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The Fallacy Of “Break Up Big Tech”

October 17, 2019

I don’t trust computer companies. In a capitalist society, a corporation has a responsibility to maximize profits on behalf of its shareholders. Companies are “good stewards” only so much as it makes good corporate sense. This isn’t a failing of the companies. To assume that companies will somehow be benevolant is an unreasonable assumption.

It’s even worse in a authoritarian society. China, for example, uses corporation, and especially social media companies to not only keep tabs on their citizens, but to actually assign them a social media score. This score will influence all aspects of citizens’ lives; work, travel, etc.

Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon know information about you that you don’t even know yourself. You probably have location services turned on for your Android phone. Go into the settings and look at history.

Everywhere you’ve been. . .ever. But, you can prevent that by turning off location services, right?

Sure, but Google can find the informaiton other ways. GPS? Check ins? Shared information with Facebook? And numerous other ways. I have location services turned on for my phone. It’s just too much convenience to give up the ability to say,

Hey, Google. Directions to the nearest Walmart.

However, I don’t have Google Nest, the “smart” thermostat in my home. I don’t have a smart doorbell. I don’t have any smart home appliances. My cars are dumb. And I like them that way.

Security is always a tradeoff with convenience. Our computers would be more secure if we all had 16 digit passwords that were a random mix of letters, numbers and special characters. But, it would be a lot less convenient.

So, those large tech companies gobble up all of the personal information they can get. How should we protect ourselves? Or, more accurately, how do we protect those people who will choose convenience over security and give way too much information to Big Tech?

Some suggest that the companies are too big. We should “break them up.”

I think that’s a terrible idea. Because I do believe in capitalism and I remember Word*Star.

Word*Star was a word processing program. In the early days of the PC it was one of the early success stories. Pretty much everyone used Word*Star. Its marketshare was an insane amount around 80% or more.

Its market position was so strong that it could virtually dictate standards in the word processing space. And then, suddenly (over the course of several years) it was done. It only lost it’s marketshare, it pretty much disappeared. It was knocked out by a product called WordPerfect.

You probably don’t remember Word*Star, but if you are a certain age, you probably heard of WordPerfect. It took. over the word processing market and helped to fuel the explosive growth of the PC market. It was so dominate that even competing programs had to adopt its archaic and complicated function-key commands. (F7 was Exit. Shift-F7 was Print.)

One of the programs that built a template to allow its users to use WordPerfect commands was a very unpopular and inferior program called Microsoft Word.

WordPerfect was a much better program. Microsoft was a much better marketer. Eventually Word took over the top spot in the word processing space. Today, WordPerfect is literally a fraction of it’s former self.

Word helped Microsoft become the biggest and most powerful software company in the world. The link between Microsoft Windows and Microsoft’s applications like Word became an unstoppable force. It ruled the PC landscape and had a lot of influence over the Apple Macintosh landscape as well. It was huge, powerful and considered a threat to society.

So much of a threat that a judge named Thomas Penfield Jackson decided that Microsoft needed to be “broken up.” Without government intervention, Microsoft would control too much of America’s life. It was a public menance.

That ruling sparked a recession. (And took my portfolio from “retirement” to “use these papers to start a fire.”) Ultimately the order to split the company was appealed and Microsoft got to continue dominating the world.

We don’t hear alot about Microsoft’s influence any more. In fact, when we discuss which companies need to be broken up, Microsoft doesn’t make the list any more.

Google wasn’t even a consideration when WordPerfect was dominate. And Microsoft wasn’t a concern when Word*Star was king of the hill. And that’s what will happen if we allow the industry to control the tech industry. I’m not saying we shouldn’t regulate the industry. There are several privacy considerations that I’d love to see Congress require.

But, the industry has shown us that the dominate company today will see a time when it’s influence is reduced or even eliminated.

I don’t want the giant tech companies broken up because I am a capitalist. . .and I remember Word*Star.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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