Is it possible to access the internet without interacting with the Big Five American tech companies? Technically, yes, but large swaths of the web would be inaccessible to consumers without the products and platforms created by Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, Google’s parent company.
In this episode of Big Tech, co-hosts David Skok and Taylor Owen speak with Matt Stoller, the director of research at the American Economic Liberties Project and the author of Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy. Stoller looks at how the political landscape has changed from the time of the railroad tycoons to the modern Silicon Valley tech monopolies.
Each of these companies has established itself in a market-leading position in different ways. On mobile, Apple’s App Store is the only way for software developers to reach iPhone customers. Google controls search, maps and online advertising. Amazon’s website is the dominant online retail platform. “In some ways, it’s a little bit like saying, ‘Well, you know, that railroad that goes through this one narrow valley that you have to take to get to market, well, that’s not a monopoly, because there are other railroads in the country,’” Stoller says. “Well, yeah, maybe there are, but it doesn’t matter if you need that particular railroad to get where you’re going…. That’s what Amazon is like in a lot of the sectors that it deals with.” Finally, underpinning much of the internet are Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services cloud data centres.
Is corporate power a political problem or a market problem? Skok, Owen and Stoller discuss topics ranging from the robber barons of the 1930s and the antitrust reforms that followed, to the current environment, one that evolved over several political generations to become, as Stoller describes it, a crisis of concentration separated from “caretaking,” in which profits can amass through domination rather than through better products or services.