Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple antitrust probe: Why are they in trouble?

The Capitol's war on tech companies is heating up. The U.S.' biggest corporations – Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple – were all told to hand in information as part of an ongoing antitrust investigation. They're calling for greater transparency in their data collection practices – and to investigate the possibility of corrupt practices to cripple competition.

The probe includes the antitrust investigation launched by attorneys general of 50 states against Google earlier this week. Led by Texas AG Ken Paxton, his announcement captured the sentiment regarding these tech giants; A concern about the "overarching control of online advertising markets and search traffic that may have led to anti-competitive behavior that harms consumers," said Paxton.

Immense power in the hands of a few

We recognize these tech giants for their services. Google for its search engine; Apple for tech products; Amazon for e-commerce; and Facebook for quite literally inventing social media. But behind these services, these corporations are advertising agencies (well, minus Apple, but we'll get to them in a bit).

Businesses go to Google, Facebook and Amazon to get their goods and services publicized. It's hard to think of any other online advertising platform besides these. According to eMarketer, Facebook has over 22% of the U.S. digital advertising market share. Google leads the race with over 37% of the market, not to mention almost 75% of the search ads market. These refer to the ads that pop up on your browsers and the arrangement of your feeds and findings on your search engines.

That's a lot of control considering the limited options that businesses must reach out to the internet-surfing audience. The power being in the hands of these few giants means any corrupt practices could have massive repercussions to consumers that we don't know about. If much of what's advertised to us come from Google and Facebook, they quite literally influence the things we desire.

So, it's not a stretch of the imagination to get a little worried about what goes into the advertising algorithms of these top companies. Anti-competitive and anti-social practices, as well as privacy invasion are all pressing concerns.

The possibilities are endless. Companies can steer messages from its competitors away from demographics it was aimed at. Microtargeting gives them the ability to control who receives certain ads and messages. Facebook has had a history of discriminatory microtargeting options such as age and ethnic affinity that could be manipulated by advertisers. Google has heaps of our personal information from our photos, projects and documents on the Drive and links to every other website we conveniently sign in with Google – how it's all used is still a mystery.

Beyond Marketing Data

As for Apple, it's not currently known for its advertising solutions. But it still has enough data to make authorities nervous. Just this week, Apple's anti-competitive behavior on the App Store was brought once again into the spotlight.

It was accused of taking popular ideas from apps on their App Store and incorporating them into their own software. These well-performing apps are inevitably driven out of business.

Apple's ambitions lie way beyond phones and gear too, branching further out into services. This week's Apple Event dimmed the spotlight on products like the iPhone 11 and onto its line of services. Showcased were Apple TV, Music, Games, iCloud and news services, all of which present massive data-collecting potential. Apple won't be all about iPhones and MacBooks much longer.

The very specific set of details the Capitol is demanding from these corporations now call for transparency. They could uncover an overwhelming heap of ethical dilemmas – or none – but greater detail on how these corporations use this data is surely necessary.

Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple all have till 14 Oct 2019 to respond to the state's long list of inquiries.