For about a year (it has been longer but the noise level has ratcheted up in the last year or so) we have been hearing saber-rattling from the DoJ’s antitrust boys and girls threatening to look into Silicon Valley’s gang of misfits, affectionately (or unaffectionate, depending upon where one comes from) called “FAANG. FAANG is an acronym for Silicon Valley’s top tech giants (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google). The latest issue is that they (mainly Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple) have secretly sought to co-opt business for their own purposes (like any company co-opts not for their own purpose?).
The claims are that Facebook, for example, tried to monopolize the personal data of private citizens. And, Amazon is presently trying to monopolize the data of the U.S. government itself. The rest of them have similar data manipulation issues.
So finally, now that the DoJ is no longer busy trying to decompile and recompile T-Mo and Sprint, they have some time on their hands to take a deeper dive into FAANG.
The latest target within the DoJ’s sights is Google and parent, Alphabet. Google revealed that the DoJ is asking for information on previous antitrust investigations against them (one would think they would learn a lesson but it appears greed is a driving force hard to ignore). Others, such as Facebook, have already been on the short end of the DoJ stick.
There are not a lot of details available on what the DoJ is looking for. However, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out it has to do with anti-competitive practices (the practice of data stealing and selling is a matter for another discussion).
This has been in the headlines for years, and not just Silicon Valley. Wireless carriers have been accused of similar practices. Perhaps when the DoJ is finished with FAANG, they will go after the VTOADS (Verizon, T-Mo, AT&T, presumably Dish and Sprint). The reasons would be much the same, IMHO.
So what are some of the issues? For this discussion, we will stick with Google. Not only does the DoJ have its stink eye on them, but so do the States. In fact, 50 attorneys general from the states, and territories (of course California is not one of them, and Alabama – well, who knows why), have launched a joint review into Google’s advertising and search practices to assess whether the tech behemoth has abused its dominance to stifle competition.
That is the focus. Drilling Down a bit it is about how Google and other alleged perpetrators favor their own services and limit others (competition) to obtain data. As well, in question is what is done with it once it is obtained (privacy).
So now we know what; let us ask why. In a nutshell, the reason is protecting the user. The FAANGs — and other tech, wireless, marketing, survey, and any number of companies, across a latitude of platforms — have discovered that gazillions of dollars can be made in using and selling captured data.
They went to great lengths to capture this data stealthily, anti-competitively and without knowledge of the user. Their defense was that the user gave them permission in the EULA (page 107, paragraph 88, section 42, subsection 12, line 300) which, of course, we all read (in the .005 type size). They considered this to be their “CYA.”
Well, it is about time. In fact, it is long overdue. Consumers have the right to know, easily and conveniently, what is being done with their data. They also have to right to choose who they want to play with and not be channeled by unscrupulous business practices. This is something I harp on a lot because it is a fundamental right of each of us to keep our data private and expect our services to be honest.
The government has been lackadaisical in its approach to regulating companies and even more lax in meting out punishment for those who transgress. This abuse of privacy and misbehaving, competitively, should be right at the forefront of what government regulators and legislators need to focus on.
At this stage of the game, the other side has amassed enormous resources and power. Unless serious criminal activities can be uncovered, and those responsible jailed (like thatis ever going to happen) the FAANGs and VTOADS will tie this up in litigation for years. Even if criminal activities are uncovered, it will still be years before any kind of penalties are assessed and legislation, or regulations, are put in place. By then, these players will have long abandoned present practices and be well into new activities that will be just as nefarious and unethical as present ones.
The digital transformation is bringing about an entire gamut of new methodologies for business practices, privacy, permissions, and the like. The present government is both incapable and unwilling to move swiftly, and with determination, to keep the playing field fair, protect our data and punish those who play outside of the sandbox. It is going to be a long road to hoe.