In 2020, Slack sounded the alarm: Teams’ bundling within Office 365 by Microsoft was said to be unsporting. This allegedly prevents other meeting platforms from competing fairly with the tech giant’s product. The EU is investigating, but as is often the case, it seems to be too little, too late. A fundamental change in market relations takes more time and effort, while Big Tech almost always gets its way – even with a few concessions.
According to market researcher Alan Pelz-Scharpe, the EU is already too late to influence Microsoft’s market position in meeting platforms. Speaking to TechTarget, he claims that the Redmond company is slowly filling in all the gaps left between Microsoft services. For a party like Slack, which is part of Salesforce, it means it is facing a supremely fortified competitor.
Now, government agencies are setting up safeguards for the future. Not the EU, but America boasts the most meaningful piece of legislation. Last month, President Biden implemented new guidelines that will make takeovers by big tech firms more difficult. With the emphasis on “will”: current acquisitions remain unaffected.
Plenty of examples
The battle between tech companies and authorities takes place in many areas. Numerous privacy violations have been met with fines for Meta, Google and others. Meanwhile, antitrust resistance from the U.S., U.K. and Europe has been given to, for example, Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of game publisher Activision Blizzard. Examples abound of political pressure on such moves, but it almost always seems to be the same story: the companies make just enough concessions to get a deal over the line.
In recent years, though, political bodies have become increasingly vehement in their criticism, forcing concessions to become larger and larger. For example, Microsoft was forced to guarantee that it was not keeping big game releases just for itself. Similarly, through interference from the EU, Amazon had to ensure that it did not give its own services and products a leg up versus the competition. Still, it’s a drop in the bucket: acquisitions and dominant market positions are essentially unchanged with this kind of curtailment. It just takes a bit more to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s to comply.
Going against the grain
The earlier example of Microsoft’s Teams approach recently got another twist. The Chat feature from the Windows 11 taskbar will henceforth go by the name Teams (free). Microsoft thus provides yet another new way to promote Teams, and in the process, it promotes its ecosystem of proprietary apps.
That’s ultimately what Big Tech companies are heading towards. Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Meta and Microsoft all have an extensive suite of apps that are continuously gaining stronger and stronger integration. There are often external options to run an Office package on a Google Cloud server, for example, but with all sorts of benefits, proprietary customers still get priority due to lower costs and easier efficacy.
So the fight against consolidation and acquisitions continually swims against the tide. As Big Tech builds out integrations, a breakup becomes harder and harder to imagine. After all, trustbusting one’s way to fair market conditions sounds like a straight-forward solution. After all, why does the web store Amazon need the video service Prime? This issue will vary by company, but ultimately there are plenty of components that could very well be independent. What if this is how we constrain the power of Big Tech?
The balance of power
Ultimately, therein lies the underlying problem: Big Tech is actually far more powerful than many a political body. Tech companies can greatly influence elections, determine how we obtain our information from day to day, and in many cases are richer than significant nation-states.
In addition, many of these companies are located in America, so the EU can at best regulate services and does not have the jurisdiction to unduly restrict the company itself. In Canada, however, we saw a while ago that the influence of a business like Google News is so profitable for other parties that a political decision against these giants may meet with local resistance. Google did not want to pay for news organizations as the Canadian government aspired to, and as a result it packed its News bags and left. It already did the same in Spain, when a similar measure was tried.
Read also: Google won’t pay for Canadian news links
In short, we will have to control Big Tech in a different way. Basically, it will take is a cultural shift. For example, Facebook is losing younger users, which will be partly due to the fact that the platform is no longer seen as relevant since the rise of alternatives like TikTok and Instagram. No problem, Meta must have thought, since it also owns the latter.
The real test for Big Tech is yet to come, as the U.S. lays a more serious roadblock for further acquisitions. However, an army of lawyers can still make Big Tech companies’ wishes come true with a few concessions. That modus operandi isn’t fixed with any single piece of legislation.