its current method of handling data is within the legal framework agreed upon by both the European Union and United States. The former claims that the current framework does not handle the privacy of European citizens with care. Of note, the claims only affect Facebook, not Meta’s other companies.
As a result, the European Union is ordering Meta to stop the transfer of data and to delete data currently stored in the United States. This is, of course, in addition to the hefty fine, which is currently the largest one of its kind. Though the fine is record-breaking, it’s still an unknown whether it will lead to a change for Meta, which bags multiple billions on a regular basis.
To prevent future incidents, the European Union and the United States are working on a new framework for data transfers between the territories.
SEE ALSO: Facebook, Instagram verification badge launches in the US
TikTok sues US over ‘unconstitutional’ ban
Allegedly against right to free speech
Last week, the state of Montana executed the first official ban against TikTok in the United States. Of course, no one expected the popular app to just stay down. Today, the company is suing the state over the attempts to ban the app.
The already signed bill tackles the issues put forth by the government years prior. According to the bill, TikTok is too risky as a security threat to allow into the country’s digital space. Should the bill go unopposed, TikTok will be effectively forbidden in the state starting next year, taking it away from app stores.
Now, the opposition is pretty clear. Via CNN, TikTok’s case alleges that the ban is unconstitutional and violates the right to free speech. Likewise, the company claims that the state of Montana should not have the right to ban the app. Since the issue is about national security, only the federal government should have that right.
Notably, TikTok’s own case isn’t the only opposition against the ban. A few days after the ban was announced, creators on the platform also sued the state. Their specific case tackles the issue of free speech especially among those who use the app in the state.
Even without the state’s localized ban, TikTok is already busy fighting off a statewide ban from the federal government. The company’s CEO even issued a call to arms, asking users to tell the government how much the app is valued in the United States. In Montana, the company now has another battle to wage. And, as mentioned before, a lot of parties are certainly looking at the results of the legal battle.
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