CAPITALISM HAS PROVED to be, by far, the best system for the material development of humanity and it is predicated on the simple principle that free markets and competition unleash the entrepreneurial abilities of individuals leading to cheaper and better goods and services. It creates new employment, and the employees become new consumers of these goods and services, and the circle keeps increasing. But what happens when companies become virtual monopolies even if it is through their own efficiency? And they become so huge in scale that both the idea of competition and a free market don’t apply anymore? It is to meet such eventualities that anti-trust laws exist, and it might finally be catching up with the big technology companies like Facebook and Google that have become multinational behemoths and are recognised as near monopolies in certain areas.
An interesting case is being heard in the US against Google that is putting this principle to test. It was filed by Epic Games who argues that the Google Play Store, present in all Android phones to download apps, charges up to 30 per cent for in-app purchases. When Epic tried to bypass this and get users to directly pay, Google barred them. One of Google’s counterarguments is that it does have competition like Apple, which has its own near monopoly by way of the iPhone and App Store ecosystem. An interesting fact that came to light during the hearings was that Google pays Apple enormous sums. As The Guardian reported on what Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified in court: “Pichai also confirmed that Google pays Apple a 36% revenue share to remain Safari’s default search engine, between $18bn and $20bn every year…” The big tech companies were thus also partners of sorts where it didn’t hurt them. Earlier, Pichai had to also go before the US Congress where its monopoly over Search was a topic of questioning.
It is quite possible that these companies might still be able to hold on to their monopolies but the scrutiny is getting tougher. While no one really thinks that the success they achieved is not deserved, the question is the power they wield. Google’s YouTube and Meta’s Instagram are the lifeblood of online content creation. The manner in which they are wielded has a decisive impact on everything from politics to fashion to music, and it is not even limited to one country. With their access to the enormous user data generated, they will also become leaders in the artificial intelligence revolution. It would be impossible for any new entrepreneur to be a serious competitor and rise to the top like the founders of these big tech companies once did.
We only have to look at our phones and laptops in India to see how almost everything about our lives online is being managed by firms with headquarters thousands of kilometres away in other continents. Can an Indian pragmatically decide he doesn’t want be in the walled gardens of Android and Apple? At some point, there is not going to be any alternative but to make these companies smaller, and it will happen because nations will never want to give up first right of power over citizens.