A new report from the UK government increases the growing pressure to reduce the enormous influence held by just a few tech giants.
We are living in an age of tech giants. Organisations like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon are not only incredibly successful in their respective sectors, they are some of the most influential companies in the world. Many claim they are monopolies with the power to shape a huge range of key issues, from how personal data is controlled to determining the way technology is used on an international level. Now the UK has added its voice to the growing call for increased digital regulation with a 150-page report that outlines threats to competition, innovation, and personal privacy caused by extreme power being concentrated in the hands of so few.
This is just one of many recent high-profile calls for greater transparency and regulation in the digital marketplace. US presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has outlined plans to break up some of the world’s largest tech companies – preventing them from providing a marketplace and selling products in that marketplace. Warren told The New York Times, "we need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor."
Some smaller organisations are also taking steps to highlight inequalities in the current industry structure. Spotify recently filed an antitrust complaint against Apple, accusing it of preventing competition through its control of the iPhone’s operating system and app store.
The government report was led by Professor Jason Furman, chief economic advisor to Barack Obama, and found that, not only do the tech giants face limited competition, current UK regulations are both outdated and not robust enough to have any real impact.
"There are a lot of benefits to the digital sector, but when you have these large companies that are so dominant in so many markets, consumers don't have the choices they should have," Prof. Furman said in an interview with the BBC. "And when they don't have the choices they should have, you don't get as much quality, you don't get as much innovation, and I think we can do a whole lot better."
The European Union has already begun to adopt a firm stance when it comes to tackling the world’s tech giants. Google have faced huge fines and Amazon have been forced to pay back millions in taxes under Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager. Could this be a sign that the tide is turning against the biggest names in tech?
While it is unlikely that the most prominent players in tech will suddenly fade away, it seems inevitable that change is coming to the digital sector. Change with the potential to increase innovation, safety, and choice for consumers around the world. We will certainly be watching carefully to see how this growing movement for greater regulation evolves over the coming months and years.