Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. How many of these tech companies have you interacted with today? How many times with each? And when was the last time you last a day without interacting one of these companies? Before you answer have let’s consider all the products and services these companies make up.
First, let’s look at Microsoft that includes Windows, the company’s operating system; the messaging app Skype; Office which includes Outlook, PowerPoint, World, and Excel—essentially all the applications you can rarely last an academic/workday without opening; and all Microsoft’s hardware, like the Surface, Dells, and Xboxes.
If you have escaped the use of Microsoft today, now think about the last time you went 24 hours without touching an Apple product. This would be any product that runs on iOS or MacOS aka iMacs, Macbooks, iPads, Apple Watches, Apple TVs, and iPhones.
Next, consider your day’s use of Facebook’s product and services, which obviously includes Facebook itself that has 2 billion monthly users and Facebook Messenger. Additionally, the social network owns WhatsApp—the most world’s popular messaging app—and Instagram—one of the most popular social media apps at 800 million monthly users.
Now a day without accessing Google Search is almost inconceivable, but Google’s parent company, Alphabet, includes so much more. Android, the software that runs on almost smartphones and tablets beside Apple products. The smart home and entertainment product’s Alphabet offers: Google Home, Chromecast, and Nest. Also, the web/app based platforms such as the popular mapping technologies of Waze and Google Maps; YouTube, the ultimate tool of procrastination; Google Chrome; G Suite applications, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, Gmail, Hangouts, Google Calendar, and Google Photos.
Lastly think about your day’s interaction with Amazon. If you are like me, interactions with Amazon are daily, the company has become your go to retailer and it is used for almost all your commercial purchases. In addition to the Amazon store, the company offers the online services of Amazon Prime, Amazon Video, Amazon Cloud Drive & Cloud Player, Amazon Web Services, Amazon Fresh, and Amazon Dash. The firm also owns a variety of media/publishing/e-commerce sites including Goodreads, IMDB, Audible, Twitch, Double Helix Games, Zappos, Shopbob, and Whole Foods. Lastly the company produces several consumer electronics like the Kindle, Echo, and Fire TV.
If you have managed not to interact with these 5 companies today that is an impressive feat. Now consider avoiding them for a week, a month, and dropping them all together.
Take an interactive quiz: Which Tech Giant Would You Drop
Living in modern American society the task is practically impossible. These companies reach has spread so far that almost every type of product or service we might want to use, touches at least one of these companies. This is because these five companies have grown so larger and have become so heavily intertwined in our personal lives and our society as a whole. These companies—which are all in the top 10 most valuable companies on the US stock market—collectively influence almost everything that happens in the tech industry and the entire global economy. The five have grown so much in size, money, and influence, they have become more like governments than companies. This is why NYT tech columnist writer, Farhad Manjoo, calls Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Google the “frightful five” because of the dangers he sees in these companies collectively holding more power than many governments.
One of the dangers that Manjoo mentions is that point I was hinting at above, that “We are, all of us, in inescapable thrall to one of the handful of American technology companies that now dominate much of the global economy” (Tech’s Frightful Five: They’ve Got Us). The technologies developed and decisions made by these companies are increasing affecting ever sector of our lives and society. We are seeing this in how the news and advertisements on Facebook and Google influenced the election, increasing fears on how these companies might affect democracies. Their increases in tech have been disrupting the way our industries operate—such as the disruption of how retail works—thus have increasing impact on our job and economy. The development of new technologies by these companies are going to change the way most people make money. Manjoo says that the frightful five are shaping the world around us in ways that are huge economically and socially and are kind of unavoidable, they in a sense “blanket the entire society in their technology, and you can’t really escape them” (How 5 Tech Giants Have Become More Like Governments than Companies).
Another consequence Manjoo mentions of the frightful five is these companies suppressing innovation. He states that these tech giants have placed limits on how successful new tech ventures can be and those limits are controlled by the five. The five companies have created platforms that startups have to use to reach their costumers, meaning that new ventures cannot hope to get to their customers without being involved with the five, therefore the startups’ success will always benefit the five. An example of these types of platform are the Apple and Google app stores that all app makers have to put their apps in to sell to costumers, and when the startups sell their apps 30 percent of that sale goes to Apple or Google. Therefore, the frightful five have almost forced these startups to go through the five’s platforms so the startups can get customers.
Another explain Manjoo gives of the five suppressing innovation is with the Snapchat example. Facebook offered Snapchat $3 billion to acquire the company and it turned FB down. Later Snapchat went public and it showed that company had legitimate value and was a lasting venture idea. However, shortly after Facebook copied Stories onto all of its platforms. Instagram Stories quickly became much more popular than Snapchat Stories. Since this move, Snap’s stocks have suffered and analysis have a more pessimistic view for Snap’s future because one of the most valuable companies in the world is going after them.
It is no doubt that these five companies have experienced intense growth and acquired a lot of power. However, do you agree with Manjoo and see these companies as “frightful” due to our inability to avoid these technologies and the huge impact they have on our global economy? And if you do agree is there anything we can do to stop or slow the frightful five down?