Big Tech has far-reaching tendrils though the internet and our digital economy at large, the depths of which are hidden from the everyday internet user. Our hope is that with this tool, you can start to see exactly how much of the critical infrastructure underpinning the internet is under the direct control of these four companies.
The risks of this centralized system is clear when swathes of the internet go down if there’s an AWS outage, like in November 2020 . Relying on a handful of companies for cloud infrastructure increases the likelihood of a single point of failure: when a single operation fails and triggers the collapse of the entire system.
Should a single company be able to possess so much power? We argue no.
The digital platforms are transforming how we interact with the world, but the dynamics of the digital economy — where companies have incentives to vertically integrate across markets and consolidate economic power and data to achieve economies of scale and network effects — have also given rise to a few dominant players with immense private power. And it’s not just a matter of sheer market power, either. This economic power often translates into power over our democracy and society. When they hold so much unprecedented power over so much virtual real estate, it precludes any real competition. And, as we detail below, their visibility into users’ browsing habits feed into their surveillance machines, which perpetuate and exacerbate systemic inequities and discrimination.
Sometimes, the response to this consolidation of power is to tell users to simply avoid buying things off Amazon or to stop using Facebook if we think they pose such a big threat. But as this tool demonstrates, avoiding these companies is not that simple, especially considering how these platforms leverage their dominance in cloud computing. What happens when boycotting these companies isn’t really an option?
We can look to a recent watershed moment in the anti-monopoly movement for an answer. Some of these digital platforms — Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple — were the focus of a thorough 16-month investigation by Congress into the competitive dynamics of digital markets, led by the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee. In October 2020, the investigation culminated in a 450-page report outlining how Big Tech’s dominance in cloud computing, digital advertising, and other markets enables them to unfairly distort markets, rig the rules, and pick winners and losers.
One of the report’s major conclusions is that these platforms have such outsized market power that we need new rules and legislation to address these structural inequities, because our economic system is skewing the incentives toward accumulating monopoly power.
Among other things, their dominance means that customers and users like yourself have to accept lower privacy protections—even if these products are “free,” you’re paying with your privacy because they have the ability to see and collect data on consumer behavior and competitive insights. And it’s not just this lack of privacy that’s problematic, it’s what they can do with this data once they have it: cloud computing infrastructure providers can see usage metrics about any managed service that runs on their infrastructure, which they can then use to make decisions about which software to acquire or replicate themselves.
This dominance also enables the platforms to exercise gatekeeping power; setting the terms that other players in the digital ecosystem have to abide by to engage. The platforms can also leverage their power in one business area to grow market share in another through an unfair, anticompetitive practice known as “tying .” Separately, platforms could also use revenue from their cloud services to subsidize other business lines, giving them an unfair competitive advantage. For many businesses, these dynamics means that they have to give in to these platforms’ demands, because their ability to survive depends on it.