Unease over tech giants' growth

This article is more than 12 months old

WASHINGTON: With a handful of US technology giants growing more powerful, debate is intensifying on whether big tech's growth is healthy or not.

Over the past few years, Apple, Google parent Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon have become among the world's most valuable companies.

Along with stalwarts like Microsoft and rising stars like Netflix, the tech companies exercise enormous control over what people see and how they live.

Increasingly, policymakers and others have begun to consider breaking up or regulating the biggest technology companies, although imminent action appears unlikely.

While many consumers welcome innovation from the tech sector, critics have complained about the power of "gatekeepers" of information and other content.

Google holds around 90 per cent of the Internet search market in the US and Europe.

Facebook and Google scoop up some 60 per cent of digital ad revenues and are eating up 90 per cent of new ad growth in the United States.

Google's Android and Apple's iOS power the overwhelming majority of mobile devices.

Amazon accounts for nearly half of US online sales and is expanding into new sectors.

Mr Barry Lynn, executive director of the Open Markets Institute, said three companies - Google, Facebook and Amazon - "have more power than any previous monopolies we have dealt with in the past century".

"We have to be incredibly concerned about the power of Facebook, Google and Amazon," said Mr Lynn, who launched his research centre last month after his team was ousted from the Google-funded New America think-tank.

"They have their hands on the flow of news, the flow of books and they are manipulating that flow in a conscious way to promote their interests."

The recently formed "New Center" political alliance that includes leaders from the traditional right and left has placed "challenging big tech" on its agenda.

Mr Bill Galston, a former White House adviser under Mr Bill Clinton and co-founder of New Center, said tech monopolies are hurting wages, entrepreneurship and could be distorting the political landscape.

Mr Ed Black, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which represents companies including Google, Facebook and Microsoft, said breaking up the tech giants could have a "chilling effect on innovation".

He said: "If our goal is to maintain innovation, spur the entire economy, and grow higher paying jobs, asking the government to penalise a successful foundational economic sector - absent bad behaviour or consumer harm - seems illogical."

European regulators have taken a more aggressive approach, imposing a hefty fine on Google after concluding the search giant illegally favoured its own shopping services, one of three antitrust investigations into the company. - AFP