It’s time we take a look under the surface into how these companies operate
Technology has grown incredibly in the last decade, with new startups breaching the market and offering more products and services than we have ever seen.
But as technology’s footprint expands, we’ve seen a selection of companies take over in specific areas. From social media to e-commerce, we now see global tech giants almost monopolizing these segments.
With information and data becoming one of the most important commodities globally, these companies have rapidly developed ways to attain more.
With this, we’ve seen how some of these tech giants are now being scrutinized due to some of their questionable surveyance practices. These revolve mainly around how they collect and monitor data among their own technology products.
With these tech giants holding huge footprints within the technology space, it raises a simple question, have these tech giants become too powerful?
The start of a new technology era
Most tech giants started as a startup with humble beginnings, focused on one problem and product.
For example, Facebook was originally a way for Harvard students to connect with other students and share email addresses and photos.
But over time, these companies not only grew in size but also grew out of their original purpose. No longer were they focusing on one area of interest but instead multiple segments within the market.
As we saw companies like Facebook and Google being grilled in front of Congress, we have started to see the emergence of media investigating into it. More recently, documentary movies like ‘Social Dilemma’ have come out with employees criticizing the very tech giants they worked for.
So what are they doing that might be alarming?
With more media coverage across the landscape, we have just started to see a glimpse of what these tech giants are capable of.
”It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in our own behaviour and perception that is the product.” — Quote from Social Dilemma
This ability to manipulate our behavior and change our perception of everything around us is particularly powerful.
Have you ever wondered why people are addicted to apps like Facebook, Instagram, or Tiktok?
Much of your social media feeds are not randomly placed in the hopes of catching your attention. Most of it is tailored to your taste by collecting information on what you click on and how you interact with the application.
This data builds over time, and the longer you are on the platform, the more accurate the algorithm can get to match your tastes. Even if you try to leave, they’ll always try to get you back.
“It would send me an email, and then a text message, and then a link to a photo of someone,” he says. “I could see how the program was trying to get me back on the platform and it made me feel really disgusted.” — Director of Social Dillema
Unlike the mass marketing of the 60s, where products were pushed at huge numbers to attempt to get your attention, today, it has become more of a science.
“Two billion people will have thoughts that they didn’t intend to have because a designer at Google said ‘This is how notifications work on that screen that you wake up to in the morning.” — Social Dilemma
What is especially of concern is how harmless it feels, but in reality, these applications and websites are rewiring us and changing our behaviors with everything they do.
It’s especially alarming for teens
Taking the social media example, as seen in the graph above, social media use has doubled since 2012 in age groups of 13 to 17.
What is most alarming is how the tech giants are using their influence to impact the younger generation’s behavior, potentially shifting their perceptions of topics and exposing them to dangers that are not regulated. (e.g., recently we saw how a video of a man suiciding managed to surface within TikTok)
On the other side, we’ve seen how extended use of social media can affect the younger generation. A recent study showed that 12 to 15-year-olds that use social media for more than three hours a day have a higher risk of mental problems.
Tech giants are getting too powerful
Companies like Google and Facebook already have a huge market share and no longer need to worry about acquiring users. (after all, Googling is now a defined term)
Instead, these companies are now focused on retaining us as users whilst collecting data.
Let’s take Amazon’s Echo, for example.
Smart home devices have always been floating around, but there has been a huge demand for them recently due to how cheap they are to purchase one.
What is alarming is how these companies (other smart home systems as well) are actually ‘listening’ to us and actively collecting data to better their own systems. It wasn’t until it was found that companies like Amazon and Google started putting out stricter privacy regulations.
With Amazon now wanting to put flying drones in our homes, once again, it begs the question of what kind of data they could collect with full visibility into our own homes.
In another example, Google has also been under fire for tracking users in incognito mode.
Yes, the infamous ‘safe’ mode that you probably use to avoid being tracked isn’t safe at all. It’s perhaps alarming that these trillion-dollar companies are getting away with only a “fine.”
As these tech giants grow and their influence becomes stronger, we need to be careful as a society. It’s already clear that these companies are now focusing on socially engineering us to use their products and also actively rely on them.
This is particularly dangerous for the next generation, the generation that grew up with technology.
This is where, in my opinion, the danger lies.