Techdirt Podcast Episode 198: Life Without The Tech Giants

from the experimentation dept

One of the most common responses to various complaints about giant tech companies is that you can just not use their products and services. Many people have pointed out just how difficult that would really be, but Gizmodo’s Kashmir Hill decided to try it for real: she cut Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple out of her life for a week each, followed by a week without any of them. Her report on that final, empty week is coming out soon, but in the mean time she joins us on the podcast to talk about what it’s like to live without big tech.

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Companies: amazon, apple, facebook, google, microsoft

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Comments on “Techdirt Podcast Episode 198: Life Without The Tech Giants”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I have to admit to a certain degree of incredulity when the guest said that Apple’s supposed to be "the good guys." Once upon a time, sure, but at least since the release of the iPhone–for over a decade now–they’ve been firmly on the side of evil with their insanely strong stranglehold over the iOS ecosystem. They’ve gone far beyond the behavior that got Microsoft busted in their antitrust trial!

Also, the bit about the Web starting out as a heavily decentralized system is a hopelessly naive myth that was never particularly true. I was in college in the late 90s when I made my first website, and even way back then, there were really only two real options: spend a ton of money (particularly from a starving student’s perspective!) on setting up a server, and a business Internet account to run it… or get access from one of a very few providers that ran the server for you. So I used Geocities. Today, to do the same basic things, I’d probably use instead. Very little has actually changed in terms of the centralized availability of services.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Shopping nightmare

Without the "giants", shopping would be problematical. Example: I have a certain kind of cup soup I like that my local stores quit carrying about four months ago. Rather than drive further and further hoping SOMEONE still has it, I checked online. Now I buy it on the net. If you don’t at least have a search engine, how are you supposed to find online sellers with the product you’re looking for?

Back in the bad old days before search engines, and even before the internet, you were just screwed. If a local store quit carrying something, you drove longer distances to get it, or you did without it. When I was a kid, we’d sometimes (once every few months or so) all pile into the station wagon and drive three hours to get to a city large enough to have some of the rarer items we wanted. We’d then buy enough to hopefully last until the next major trip. And they want us to go back to that? Screw them sideways!

Ninja (profile) says:

You can live without Facebook and Microsoft although you need to take some steps (ie: Linux and block their IPs in your router and so on) but blocking Google and Amazon break parts of the web but Google is less pervasive. None of them is as dominant as Amazon with their CDN infrastructure. Amazon is the evil Buy ‘n Large (Wall-e) for sure. And they admit quite openly they want to be the whole retail chain an crush the competition completely.

People whine about Facebook and Google but the real threat lies elsewhere.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

My takeaways:

I’m glad I wasn’t drinking anything when Ms. Hill said Apple was the good guys, or I might have literally done a spit take! If she wants to talk about antitrust regulators being asleep at the wheel, there’s your prime target right there; any reasonable antitrust enforcer ought to take one look at how Apple’s App Store works and immediately reach for the nearest Hammer of Smacking-Down.

Checking Google to see if you have Internet connectivity is a perfectly reasonable thing to do and is not weird at all. I’ve used the same trick myself various times. To check connectivity, you have to try to connect to something, and of the various sites that you can be reasonably secure in the assumption that they will never be down, Google is one of the fastest and most lightweight options.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to call the notion of the Web starting out decentralized "a hopelessly naive myth," the guy above is right that it was never particularly wide-open. It’s become more consolidated as time goes by, but that’s to be expected if you have any understanding of human nature. There are advantages and disadvantages to both centralization and decentralization, but history has shown over and over again that centralization and consolidation wins out, pretty much every single time. (Which is why we need antitrust enforcers who are not asleep at the wheel. That consolidation is sometimes a good thing, but sometimes it very much is not!)

Ms. Hill hit the nail right on the head when she talked about large tech companies essentially being the de facto government of the Internet, and Mike didn’t seem to be disagreeing with this point the way he did with some of the other points she raised. This seems odd, as he’s disagreed quite vocally when I raised similar points in the past and pointed out where the logical conclusion lies.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re:

One other thing I forgot to mention. The talk about the effects of the Microsoft antitrust trial felt a bit weird, because I remember hearing on a podcast sometime in the last few months (and I’m pretty sure it was this one, because I don’t listen to any other podcasts that cover this sort of subject matter!) when the guest talked about the effects of that trial, and one of the things he said was that Microsoft’s first reaction to the then-nascent Google was "we should crush them," but they refrained from acting on that impulse specifically because of the painful lessons they had learned from the antitrust trial. It’s not an exaggeration to say that without that, we would not have had the Web as we know it today.

Sometimes, every once in a while, a "chilling effect" turns out to actually be a good thing!

Anonymous Coward says:

Sick and tired of the "You think Facebook is unstoppable? That’s what people said about MySpace!" talking point.

Facebook is not what MySpace was 12 years ago. Facebook is a multi-billion-dollar corporation with multiple apps. Across those apps it has a userbase in the billions, many of which are either wholly dependent on said apps for communication, or don’t know that alternatives exist and think that Facebook and its services are the entire Internet or that Facebook is wholly separate from using the Internet. That can only get worse as Facebook’s Free Basics attempts to make in-roads in more developing nations. Good-old-fashioned competition isn’t enough, especially since Facebook has the money and manpower to quickly copy the features of its competitors or buy them out.

As well, the situation with Amazon using data from AWS to decide which companies to invest in is, in fact, quite creepy. "We see that this company, which is using our nigh-ubiquitous service that’s practically mandatory in many places these days, has been gaining serious traction. Why don’t we invest in them (or by them outright)?" is pretty damn creepy.

I have no idea why Mike keeps playing softball with his words. He says that this or that is "really interesting" when the implications of how utterly ubiquitous these companies are and how many pies they have their fingers in is in fact quite shocking when looking at it on the grand scheme of things. The worst of the worst is when he says that companies are just "doing a bad job". This is despite numerous instances of these companies pulling nasty moves or turning a blind eye all in the name of profit. I understand this Podcast was probably recorded before the "Friendly Fraud" incident with Facebook. The "Friendly Fraud" that Facebook let slide for a good long while, no doubt with countless people in the company all in on the scam, is much more than just doing a bad job; it’s a company intentionally doing something horrid for the sake of more money. I’m genuinely curious to see if Mike will continue to say that Facebook is merely "doing a bad job".

I also strongly disagree with Mike’s belief that the FTC needs to stick to the consumer harm standard. These companies need to have their size, power, and reach curtailed before the consumer harm that the FTC actually goes after them for is catastrophic in nature, severely affecting millions (if not billions) of people.

Antitrust needs to come back in a big way, swinging a big stick.

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