Conflicts between big tech companies affect us all

The next war with international implications may not take place on the battlefield or may be limited to cyberspace – at least a market share conflict between the two American technology giants. This is a conflict with what has the potential to flow into our daily lives.

Mark that we narrowly avoided it once this month – despite a war that only lasted a few days – when Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, took over the world’s most valuable company, accusing Apple of threatening to take down Twitter. From the apps platform.

Then, bracing for a backlash, Mr. Musk suddenly announced that he had met with Apple CEO Tim Cook and “resolved the disagreement.”

We were taken back from the brink. The incident however brings home the reality that it is only a matter of time until we find ourselves on the same dangerous edge again.

For example, what would happen if Google (owned by Alphabet) and Apple escalated their disagreement over text messaging? Yes, that’s right, they argue over text messages.

Google’s “Get the Message” campaign aims to generate enough public pressure for non-Apple users to force SMS to improve. Google made its rival Android operating system for mobile phones.

“The frustration is real. People are talking about this. From Tweets to TikToks, the conversation is exploding, says Google.

Google’s case is that its poor experience with SMS is keeping young people from using Android phones. So it’s a debate over market share as Apple makes its rival the iPhone.

At the moment, the battle is limited to the software update platform and it is said that Google is trying to create problems for iPhone users who send messages to Android phones.

Meanwhile, Apple and Facebook parent Meta are in direct competition over digital advertising. Apple’s privacy features, including the “Ask App Not to Track” service, have eroded Facebook’s dominance in the ad market. Mr Cook and Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg have an apparently frosty relationship, to put it mildly.

So if these companies are constantly closing in on the competition, why worry about escalation now? The new reality is that the pace of growth for these technology companies is slowing down. It reached a peak during the Covid-19 pandemic when entire areas of the world moved online amid public health-related movement restrictions. However, these projections and forecasts of the past few months have been overly optimistic, resulting in job cuts and falling profits.

When this trend is observed, perhaps, there will be blood in the water and the sector will be at each other’s throat.

How did they beat each other? Mr. Musk could easily and instantly block each other’s platforms, as Apple plans to do on Twitter. Another way is to collect fees and costs for using competing but essential services. There can be tit for tat accidental data hacking and leakage by unknown parties. or counter-marketing campaigns that misrepresent the facts to consumers by favoring one company over another. Such things have an inflationary factor. Every collision works.

In a conventional war, we see the contagion between borders and regions when two nations clash. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been felt directly and indirectly and globally in food and energy prices, trade supply chains, and culturally and socially. The conflict has displaced millions and sparked a new refugee crisis.

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The all-out conflict between tech companies is felt directly, if not discouraged, by most people. But governments have little power to reduce this risk.

From the experiences of the past few years, from online misinformation and disinformation, to the threat to our mental health and traditional business models, we already know that it is urgent for regulators to curtail the power of big technology.

In the US, despite much noise from Congress, little has been done and it may be too late. In Europe, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, has provided some tools for the battle. But not much.

The users – you and me – could be collaterally harmed by any war between US tech giants. What will happen to our data, devices and digital personal assistants? Will Alexa or Siri win? Are we forced to say “Hey Google, so long”? Will the cloud become a storm? What if it’s all plugged into the Metaverse and Web3 when World War Tech hits? We become more vulnerable than we are.

And many have put their money behind the continued health of the tech sector.

Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Alphabet are the top-weighted stocks in the S&P 500 index, creating excess exposure for investors.

Jitters about the global economic outlook are having a negative impact on stock prices. Civil war brings them to the floor.

But this is more than portfolios.

It’s about quality of life. Technology has always promised to make the future better. We are not naive enough to think that there is no longer a dark side. But as a society, we continue to support growth and innovation and that’s mostly a good thing. However, we must find a way to ensure that we do not pay too high a price for this open-mindedness.

Published: December 16, 2022, 4:00 am

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