2018 was a rough year for some of the biggest tech companies. Facebook, Google, and Amazon all had their share of negative headlines, causing many to call for them to be broken up by the government. But should those companies split apart?
Amazon presents arguably the most interesting problem. It’s become the de facto marketplace for just about everything, from raw compute power to toys. It’s the Sears Roebuck catalog for Millennials, and the Pony Express brings everything to your doorstep.
The issue many have with Amazon is its underlying frameworks. AWS powers much of the internet; an outage in 2017 shut down an incredible number of websites. Even the outage watchdog isitdownrightnow.com was affected.
There’s also Amazon’s Alexa. And Twitch. And the company’s secretive R&D branch. And Whole Foods. Each could be (and in the case of Twitch and Whole Foods, were) standalone companies. Should some of these be split off into their own independent entities?
Google is a second interesting problem. Like Amazon, it has a lot of tentacles. Its A.I. platform is blossoming, and popular services such as Google Maps have many thinking it’s too powerful and should be split up.
But we should also remember that Google routinely kills things. The Google Cemetery is a list of all the services Google has demolished over the years; this company knows when to throw in the proverbial towel. (Except for Reader; we’d say killing Google Reader is enough reason to smash Google to bits, but that’s just emotion talking.)
And don’t forget: Google made the curious move of spawning its own parent company, Alphabet. If we want to be technical, Google is a branch of Alphabet, and various Google projects and products are often spun off into Alphabet companies (Waymo is a great example). If Alphabet is ever split up, it’s already “pre-cut” into companies.
Facebook is equally broad in its reach, and many fear its potential for societal damage. It has drones, and Oculus, and WhatsApp, and Instagram, and of course the original Facebook platform. It claims, at various intervals, that each branch of the company is either self-sustaining or a critical part of the company’s nervous system, depending on who’s listening and what the topic of conversation is.
But Facebook has two glaring issues that lead many to call for its division: advertising and privacy. Like Google and Amazon, Facebook offers services for free, data-mines your life, and then uses that information to sell ads and products.
Facebook’s 2018 was ripe with news items relating to its mishandling of our data, or allowing other entities to misuse the data Facebook collects. Amazon and Google didn’t have exactly the same issues, but their data handling and privacy controls nonetheless attracted attention.
Splitting up any or all of these companies would stem from application of antitrust laws, which dictate companies must operate in a free and open market and allow competition. These laws also prevent predatory business practices, but we’ve not yet approached as a legal system how using your personal data to sell advertising back to you may be predatory and anti-competitive.
But there’s plenty of evidence available showing that each company has serious issues that warrant governmental examination. Should they be broken up? And if so, which companies? Sound off in our survey below! As always, your answers are anonymous, and we’ll be publishing our results in a future article. Stay tuned!