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Big Tech: wolf in sheep’s clothing?

With Big Tech companies continuing to capitalize, their paramount monopolies have become the norm. Yet, a valid argument still stands – is Big Tech taking advantage of consumers by trading their data?

We’re talking top-dog-tech giants that completely dominate their sector. According to the United Nations data economy report from 2019, it’s namely five companies: Google, Amazon, Meta, Apple, and Microsoft.

With data being a commodity, we’re putting a lot of trust into such companies, considering that the masses use their products and software. I mean, how many of you are using your iPhone to read this explainer?

“Our data, our most personal information, has now become the world’s most valuable asset, more valuable than oil and gas,” Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Brittany Kaiser recently stated.

It's clear that concerns over privacy and data trading are growing, but with governmental intervention, has there been any significant change?

The reliance on Big Tech

Other than Elon Musk making some anti-Facebook Tweets, what else has happened in the revolt against Big Tech and the harvesting of consumer data?

In recent years, federal investigations and lawsuits have taken place to dispute their true agendas. The antitrust subcommittee recommended that the Big 4 – with a combined market value of over $5 trillion at the time – should not control and compete in related business due to ethical reasons.

Fast forward to today, and things aren’t all that different, with an insatiable thirst for our personal information left unquenched.

Getting into specifics, last year, the UK’s Competition and Market Authority (CMA) launched a probe over concerns that Apple and Google have too much control over operating systems. Yet, 97% of all mobile web browsing in the UK happens on browsers powered by, you guessed it, either Apple's or Google's browser engine. A whole technological ecosystem that many of us rely on day in and day out, but what could go wrong?

Well, we have to address the fact that nothing is free. Let’s say you use a search engine or a particular social networking app, free of charge, often your personal and even very private information becomes the product. This could then be passed on to third parties or not protected well enough to safeguard your privacy. Considering the value of the data economy of EU27 was almost $325 billion, I’m sure you can understand the driving force for companies here.

Cambridge Analytica and huge recent leaks like Twitch or TMobile are cementing what can happen when data isn’t managed properly and driving awareness over privacy.

It wasn’t really an overstatement when the UK’s watchdog stated Apple and Google “hold all the cards,” and the statistics speak for themselves, with seven in 10 phones worldwide relying on this architecture. Couldn’t they do more to safeguard the end-user?

Well, taking recent news into consideration, Google is now under fire, again, with ten European consumer organizations taking action against them over their invasive sign-up procedure and unlawful surveillance.

The main issue lies in the transparency of Google and its lack of privacy-friendly settings. In order to take back control, users would have to manually personalize their settings, which the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) has stated is “unclear, incomplete, and misleading information”.

Not all that bad

But you might ask, is there a good side to Big Tech? Well, the most notable would be the recent commitment to combating misinformation. With 34 signatories promising to comply with requirements within the next six months.

The wheels are already turning, with Meta banning Belarusian-backed hacking collective from their platform in an attempt to block misinformation. Google-owned, YouTube, has also removed 70,000 videos that echoed the Kremlins narrative.

Apple has announced the sales of their products in Russia are paused and even introduced an anti-spyware Mode that will protect users from advanced digital threats.

That, and Google’s involvement in Roe V. Wade, where they have implemented a new feature that will let people auto-delete their data after visiting medical facilities.

Yet, is this enough to ignore the past wrong-doings?

It's safe to say unless we step into a complete digital revolution, wearing the badge of the “digital vegan” like a medal, companies will always capitalize on their users.

Though, we will need the help of governments and legal intervention to make real change. In the case of protecting your data from Big Tech companies, the best you can do is make sure you are limiting what you share, change your passwords regularly and be on the lookout for social engineering attacks.

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