Congressional hearings are uniquely American, and you’ve surely seen them in a movie or show. It’s often the crux, dramatizing a room filled with politicians, media, and the country. Everyone’s attention is glued to the protagonist, who sits in front of the committee and answers their hard-hitting questions. If you really want to see a classic, I’d recommend seeing The Aviator.
Coming back to the point, a similar hearing has grabbed the world’s attention. Often referred to as “big tech”, American internet giants Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are working hard to defend their enormous size, arguing that their dominating position in the market doesn’t stifle competition.
In simpler terms, “big tech” has a market capitalization of more than US$ 4.85 trillion. And, this gives them enough clout to discourage competition and continue their virtual monopoly. When companies become too big, the consequences can be radical since the government will find it harder to regulate them.
Data is the new oil
The American economy has witnessed similar situations before and there are precedents available to curtail a company’s influence. For instance, Standard Oil was among the world’s first and largest multinational companies. It started when oil was a fresh discovery and the world was slowly realizing the fuel’s potential. Officially started in 1870, it grew exponentially in the coming years by acquiring smaller companies, controlling market supply, and chasing maximum efficiency while ignoring antitrust regulations.
By 1890, Standard Oil controlled almost 90 percent of the refined oil business in the US. In the coming years, the company would restructure itself into a holding company that controls more than 40 smaller companies. While these smaller companies were separate entities, all profits went to one parent company. In turn, the parent ensured all the kids work in tandem to improve efficiency and control market dynamics.
Finally, in 1911, Standard Oil’s control came to an end after the US Justice Department prosecuted it via the Sherman Antitrust Act. Standard Oil was dismantled into smaller companies, again. But, they had an independent board of directors and each was left to fend for its own. It essentially meant that Standard Oil, as one entity, no longer existed and the market had dozens of autonomous companies. For consumers, this ensured healthy competition and innovation, while supply chains and associated trade partners were no longer dealing in a pseudo-mafia regime.
Standard Oil of New Jersey and Standard Oil of New York are predecessors of ExxonMobil, Standard Oil of Kentucky became Chevron, and South Penn Oil is known as Shell today. A similar breakup was enforced on telecom giant Bell Systems in 1982 when the parent AT&T, was split into regional companies. One of these sping-offs was Bell Atlantic, today called Verizon.
Big tech and its influence
Data is equivalent to oil or gold. The three together are fundamental pillars of the twenty-first century. Just like Standard Oil started out at the cusp oil discovery, Amazon and Google can be called the early pioneers of the consumer internet.
Equipped with instant connectivity, Amazon created online shopping as we know it today. The internet becomes a stressful place without Google helping us discover basic information. Facebook is quite literally our personal life and everyone around you uses it.
Lastly, Apple is the only significant hardware maker here, but it has surprisingly more control over software thanks to its closed eco-system. These companies are very similar to Standard Oil and can pose a serious threat to encouraging competition. Free market principles also go out the window when someone has majority control.
Apple and its greed for more
The Cupertino-based giant revolutionized music playback thanks to the iPod and iTunes. When Apple sold you the iPod, it made a profit. But you need music to utilize your purchase. So, you buy a track from iTunes, that’s also controlled by Apple. Ultimately, you end up paying more and more to the same company. Thankfully, the system is partially restricted and you can sideload MP3 files, but it’s a cumbersome and discouraging process.
Coming to 2020, apps are everywhere. Apple’s App Store comes pre-installed on iOS devices shipped in the last decade. Apple takes a 30 percent cut on whatever you sell via the App Store. Whether it’s an app or an in-app purchase, Apple will get its share of the revenue. Apple says the store acts as a perfect marketplace for developers as well as users. But, how can a newly started developer or company afford to give away 30 percent of its revenue to Apple as a “service charge?”
Keep in mind, this “big tech” has more than US$ 190 billion in cash. Spotify has publicly called-out Apple for this practice numerous times because it sells monthly streaming plans on its app and can’t afford to part a huge chunk of the payment to Apple. Instead of using Apple’s payment system, it manages its own subscription to save “Apple tax”, an informal slang for Apple’s revenue cut. Even Netflix follows a similar approach. The point is, bigger companies are capable of bypassing Apple’s ecosystem lock, albeit with considerable expenses. Then how can new competition come up from scratch?
It’s practically a monopoly because the developer has two options — take it or leave it. Now, if you’re in the market to sell your app, all iOS devices are out of scope if you don’t adhere to Apple’s demands. And, if you skip the App Store, you’re missing out on all the potential revenue. If you agree with Apple, by an optimistic outlook, you’ll at least get 70 percent of something as revenue? This is the basic working of a monopoly.
The operating system market is a duopoly controlled by Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. While third-party app stores like Amazon App Store, AppGallery, and more exist, ask yourself when was the last time you downloaded something off them?
In Apple’s defense, the company feels it should be able to collect its 30 percent share because it created the current ecosystem. With the launch of the iPhone, the company created a virtual marketplace out of nothing. The company invested in building an ecosystem that has stood the test of time and brings both, the user as well as developer, on the same page.
The company announced earlier this year that it has paid US$ 155 billion to developers since 2008. That’s a lot of money. There’s no denying that Apple kickstarted the “app as a product” philosophy, creating a brand new arena in the digital age. But is it’s control justified after a decade?
Apple has always been conservative about its ecosystem, but it’s efforts to accomplish that are often far-fetched. Recently, the company barred Xbox Gamepass on iOS devices because it “it can’t review every game” that’s being offered by Microsoft. Going by this logic, Apple should also screen or review every show or album that debuts on OTT (over the top) players like Netflix, Prime Video, Spotify, and more.
It’s clear that Apple wants to defend its Apple Arcade subscription service and doesn’t want Microsoft to steal the show with Project xCloud. This means that Xbox Gamepass will be available on Android only. If Apple can strong-arm a giant like Microsoft, isn’t it very obvious that smaller players stand no chance against the brand?
Amazon and its influence on customers
Starting out with just books, today the site has millions of products listed, ranging from a unique screw to a full-fledged air conditioner. What started out as an online marketplace has grown into a tech giant that has dominance in cloud computing, voice assistants, and even video streaming.
Critics say Amazon has frequently used its funding to undercut the competition. It took some losses in the short-term by trying to retain users. Once the user was accustomed to Amazon, a process that lets them avoid visits to a store, the loss turned into profit. With a yearly Prime subscription, you’d get free delivery on the smallest of products. Eventually, the user has recovered its Prime subscription fee in terms of convenience and Amazon has processed more orders than ever.
This model ensured that Amazon has an edge over everyone else. The site closely monitors your movement on the site and can intelligently suggest new products to purchase. The more one buys, the more Amazon earns. And, so do the sellers. This seems like a fair game.
But then, sellers realized Amazon has started recognizing categories that can be directly dominated. The user data they collect shows them precisely how much demand a product has, the price vs sales comparisons, and more. It leveraged this rich and unique data to launch its own product brand called Amazon Basics. If you’d normally buy a USB-C wire for US$ 10, Amazon Basics provided that for a lesser price. And, the Amazon tag garnered trust, luring the buyer away from third-party sellers to Amazon’s in-house accounting.
Now, sellers realized that Amazon used its internal sales data to indirectly push out the competition. Amazon follows a similar strategy in other markets like India. Obviously, a seller can try to sell directly via their own platform using simpler tools like Shopify, but will that match the reachability of Amazon? Can any individual seller match Amazon’s marketing and brand recognition?
The company grew as an e-commerce website but is involved in much more than selling books today, the prime reason why it’s one of the “big tech.” The marketplace’s dominant position helped it start brand new investment streams like Kindle hardware, Alexa speakers, and AWS cloud computing. The e-commerce model had worked very well and investors were fine with the company diversifying, even if it meant losing some projects like the Fire Phone.
Today, the company is bigger than physical establishments like Walmart. It’s going up against eBay, Flipkart, Lazada, AliExpress, and Rakuten in the e-commerce space. AWS is challenging Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, as well as Alibaba Cloud. Alexa is fighting against Google Assitant, Siri, and Cortana. And lastly, Prime subscription is taking on Netflix and Spotify in one go.
In this article, the most frequently mentioned companies are Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. Facebook sits in an entirely different vertical, filled with its own unique challenges. However, if you’re trying to do something on the internet, you’ll end up using one of their technology or platform in some way or the other.
And that’s the whole point of the “Big Tech” debate. These companies have grown too much, too quickly. They dominate the publicly known internet and have barely left any space for newcomers. Even if someone dares to do the unthinkable, they’ll be either acquired or pushed into infinite losses.
This is Part 1 of the series. Read Facebook and Google’s involvement in Part 2.
Google: Digitizing businesses key to P5 trillion value by 2030
Google to play big part in PH economy
The digital transformation of businesses could create up to PhP5 trillion in annual economic value by 2030, a new Google Philippines-commissioned report finds.
Of this value, PhP3.5 trillion could come from technologies that help businesses mitigate the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and future similar events.
Key findings from the report include:
- Businesses derive 363.4 billion pesos in annual benefits from Google tools and services, through increased revenues, millions of connections with customers and greater efficiencies, saving time and money;
- App developers in the Philippines earn 384 million pesos in annual revenue through Google Play, reaching over one billion users globally;
- Consumers receive 214.5 billion pesos in annual benefits by experiencing greater convenience, access to information, and enhanced productivity. Search saves users almost five days a year; and
- By enabling businesses to unlock new revenue streams and expand their businesses through the use of Google Ads, AdSense, and YouTube, Google indirectly supports over 110,000 jobs in the Philippines
This could be a game-changer for the Philippine economy, as the country is still hard-struck by the global health situation and has lagged far behind other nations.
Prepared by economists at AlphaBeta, the report explores eight transformative technologies and the robust economic potential they bring to Philippine industries.
This includes Artificial Intelligence (AI) which can be used to drive data-based public health interventions, mobile internet to help digitize retail distribution channels, and the Internet of Things (IoT) for use in supply chain tracking.
To fully realize and unlock the opportunities presented by digital transformation, the report has identified three main pillars of action the Philippines could take: enhancing digital skills training and education, accelerating digital adoption and innovation, and promoting digital trade opportunities.
There exists a huge potential for the Philippines, and a lot of positive work has already been done in this area within the last year.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), through its secretary Ramon Lopez is wary of the important role digital transformation plays when it comes to the country’s economic recovery post-pandemic.
Which is why Google and the DTI have been digitizing small businesses through its Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Caravan campaign for the past two years, being able to train more than 46,000 MSME business owners and employees.
In fact, Google’s tools and services are already helping the Philippine digital economy, as local business, consumers and the wider society derive over 578 billion pesos in annual benefits through increased revenues and millions of connections online.
One of the businesses that benefited from the digital training workshop is Germano’s Chilli which continues to thrive until today.
Germano’s Chilli started in 2008 to recreate the experience of eating chili garlic from restaurants to people’s homes. The concept was fairly new at that time and the business struggled with brand awareness.
Owner Gerome Panlilio then took a Google Philippines-hosted seminar in 2018 to get himself acquainted with features such as Business Profile (formerly Google My Business) on Google Search and Maps, as well as vital knowledge and tools.
This enabled his products to be searchable online, which led to more revenue. Before the pandemic, Germano’s Chilli’s online sales only peaked at 3 percent, but in the past year and a half, it increased to 15 percent.
Digitizing is the way to go
Google Philippines is aiming to aid more businesses like Germano’s Chilli, creating a world that supports digital freelancing and accelerates the shift towards digital payments to let go of disruptions to business operations.
Providing business such access to global markets and equipping them with the necessary digital capabilities to expand reach, business will be able to manage the long-term economic implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Facebook reportedly planning to change its company name
To focus more on the metaverse
Facebook really doesn’t want to be Facebook right now. Amid the wave of situations plaguing the company now, Facebook is reportedly changing its company name later this month.
Reported by The Verge, Facebook is changing its company name to focus more on other products in its lineup. Currently, Facebook’s name comes from its huge social media network. Since the start of its network, the company already expanded into different industries including the virtual and augmented reality markets.
Facebook’s new name will reportedly focus on these new products which they have collectively named the metaverse. Even outside of its new peripherals, they also own other networks like WhatsApp and Instagram.
However, a paradigm shift might not be the only reason for a name change.
A tough whistleblower situation has recently revealed a lot of controversies going on behind the scenes of the social media platform. And it’s not their first controversy either. Prior to the ongoing situation, the company was already facing anti-competition controversies last year. A rebrand can potentially save the company from further damage.
Facebook isn’t the first among its contemporaries to create a new company outside of what it is known for. Google, arguably the most popular example of such, founded its current umbrella company called Alphabet. Though Google still exists, Alphabet deals with the brand’s other endeavors.
For its part, Facebook will reportedly announce its new name during its Connect conference on October 28.
Converge commits to 100% renewable energy
Its main office now runs in clean energy
Converge finally switches to 100 percent renewable energy to power its main office in Pasig City. The company committed to a total of 2.5 megawatts of geothermal energy up to 2023.
First Gen, a clean energy corporation, will be the energy provider for the Internet company. Converge is serious about reducing its carbon footprint and marching its sustainability commitment.
“The Philippines is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and this has direct implications on the future of our business too. We have chosen to take decisive action now. This is the first major step in our journey to becoming carbon neutral,” said Benjamin Azada, Converge’s Chief Strategy Officer.
The clean energy will be sourced from the Tongonan geothermal power plant in the province of Leyte. During the first year, the energy firm will provide a maximum of 1.5 megawatts, and will increase to 2.5 megawatts through its second year.
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