One major criticism for capitalism has always been the threat of monopolies – a company so large and so dominating in a market that it renders competition obsolete. There are benefits to large companies, such as their innovation and economies of scale, but arguably at the cost of too much power.
When you look at the 5 biggest companies in the US (below), many if not all of them have traits of power associated with traditional monopolies. Some have large competitors keeping them somewhat on their feet, some do not. Their power over other companies in the market may be the least of our worries though, as many are gaining significant power over our daily lives.
Market Cap: $499.65bn
Market Cap: $981.38bn
Market Cap: $920.17bn
Market Cap: $809.16bn
One stand-out figure is Amazon’s profit being the smallest of the five, despite it almost matching highest revenue. This somewhat sums up its focus on power though – to grow and dominate the market at the cost of low profit margins. What market? As many as it can, it seems, with its backward integrating logistics network, marketplace, streaming service, electronic home products and now even physical stores.
Without judging too much on individual companies – because they all differ in their structure and ethics, and aren’t transparent enough to decipher what is PR and what is fact. Instead, the section below will go into some of the ways that big companies are affecting our lives, leaving it up to you to decide if the above companies are singing the same songs.
How they affect our lives
Their hold over the economy
The 2008 economic crisis that ruthlessly affected the world over and changed the lives of many people was originated by the frivolous and gambling-laden attitude toward sub-prime mortgages. Whilst millions took part in this speculative property bubble, it was the handful of large mortgage providers and banks who helped facilitate this by lax attitudes on creditworthiness and offering large loans to just about anyone, without a deposit. This was the first realisation for millennials that their livelihood can depend on the behaviours of large corporations, with many left in negative equity and no job to go to.
Facebook can predict when you are in a good mood, which determines the adverts you will see. Facebook have recently been accused to exploiting depressed teenagers with adverts that facilitate “needing a confidence boost”.
Large amounts of users for big companies equals a lot of Big Data. Such volumes of data on us, categorised into our individual profiles may not always be inherently bad, though. The main threat though comes from who they sell that data to, or who may steal it.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal is a great example of a 3rd party gaining access to very personal information on a large scale, and using it for political means. It doesn’t get more dystopian than that.
The key metric for social media and streaming/media companies (among others) is how many users are online, and how long they’re online for. Many companies have already reached an extreme amount of users, and thus keeping us online is now the priority. To do this, many firms use persuasive design that psychologists determine as unethical. For example, Twitter’s user interface design mimics slot machines – the notification figure will be delayed for a few seconds after opening the site, giving us an enticing reward.
All of their (ad-driven online sites) energy goes into keeping us online – at any cost. The value we receive takes a back seat when attention becomes the priority. It is just unfortunate that our attention is captured by the negative and the shocking events. This is an inherent truth which is exploited by news companies, who are turning tragedies into dramatised entertainment. Furthermore, when it comes to information and points of view, we prefer our own and others who agree with our mindset. This has geared the social media algorithms towards content that we already agree with. If you ever find yourself on an atheist Youtube video, you can be sure that no pro-religious videos will be suggested – this gives us a warped and narrow view of the world.