Big Tech Should Compete to Free Users Not to Produce Cheaper Shinier Phones
Breaking up Big Tech, including Google, Facebook and Apple is now a hot topic. Antitrust actions can restrict and even split up companies that become so big that they are preventing competition. The question is what competition is really crucial for Big Tech?
Smartphones, laptops and tablets compete for design sleekness, fast connectivity, storage and new features. When competition is fierce prices go down. But is that what we really need: better and cheaper gadgets? Or do we actually need devices that give us the freedom to really choose when we want to use them? To regain our control over our own time and our family time? Right now, Big Tech is at most paying lip service to the need to improve our digital well-being.
Take Apple computers. Have you ever tried limiting your child’s time on an Apple computer? Apple’s parental controls are worse today than they were a few years ago. In fact, Apple’s newest operating system (Catalina) does not even call them parental controls but hides them within the Screen Time settings. Just to name a few problems that parents encounter, especially during the pandemic when many are working and studying from home:
- When a child needs more computer time there are two options: add one hour (every hour) or add the rest of the day. Since both child and parent can’t stop class or work every hour to add time, giving the child free computer time for the rest of the day becomes the only option.
- Kids do their classwork online and there is no straightforward way to restrict them to their school designated websites. At this point screen time for many purposes is unrestricted.
- Apple replaced the password option with a four-digit code. A code that a child can easily observe the parent type in and then use whenever she wants to extend her screen time.
Many parents give up saying it is just too complicated for them. Some believe that technology companies are unable yet to solve this problem. But this is exactly the point of competition. If companies competed to provide us with more control over our screen time, we would get better products. Apple does a great job keeping us in its ecosystem by seamlessly connecting content between Apple devices. But as long as Big Tech’s source of revenue is directly related to the time we spend on our devices, we will continue to have subpar products. Products that do not accomplish their purpose of reducing time online.
Antitrust actions against Big Tech should encourage innovative competition that produces new business model. Only when revenues no longer depend on time spent online, tech companies will come up with products that serve users’ freedom.