Op-Ed by Joe Jarvis
Governments are coming for the big tech companies.
But governments use big tech’s data too… So obviously they aren’t going to solve the biggest privacy concerns.
This is a problem because the main issue with Amazon, Google, and Facebook is how they interact with governments.
We only need to look to China’s dystopian social credit scores to see how Google and Facebook data is used by governments.
Why would we expect the government to protect our privacy when the government profits from the intrusion into our privacy?
The good news is that we don’t have to rely on the government to protect us against big tech. And we don’t have to abandon these useful technologies either.
Shouldn’t angry customers be enough?
No one forces customers to use Google, Facebook, or Amazon.
And let’s not play games… there ARE other alternatives. None of these big tech firms have a true monopoly. There are other social media websites, there are other browsers and search engines. There are other places to buy and sell online.
So if large portions of their customers are ready to abandon the companies, why should the government need to step in?
The thing is… the angry customers are still using the tech.
They like the tech. The tech is good. The tech helps them. It makes their lives easy. And it is truly the best tech out there.
Customers have no leverage. They aren’t willing to change their behavior, so they want to force the tech giants to change their behavior.
The market can dictate the terms to these companies, but not without leverage.
And if everyone knows that customers aren’t going anywhere, their demands will fall on deaf ears.
In other words, customers’ threats to abandon the platforms cannot be empty.
But the alternatives simply aren’t as good. They aren’t as integrated, easy to use, and feature rich. Or they don’t have a critical mass of users. They just aren’t as convenient.
So people stay for convenience.
And they stay because they expect someone else to solve their problems.
But before I judge too harshly…
As I’ve highlighted, there are legitimate things to be mad about… though usually not the things mainstream politicians complain about.
But I want to be totally honest… I haven’t cut off my support for Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
I still use Google products. This article was written on a Chromebook. Google docs make my life so much easier. And I happen to like my Android too.
I still use Facebook to share my posts, promote businesses, and keep in touch with friends.
I make money from Amazon affiliate links, and I buy plenty from Amazon as well. Amazon services have even helped me publish two novels.
So am I just a hopeless hypocrite? Can’t wait to read the comments…
But no. It would be more hypocritical to continue using the services but support government action to get my way.
I’d be saying, I’m not willing to adjust my behavior, so I want the government to force Facebook, Google, and Amazon to adjust theirs.
These companies give me their terms, and I am free to take them or leave them. And it is wrong to force them to give me everything I want, but not give them what they want.
What they usually want is data. And that customer data makes them money.
The new California privacy law reflects that. It forces tech companies to give the same level of service to people who opt out of data collection. But it allows the companies to charge a fee to users who opt out.
The effects will be similar to the new European laws. They claim to protect privacy, but all they really do is force you to click more “Accept” boxes without bothering to read the policies.
Do the costs of using these services outweigh the benefits?
That is the real question.
I allow Google, Facebook, and Amazon to use my data in exchange for their “free” services. The intrusion into my privacy and the targeted advertisements I am served have not yet become a large enough problem for me personally to abandon the convenience of these platforms.
Not just convenience though, actual economic benefit. I use these tools for work. I could not do the job I do now without at least some services from these companies. These tools save me time. These tools make me money.
But that doesn’t mean I have to throw myself whole-heartedly into the arms of the tech companies.
The market does have the power to regulate.
So do we convince everyone to give up all the convenience and benefit of the best tech in the world?
Good luck. Even if we could convince the masses to abandon the big tech companies, we shouldn’t. The technology helps us! There is a practical reason to use it.
Honestly, as much as I believe in the market, a full-fledged boycott of these companies just won’t work.
The good news is companies react to even small drops in business. Just a 10% drop in profits will jolt a company into action.
And that is why partial boycotts work.
A partial boycott means not entirely abandoning a business. Instead, you use only what you really need from them.
Keep the parts that make your life much easier, and cut out what you don’t need.
For instance, I deleted the Facebook app from my phone. Now I don’t find myself mindlessly scrolling. Facebook can only serve me only a fraction of the ads they could before. And the less I use Facebook, the less data they collect from me.
And because of recent privacy changes, I might leave behind the Google Chrome browser, despite how convenient it is.
That is another important point. You have to have a line that you won’t let them cross. Decide when too much is too much, and stick with it.
Market principles still apply to a partial boycott.
Say the goal is to remove 10% of business in order to force the company to make the changes that the customers want. If 40% of customers use a service 25% less, the company loses 10% of its business.
So 10% of customers don’t actually have to leave the platforms entirely.
Just having a negative view of the company will nudge users to give less time to the business.
That is basically what I do. I look for alternatives when they are convenient.
But it is also the competitors’ job to make their service a viable alternative.
The anger customers have are dollar signs. This is a potential market for the taking. It is a problem that needs solving.
And whoever does give an alternative will be rewarded by the market.
Comment with your favorite alternatives to Google, Facebook, and Amazon. And tell me if you have abandoned these businesses completely or partially.
You can read more from Joe Jarvis at The Daily Bell.