Digital Hydras

Have you ever felt that something not quite tangible is happening and you can’t quite put your finger on it? Well, I have that feeling at the moment about what’s happening today in the digital world. It’s happening and if you’re paying attention the tell-tale signs are there to prove it.

Just as I was starting to feel that Apple, Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Facebook, Uber & Co… and Microsoft (still in the race, but only just, with their operation ”Windows 10 as a Service”) were slowly but surely stifling all competition and neutralizing all opposition, on their way to uncontested and indisputable world dominance, a series of events are happening that might just help re-establish some semblance of free enterprise and level the playing field for high street/corner shop type business models.

So what is happening and who is doing it? Let’s start with Apple. Due to market saturation, Apple iPhone sales are dropping double-digits. The house that Steve built is also facing difficulties in China where manufacturing costs are now higher than in certain parts of the US and where the Chinese government has banned the sale of iTunes Movies and iBooks Store services. Donald J Trump is threatening, if elected, to force Apple to bring manufacturing back to the USA which, if the Trump succeeds, would, according to one Tech analyst, result in a price surge of iPhones of approx. 66%. And to top it all the US Senate is investigating the company’s tax practices.

Alphabet/Google. While Alphabet’s X Lab is literally looking to achieve immortality, by finding a cure for ageing, the European Commission is, a) looking into slapping Google with an antitrust charge which if successful would result in a €3.4 billion fine, approximately 6,4 times the fine the EU imposed on Microsoft (€561 million) in 2013  and b) the European court of justice is backing the right to be forgotten and is obliging Google to respect and execute requestor demands to have all information concerning them deleted from the web.

Amazon, everyone’s favourite producer, wholesaler, retailer, carrier, publisher, and web service provider. Out of all the digital giants Amazon is the only one in the news because workers, in Amazon’s German warehouses, strike for better work conditions. Apparently, not everyone gets coconut flavoured mineral water, free meals or gym facilities,
The EC also want to investigate Amazon for breach of rule concerning cross-border trading and as if that wasn’t enough, Donald Trump is lambasting Jeff Bezos for using the Washington Post for his own private political agenda, a moot point. The Donald might have a point but you have to admit, sales statistics show that the WP is doing considerably better since Bezos bought it!

And to finish with: Facebook. The social media platform with 1.65 billion monthly active users, and counting, isn’t really worried about the occasional online complaint. No, what apparently worries or rather mystifies Facebook is that certain authorities do not share the company’s benevolent vision of Internet for all. Facebook wants to position itself as a one-stop shop, where you access the web, read the news, make purchases, engage with businesses and stay in contact with family and friends without wasting time Googling and Bing-ing.

The European Commission (EC), have an issue with this benevolent and charitable vision, saying that Facebook isn’t respecting certain prerequisites, such as the user privacy and data protection, which the EC suspect are being exploited for commercial purposes. That the EC recently adopted (in April 2016) the General Data Protection Regulation, and nullified the so-called Safe Harbor data protection directive, is a detail for Facebook. They’ve one data center in Lulea, Sweden and soon a second one in Ireland, and can move European user data around as much as they like because the data stays in Europe.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the puddle, the US Senate Commerce Committee is requiring some explanations from Facebook concerning allegations that news curators are suppressing conservative leaning news articles from their “Trending News” sections. It’s a fair question except that when you look the typical FB user you could be forgiven for thinking that if the “Trending News” sections contain more “New York Post” or “Daily Mail” than Right-wing media then it’s only reflecting user character, morals and culture. And at the end of the day, as long as it stays within predetermined legal boundaries, Facebook is a social media platform-cum-commercial enterprise and, until otherwise constrained, does what it pleases.

So, go on and tell me I imagining it. There is no eurocratic entity trying to maintain a semblance of free enterprise and safeguard the world from the unrestrainable market dominance by a small group of mighty digital giants (There can be only one, McLeod) and there is no populist Hercules, or Xena, trying to rid us of an all-consuming digital Hydra before it subjugates the world.

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About nickrichards38

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