Little Tech Takes on Big Tech in Boulder

Posted on January 18, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Amazon, Apple, Cloud, Google, Social with 10 Comments

Emboldened by the “techlash,” some smaller tech firms went public with the abuses they’ve suffered at the hands of Big Tech at a congressional hearing in Boulder, Colorado this past week. And they’re asking—even begging—lawmakers to curb the abusive business practices of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google.

“It’s like playing a soccer game,” Tile vice president and general counsel Kirsten Daru said during the hearing. “You might be the best team in the league, but you’re playing against a team that owns the field, the ball, the stadium, and the entire league, and they can change the rules of the game in their own favor and anytime.”

The “they” in Tile’s case is Apple, which has been accused of similar lawbreaking and anticompetitive practices by Spotify in the EU. Tile says that because Apple wants to own its market for tracking devices, it places roadblocks for its mobile app on iOS that don’t apply to Apple’s own solutions. For example, Apple restricts the location data it collects, a limit not placed on Apple’s own technology.

And there’s Sonos, which is already suing Google for blatantly stealing its patented smart speaker technology and says that Amazon has done the same.

And PopSockets, which makes smartphone grips, claims that online retailing giant Amazon “bullied” it into lowering its prices while ignoring complaints about counterfeit rip-offs that it continued selling. PopSockets was so upset with Amazon’s behavior that it tried to stop using the retailer and lost $10 million. “We have $10 million less to innovate this year” because of Amazon, PopSockets founder David Barnett said.

And Basecamp, which makes online productivity tools, accused Google of abusing its dominant position in online search by pushing its position in search results lower unless it met Google’s demands. The firm now spends over $70,000 each year on advertising just to counteract the effect of Google’s abuse.

“The internet has been colonized by a handful of big tech companies that wield their monopoly powers without restraint,” Basecamp co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson said.

Facebook, meanwhile, is under fire for refusing to prevent lying in political advertising, a policy House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says makes the firm “accomplices in misleading the American people.”

That these firms are speaking out publicly is somewhat incredible. During Microsoft’s antitrust troubles in the mid-to-late 1990s, few of the software giant’s competitors felt safe doing so even privately. But this time is different: Antitrust regulators from around the world are moving aggressively against Big Tech and the power it collectively wields. And in the U.S. alone, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department are both investigating Big Tech in addition to the U.S. House of Representatives.

“It has become clear these firms have tremendous power as gatekeepers to shape and control commerce online,” representative David Cicilline said during the hearing’s opening. Cicilline chairs the House’s top antitrust committee.

“Help us, Congress,” Mr. Hansson said. “You’re our only hope.”

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