Attack on Big Tech - The War Against Facebook, Amazon, and Google

Stuart Evans


Article 14

Spangler, Todd. "Facebook Under Fire: How Privacy Crisis Could Change Big Data Forever." Variety, 3 Apr. 2018,

In this Variety article (a secondary, popular source) the recent Facebook data crisis is analyzed in depth, with particular attention being paid to its potentially far-reaching effects. To quickly sum up the controversy, Cambridge Analytica obtained information on up to 50 million unwitting Facebook users, which it then used to better "inform voter-targeting strategies for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign." In the aftermath of this discovery, both the offending parties have been playing dumb. Though Facebook did not sell this data, it was accrued as a result of the company's negligence, the result of people taking a 2013 personality quiz, one not so innocent as it looked. The article deals primarily with the aftermath of this scandal, and what it means going forwards. As it relates to my podcast, I think this is the most compelling revelation to come about in recent months. Though there is no sign of a mass defection from Facebook looming on the horizon, the #deletefacebook movement is gaining steam. Discussions about how accountable these data-amassing companies need to be are dominating news feeds, and steadily coming to forefront of public discourse. Again, I'm amazed by how much the mood is changing in so little time. The tech titans are like the frog in the pot, the water just beginning to boil. It remains to be seen whether they'll prepare accordingly for the coming onslaught, jump ship, or perish.

Article 13

Gold, Howard. "Using antitrust laws to break up Amazon, Facebook and Google is just political fantasy." MarketWatch, 3 Apr. 2018,

This opinion piece (a secondary, popular source) delves into U.S. President Donald Trump's tweets pertaining to Amazon, in which he deemed the site a "post office scam," one that takes full advantage of the U.S. Postal Service to rake in massive profits. Purportedly, Trump has become obsessed with this titan in particular, clearly viewing it as a threat to the economy. The article's writer, Howard Gold, does not share this increasingly popular sentiment, suggesting instead that breaking up the tech giants is a bad idea, as it will only lead to higher prices. It is the company's sheer size that allows it to provide such low costs for consumers, but this in turn squeezes out the retailers who simply can't compete. This has resulted in what Gold refers to as the 'Retail Apocalypse,' in which a bevy of businesses are having to cut the ballast, essentially, dropping what stores they can in order to keep afloat. This is truly an interesting time with respect to the titans. Hysteria is plainly mounting in the political circles, and now it seems to have even infected the White House. Even in the short time I've been conducting my research there have been some major developments, and it seems only a matter of time before it all comes to a head.


Article 12

Birnbaum, Micheal. "E.U. proposes tax on tech giants such as Facebook and Google that could raise $6.2 billion." The Washington Post, 21 Mar. 2018,

E.U. policymakers are in talks to place a new leash on the tech titans, "a 3 percent tax on revenue generated from activities where users’ information helps firms make money." In this article, (a secondary, popular source) Birnbaum describes some of the conflicting opinions surrounding this bold move, and whether it's feasible that such a bill could be passed. The idea, generally, is to make it an even playing field, but also to hit these giants where it hurts. Though some suggest such a measure would be misguided, others seek to knot the supposed tax loophole that allows sites like Facebook and Google to avoid higher fees due to the nature of their revenue streams. This ties in to the global perspective, in which Europe is taking the forefront in the war on big tech, all while America seems content to sit back and let time plays its course. Is the E.U. being rash? It's hard to tell. I will say that it seems unlikely such a drastic change will be implemented, but the fact that it's even being discussed is at the very least indicative of progress.

Article 11

Competition Bureau of Canada. "Competition Bureau statement regarding its inquiry into Amazon’s price advertising in Canada." Competition Bureau, 11 Jan. 2017,

This government document from last year, a primary source, details the results of an inquiry by the Competition Bureau of Canada into Amazon's business practices, specifically how it was advertising its prices. By comparing the selling price of a product to its list price on its site, Amazon was highlighting the difference it, supposedly, could offer as compared to the average market place. The idea of the inquiry was to ascertain whether these price differences were indeed correct. If not, it would mean Amazon was essentially swindling customers by submitting them to erroneous deals, and undermining other retailers offering similar prices in the process. Though the Bureau deemed the prices on 12 specific items "did not accurately reflect the savings available to consumers," the issue was resolved tidily enough, and a consent agreement was reached with the apparently highly co-operative Amazon such that it might better conform to the Competition Act guidelines. I think it interesting how these subtle tactics, which really work best online, can be employed to divert customer attention from the competition, as well as the favourable attitude the document seemed to display towards Amazon. I wonder if, were a similar query embarked upon today, it would yield the same results.

Sunday, February 18th, 2018 - WEEK 6 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Article 10

Lee, Timothy B. "Yelp's CEO makes the case against Google's search monopoly." Vox, 3 Jul. 2017,

This article (a primary, popular source) consists largely of the edited transcript of journalist Timothy B. Lee's interview with Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman. At the centre of their discussion is Google, the bane of Yelp's existence. Stoppelman elaborates upon how Google essentially buries "organic" search results under a wall of ads, conducting the internet traffic away from its competitors, and making it hard for companies such as Yelp to get much a foothold in countries outside of North America. Stoppelman offers a unique perspective in that he witnessed Google's ascension first-hand, and has directly suffered as a result of the US antitrust enforcement's indifference to Google's shadier practices. I thought he offered some interesting points and made a compelling argument against Google's unchecked power.

Article 9

Heskett, James. "Is it time to break up Amazon, Apple, Facebook, or Google?" Harvard Business School, 6, Dec. 2017.

In this article (a secondary, popular source), James Heskett asks what the title suggests, namely, should any of the big tech companies be broken up, and if not, how ought they be reined in, if at all? The piece references Scott Galloway, who has voiced in favour of breaking up Google and co. due to how they, the companies, have "benefitted from (and perhaps caused) market failure." Heskett put the query of how best to combat the behemoths to some of his readers, and the responses were diverse. Though most commenters seemed opposed to taking the scalpel to these companies, they offered different reasons for not wanting to do so. Sifting through a variety of viewpoints was enlightening and gave me more of an idea of how people who have less of a stake in the issue (or at least perceive that they have less of a stake) consider it, and their bases for doing so.

Sunday, February 11th, 2018 - WEEK 5 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Article 7

Dolata, Ulrich. "Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft: Market Concentration – competition – innovation strategies." Stuttgarter Beiträge zur Organisations- und Innovationsforschung, Jan. 2017,

This scholarly paper (a secondary source) analyzes the "economic, infrastructural, and rule-setting power" that the leading internet companies have obtained over the past decade, arguing that they are poised to do more harm than good. The German author contrasts the vast sums these monopolies are working with to that of their runner-ups, and the difference is huge. The article goes on to argue that pinnacles are precarious; that due to fads and largely fickle users, a certain adaptability has been adopted by these 'survivors' (Yahoo and Nokia are prime examples of companies that, in being unable to predict the changing tide, have lost their footholds). It becomes a matter of how far these companies will go to maintain their positions of power, and whether this is really in the common interest. It's not. I found this paper particularly insightful and interesting. Whereas many of the popular sources I've stumbled across lately pertaining to my topic seem mainly to regurgitate the same old information, this more analytical approach was frankly refreshing, and offers a plethora of new tangents for me to explore.

Article 8

Daly, Angela. "Beyond 'Hipster Antitrust': A Critical Perspective on the European Commission's Google Decision." European Competition and Regulation Law Review, vol. 1, no. 3, 2017, pp. 188-192.

This scholarly article (a secondary source) weighs in on the European Commission's decision to charge Google for unfairly promoting its own shopping service above its competitors'. Daly criticizes the EU for not addressing the "various issues which have been raised during the last seven years as related to the case," namely, the extent of data Google has amassed on its users and how it uses it, and the secretiveness surrounding the site's search algorithm. Ultimately, the 2.4 billion dollar fine is a drop in the bucket for Google, and though it may serve as a deterrent, hardly impairs the company. Daly questions whether the EU is merely flexing, or afraid to seriously exercise its power. The tech industry would make a powerful enemy, surely. This article provided me with some compelling questions as to how, exactly, a governmental body is meant to combat big tech, and when, or whether, they will truly take a swipe at all. If charging $2 billion is hardly a half measure, it's scary to consider what constitutes a full.

Sunday, February 4th, 2018 - EPISODE PITCH



Three iron giants, 100 times the size of the tallest skyscraper. Framed against a blood-red sky, they dawdle about a city like it's a grocery store. Branded to their chests, each bears the logo of a tech platform you're doubtlessly familiar with.

Amazon takes up the rear, uprooting a building and making to put it in a basket. Facebook, having just bitten the head off of a smaller robot, presumably Instagram, opens its mouth to start on the body. Google, leading the pack, outstretches its arm. It is reaching for you.

Thankfully, this is just a picture - a cover, to be precise. The January 18th, 2018 issue of The Economist, a magazine that purports to offer "authoritative insight and opinion on international news, politics, business, finance, science and technology." 'The New Titans, and how to tame them,' the caption reads.

This startling image immediately caught my eye. What could merit such a frightening depiction of these popular brands?

Not so long ago Facebook and friends were held up as the pinnacle of innovativeness, heaped with praise, lauded for their accomplishments, and greatly admired all around. But the tide has changed. The integrity of these companies is being called into question. How good are they, really, for the rest of us? Articles aplenty are surfacing citing the addictiveness of these platforms, the negative effect they're having on democracy, and their dominance over the internet at large.

In the featured opinion piece, entitled, 'Competition in the Digital Age – How to Tame the Tech Titans', the Economist argues that much of this tech-lash is misguided, exaggerated to a degree, but agrees that we should be wary of these platforms for one simple reason. They are just too big. And they're getting bigger, to the point that taming these virtual monopolies, so long unregulated, will be no easy feat.

The Economist offers two broad changes of thinking. The first is to make better use of existing competition law. Say Facebook stands to gain too much from buying up another firm, a committee could step in and prevent the acquisition from taking place. On top of this, said committee could look into complaints and make sure the big firms play fair. The second would be a new set of laws that give you some semblance of control over your own data, and how companies are allowed to use it. The idea, essentially, is to tame the titans without disassembling them.

So are these suggestions a credible solution? Or is this a more complicated issue than The Economist wants to admit? Moreover, is this political tech-lash even warranted? Do these firms need to be reined in – more closely governed? To what extent should Facebook and co. be held accountable for acting like, well, businesses? Are lawmakers the world over merely over-reacting? It's no secret these firms hog a lot of ad fare, that they're consuming the most interesting startups, that they regularly sell your data to the highest bidder...but so what? Why should YOU care?

Over the course of this episode I'll be analyzing the threat of big tech; how this affects us all socially, economically, and politically going forward, as well as some of the ideas for how, and why, this needs to change - why, most importantly, whether you know it or not, this affects you too.

You're listening to A Matter of Opinions.


Sunday, February 4th, 2018 - WEEK 4 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Article 5

Galloway, Scott. Interview by Dan Loney. "Are Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon Unstoppable?" Knowledge@Wharton, 9, Jan. 2018,

This is the audio file and edited transcript of a conversation between Knowledge@Wharton and Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at New York University and author of The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Galloway offers a number of interesting facts and insights pertaining to the tech titans, stating "I believe the worm has turned against Big Tech. He briefly expounds on each of the four companies in turn, providing his thoughts on as to where things are, and where they might be headed. This popular, secondary source helped me to contextualize some of my own scattered thoughts on the issue. I'll admit some of Galloway's theories and figures made my eyebrows raise, and not in incredulity. The notion that one of these tech companies could purchase the Super Bowl in the near future is kind of frightening, but a very real possibility. Galloway points to Amazon's consumption of Whole Foods, how, even though the American grocer Kroger is 11 times the size, the company swiftly lost a third of its value because of "the expectation that Amazon is going to destroy industry after industry." To think, both Apple and Amazon started out of garages and are now on their way to becoming the first trillion-dollar companies. To put that in perspective, a public American company has never reached that much in stocks, and America's GDP is currently 18.57 trillion. These are frankly mind-boggling sums. As for Google and Facebook, Galloway mentions the "weaponization" of social media, and how the lack of safeguards have recently garnered criticism. On the whole, this was a very informative interview, and I'm strongly considering checking out Galloway's book.

Article 6

Smith, Ben. "There's Blood In The Water In Silicon Valley." BuzzfeedNews, 12 Sept. 2017,

This secondary, popular source, an opinion piece by Buzzfeed's editor-in-chief Ben Smith delves into the recent turn against big tech. Smith alludes to some of the factors that have contributed to the current political climate surrounding the titans, and illustrates some of the hazards they're encountering. He likens Google to an oil industry of yore, one who's "smooth image has grown tentacles," and criticizes Facebook's move into politics and it's role in the election. "The golden age (for big tech) is over," he says. Throughout the article there are a number of useful links and references to events from last year that have further aided my understanding of the subject at hand. I was surprised to learn, for instance, that last summer European regulators had saddled Google with a 2.7 billion dollar fine for allegedly abusing its dominance. Smith mentions at the start of the article how, due to the media heyday surrounding Trump, the changing stance towards the tech titans has kind of passed under the radar, and I concur. It's interesting how much harsher Smith feels in this piece than The Economist does in theirs. He doesn't provide any potential solutions, suggesting instead that "the political class can smell blood;" that these companies have become vulnerable; that it's only a matter of time until they're disassembled. Smith's is a widely different take than The Economist's, one that suggests swift and brutal consequences are in store for big tech, and that one might as well sit back and enjoy the show.


Sunday, January 28th, 2018 - WEEK 3 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Article 3

"Competition in the Digital Age - How to Tame the Tech Titans." The Economist, 18 Jan. 2018,

Hostility towards the Internet's three superpowers, Google, Amazon, and Facebook, is growing. These once revered tech platforms are fast becoming a source of unease for politicians around the globe. So what happened? The truth is, these companies outgrew and proceeded to shed their britches years ago, and while they reaped the profits, the public received the benefits. To stop and consider the far-reaching effects of this growth would have been to impede the rate at which the industry was progressing, so it's easy to see how the policymakers might have gotten caught up in the momentum, but that was then, this is now. The tides have changed. For one thing, these platforms are virtually monopolies, and though there is the potential for an up-and-coming website to seize a throne, it seems unlikely when the big boys are gobbling up every interesting startup in sight. This isn't good for anyone. It discourages innovators, and it allows the giants to rest on their laurels, getting fatter and fatter whilst producing nothing new.

The Economist's article (a popular, secondary source), cited above, suggests "two broad changes of thinking," means of reining in the colossi. The first involves essentially setting up committees to govern the technological sphere, ones that might, among other things, bar acquisitions where the receiving party stands to gain too much. The second is a "new set of laws to govern the ownership and exchange of data, with the aim of giving solid rights to individuals." Personally, though I don't think these are bad ideas, I believe them way too optimistic. Given Google and its pals are American companies, any board appointed to govern them would undoubtedly be American itself. So soon as a foreign rival steps up to the plate, what would happen? With so many elements at play, and so much money to be made, establishing and firmly enforcing a new set of rules is no easy feat.

Article 4

John Mcduling. "The 'tech-lash' against Google, Facebook and Amazon is finally upon us." The Sydney Morning Herald, 15, Sept. 2017,

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission is currently conducting an inquiry into how Google, Facebook, and other such digital platforms are affecting the country's advertising market. As a nation, what does Australia stand to benefit from this sizeable chunk of ad revenue departing overseas? Should the government force national businesses to find other ultimately less effective means of publicizing? Moreover, as this article's writer, John McDuling, says, "we are only beginning to see the green shoots of an Australian tech industry, something we desperately need to flourish if we want to remain a wealthy country. " Atlassian, what McDuling calls the country's "biggest success story," tech-wise, is a software company I had never even heard of. It's interesting to see how this issue is playing out elsewhere. The article (a popular, secondary source) goes on to mention how politicians on both the left and the right are beginning to lambast the giant digital platforms. It makes me wonder if the threat isn't somewhat overstated. Surely there need to be more rules in place to govern them, especially where it pertains to buying out startups, but are they not also being scapegoated? Isn't it only natural that a company should want to expand and act towards self-preservation? Facebook, Amazon, and Google aren't behaving much differently that they were two years ago, but the lawmakers certainly are.


Wednesday, January 24th, 2018 - WEEK 2 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Article 1

Ferguson, Niall. "Social networks are creating a global crisis of democracy." The Globe and Mail, The Globe and Mail, 19 Jan. 2018,

In this opinion piece (a popular, secondary source), Niall Ferguson considers the extent to which social networks are influencing politics and opinions, calling into question the supposed impartiality of the internet. Authoritative regimes, for instance, are able to utilize social media as a means of purveying their ideals whilst effectively 'drowning out' would-be dissenters. Moreover, in the wake of Trump's rise, it was discovered that fake, widely spread, Russia-linked Facebook pages had actively promoted the soon-to-be President, and likely tipped the scales in his favour. It begs the question: is social media killing democracy?

Article 2

Parker, Emily. "Silicon Valley Can't Destroy Democracy Without Our Help." The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Nov. 2017,

In this opinion piece (a popular, secondary source), Emily Parker suggests that we can't reasonably expect Silicon Valley to weed out misinformation for us. Although social media definitely encourages polarization, it does not force us to think a certain way. Whether or not a given person is susceptible to 'fake news' depends largely on how neatly the falsehoods coincide with their already established beliefs. A conservative bot isn't going to trick any life-long liberals, but a joke tweet about Trump's gorilla channel just might. Given how readily we accept what we are inclined to, perhaps it isn't the internet at the root of the problem. Perhaps it's us.

In the end, it is up to the individual to be open-minded when exploring an issue.