Later this month the four leaders of the world’s most powerful technology companies will testify before congress as part of the government’s multiple anti-trust investigations. David Cicilline, a Democratic congressman from Rhode Island, will lead the questioning of Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google and Tim Cook of Apple. Hopefully, the questioners will do a better job than in past hearings that turned into partisan bickering and questions that displayed the ignorance of the questioners. Remember Orin Hatch’s question asking Tim Cook about why his Android phone was not working?

This time the tech companies each have a lot to answer for. Their behaviors have included serious malfeasance in a wide number of areas, not only in anti-competitive behavior, but in some cases, abhorrent behavior that have actually led to death. Here are some of the issues with each will need to answer for in the order of the companies’ behavior, from worst to less worse.

 

FACEBOOK

By far the worst of the bunch is Facebook. It’s in a category of its own for the damage its caused to this country and around the world and its unwillingness to moderate its behavior.

Its algorithms are designed to bring like people together also captures each person’s likes and dislikes, prejudices, and preferences. That’s used to bring relevant ads to its users, ads tailored to every detail it has learned about the user through their engagement on the platform and wherever they travel on the web. Advertisers can target its customers more precisely and more efficiently than anything in history. To do that it essentially spies on us and creates a dossier on both members and non-members and then rents out that information to most anyone.

By the nature of its design, it has created a Frankenstein that purposely people with like interests together, using an algorithm that is based on retention or how long the user stays engaged. That means it’s not just a benevolent service to keep friends engaged, but one that brings extremists of all sorts together, too. Its recommendation engine recently has brought a group of far right, Nazi-sympathizers into a group called Boogaloo, that was responsible for the killing of a security guard in Oakland last month and had organized militias to create havoc during recent Black Lives Matter protests.

Facebook has amplified extremist views, promotes falsehoods, and rumors, and even has been responsible for the deaths of protestors in Myanmar. And now they’ve refused to remove postings and comments that promote violence or campaigns against voting.

Its CEO, Mark Zuckerburg has been tone deaf and unwilling to moderate their policies to any degree, leading to protests from his own employees. What changes they make are done grudgingly and slowly. Because of their size they have no competition, and what potential competitors they had, such as Instagram, they bought. Whenever a company appears on the scene with some feature they like, they blatantly copy.  If there was ever an evil company, this is it. Their product is more toxic than cigarettes and they answer to no one.

 

GOOGLE

The next company is Google that, along with Facebook controls most of today’s on-line advertising. Google established itself by developing the best search engine, and developed an advertising model based on knowing everything it could about its users in order to serve up appropriate ads. If we are searching for shoes, it will then show us ads for shoes. Its problem is it knows too much about us and gains that information in devious ways. While Facebook learns about us by our likes, dislikes, associations and websites we visit, Google learns about us through their no-cost useful products such as Google Maps and Gmail, through our searches, and thousands of other interactions online and in the physical world.

Google is accused of using their monopoly power to promote its own services, favor its own products in search results, and constantly violating our privacy. They are now trying to acquire Fitbit, the wrist devices that track our activities, but are facing opposition from EU regulators, correctly believing the Google will now have access to our health data and use it to their advantage.

Google does have a positive side, however. While Facebook has little redeeming value and acquires its personal information by providing a dubious service and preying on some of the worst human traits, Google at least provides excellent products, such as Maps, Mail a free equivalent to Office, translation software, and of course, their valuable search engine.

 

AMAZON

Amazon has been accused of abusing its monopoly position while providing us with services that we want, we love, and we use all of the time. They’ve almost fulfilled the dream of science fiction writers that envisioned transporting physical objects across the country in an instant. They’ve created the biggest online store in the world and a delivery service that could put most of the items on our doorstep in a day or two.  But in doing so, they’ve taken advantage of their position. They’ve enticed independent sellers onto their platform and have used the sales data to develop competing products of its own.  But because they do such a good job, we, the customers love them. Their behavior is more like the conventional monopolist that developed an appetite to cross the line of ethical behavior into one of becoming predatory.

 

APPLE

Apple, like Amazon, has worked to delight its customers, and their customer loyalty remains higher than most any company in the world. But along the way to its success, it’s taken advantages of its position. It exercises close control over the software allowed to be installed on its products, and it takes a large cut for allowing the software to be sold on its store, a store that’s a requirement for selling software to its customers.  Basically, if you want to make software for Apple products you need to play by their rules. And these rules are often arbitrary, discriminatory, and anti-competitive. Apple can decide which products you are allowed to make for its hardware.  Apple also monopolizes the servicing of its products. They continually try to prevent independent companies from repairing Apple products and determines which parts can be used. It’s akin to AT&T once trying to insure that only their phones could be attached to their phone lines.

In examining these companies, the last three offer services that we, the customer want, we like and provide tangible benefits. The services Facebook offers, a service that is used by billions to connect and communicate, is one that’s a  lot less valuable to consumers, almost akin to an addiction. So while all four companies will face congressional scrutiny, much of the interest and attention should be on Facebook: terrible behavior, wreaks damage around the world, and provides little redeeming value.