Talking About Big Tech Monolithically Is Missing the Big, More Complex Picture

David McCabe and Scott Rosenberg, Axios:

For several years it has made sense, in some quarters, to lump together the tech giants — chiefly Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, sometimes also including Netflix or Microsoft. But talking about “big tech” is beginning to offer diminishing returns.


As different pressures come to bear on each of these companies, they are likely to end up taking roads that differentiate them from their competitors — and make “big tech” less useful as an idea or a category.

A suspicion I’ve long harboured is that the bad actors in the tech industry make it much harder to trust any company. I know a few people who refuse to use Touch ID or Face ID on their devices because they’re convinced that their fingerprints and faces are being sent to Apple. The company is also increasingly focused on health, which makes some people skittish. And there’s a fair reason for that; users should be cautious about which companies they’re sharing their most personal details with.

Yet sales of in-home devices from Amazon and Google — with microphones and, in many cases, cameras — are up every year. User tracking is becoming more pervasive and difficult to avoid, and huge data brokers aggregate even more information but are not household names. In a survey last year, more people believe Amazon and Google care about user privacy than Apple. This situation is getting worse, not better, and it is eroding confidence that any part of the tech industry can be good.

The last time the tech industry was the subject of widespread worries about trust was in the wake of Edward Snowden’s NSA disclosures. This isn’t external; it can’t be smoothed over by denials or press releases bragging about how secure the databases are. This is internal, and it has effects throughout the industry on good actors and bad. But this discussion needs a greater level of specificity and nuance.