Opinion: Threat of the digital giants and their unfettered trade monopolies



There is absolutely no question that amid the commercial carnage unleashed by coronavirus, the biggest winners have been the Silicon Valley behemoths.

Lockdown, the tiers system and working from home would have been almost impossible without big-tech. Amazon has been there for all our shopping needs, Google for all our information needs and Zoom and Microsoft Teams for both our business and social interactions. Facebook kept us in touch with friends and families and Netflix entertained us.

Without the hidden hand of their contribution to economic activity, the loss of global output and the £393.5bil (RM2.13 trillion) black hole in the public finances might be infinitely worse.

There is no escaping the fact that these companies are unfettered monopolists setting their own terms of trade.

They brook no competition and armed with excess profits have been allowed to buy up potential rivals without any regulatory intervention. Facebook bought Instagram for US$1bil (£770mil or RM4.08bil) in 2012 and added messaging service WhatsApp for a mighty US$19bil (£14.6bil or RM77.32bil) two years later. Microsoft paid US$26bil (£20bil or RM105.80bil) for jobs networking site Linkedin in 2014. In the latest such move, one of the newer pandemic champions Slack – widely used everywhere – is being stalked by Salesforce and Microsoft.

Both are anxious to avoid an important workforce tool undermining their market dominance. Salesforce, one of the biggest cloud operators, has been mopping up rivals as if there is no tomorrow. It spent US$6.5bil (£5bil or RM26.45bil) on Mulesoft in 2018 and US$17.5bil (£13.5bn or RM71.21bil) on data visualising service Tableau a year earlier.

The willingness of the digital giants to splash the billions is one of the factors which has driven Nasdaq and the Dow Jones to ever dizzier heights.

Instead of allowing a new array of infant tech innovators to take their place in the pantheon, existing players are smothering them at birth, depriving users of choice.

In the last month or so, there have been indications that competition authorities on both sides of the Atlantic have seen enough.

The US Justice Department has begun an antitrust investigation into Google-owner Alphabet. At the very least there should be restrictions on Google doing mega-deals while the inquiry is under way.

In the UK, the Government is putting in place a new technology regulator to try to check the power of the biggest online operators. The idea is to develop a ‘code of conduct’ designed, among other things, to allow market newcomers space to breathe.

The fightback has to start somewhere. But one fears that when dealing with Microsoft et al, firms with multi-trillion valuations, this will be a David versus Goliath challenge without an effective slingshot. – Daily Mail, London/Tribune News Service





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