Episode 46: The Gilded Webpage

In the forty-sixth episode of The Latest, we try to determine whether Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google need to be rebooted for some critical updates. Don Rush, an award-winning newspaper columnist and the associate publisher of The Lake Orion Review, joins the program for this week’s O.J. Simpson Twitter Update.

Episode 46: The Gilded Webpage
Season 2

 
 
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Transcript

Those voices are discussing big tech, the top companies of today that are working to make our lives better by actively making our lives worse.

A high-profile antitrust investigation into whether some of the United States’ biggest tech companies have become too powerful has raised an important question in Silicon Valley — if tech is becoming too big to fail, does that mean it just needs to buy some more iCloud storage?

On Wednesday, the leaders of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, will appear before the House Judiciary Committee, through which the leaders of today’s most influential companies will take on the role of their children in order to explain how their apps and devices are used to a body of elected officials whose average age is pushing sixty.

Amazon stands accused of unfairly dominating online shopping, swiping sales data from its competitors to create its own Amazon-branded products as casually as those same products are stolen from my vestibule.

Apple is said to charge an unfair commission on apps sold through its App Store, forcing hard-working developers to shell out 30% of the revenue from software essentials like “Rat Hunter,” “Daily Bible Verse,” and “Fart Zone.” For example, for every $1.99 Fart World Premium subscription, which grants members access to 20 Premium Farts, that amounts to an egregious 59 cents and six farts directly into Apple’s pocket. 

That doesn’t smell right, and neither does Google’s sheer dominance in search, which has led many to complain that there’s simply no useful alternative — the very same argument that’s being made to make Joe Biden our next president.

But the biggest target of the inquiry is likely to be Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, a man who’s been spotted slathering his face in gallons of sunscreen to prepare his body to take on excess heat, for running the world’s most reckless, conspiracy-fueled, viral propaganda and misinformation engine for baby boomers, oblivious suburbanites, and unpopular millennials. 

He’s likely to face questions about Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, which turned a charming photo app into a charming stream of ads for therapists, liquor, and personal finance services, because its algorithm clearly thinks something’s up with, uh, you. 

He’s also likely to take questions about the size of Facebook’s ad business, which together, with Google makes up 70% of the digital ad market. They should run some Google and Facebook ads to capture the remaining 30%. 

And above all else, he’s hopefully going to be grilled on Facebook’s corrosive effect on our society, which has grown from a perfectly mediocre website for keeping track of people I don’t want to stay in touch with into a dangerously mediocre website for keeping track of people I definitely don’t want to stay in touch with.

In the late 90s, Microsoft was found to have engaged in anticompetitive behavior and was forced to separate Internet Explorer from Windows, pulling a King Solomon on a bug-ridden, hard-to-use nerd. 

But since then, anti-trust regulation in tech has been about as hands-off as Bill Gates’ personal stylist.

The sheer growth and power of companies like Amazon and Google has ushered in what’s been called an era of “non-innovation,” making the tech industry look less like an Apple Store and more like a Radio Shack.

The creation of fewer tech startups has led to fewer choices, which has led to, among other things, fewer sans-serif logos for misspelled brands, like Lyft with a Y, Qapital with a Q, or Dictionary with an IE. 

And when the only real alternative to something as powerful and wide-reaching as  Facebook and Instagram is a Vine knockoff developed by the Chinese government, it makes Sophie’s Choice seem like an easy decision — just give me the cyanide already.

I’m not going to pretend that I know the ins-and-outs of their controversial business practices, just as I’m not going to pretend that I actually need four cases of La Croix delivered for free within two hours. I need it within one, so I pay six bucks.

But it is clear that, to some extent, these companies are getting away with murder — unless you work at an iPhone factory, where it‘s marked down as a suicide.

Gig workers for Amazon don’t get any benefits, aside from the thrill of running up your odometer to rush some Brooklyn yuppie his LaCroix. 

Companies like Apple evade taxes as if their names were written on tasteless hotels.

And between YouTube, What’s App, Instagram, Apple News, Google Search, and TheFacebook.com, these companies control more access to information than a high school theater director taking his time to put up the cast list for this season’s production of Rent

On a good day, Jeff Bezos is worth 180 billion dollars, which is enough money to give every person on earth a DVD of Johnny Depp’s reboot of The Lone Ranger. But nobody wants that. 

And I, as I’m sure many of you, just want these companies to play by the rules. Amazon shouldn’t pay 1% in taxes, Google shouldn’t list 50 ads for its own products before 10 search results, Apple Music shouldn’t be allowed to charge Spotify for the same access to a better service, and Facebook shouldn’t exist.

Because if we don’t do something to at least reign these companies in and hold them to account, these American brands will continue to represent precisely what’s wrong with America: it’s too big to fail while failing in very big ways.