Big Tech, the Pride Before the Fall
Google, Facebook and Twitter have never had more wealth and power, but a second wave of tech upstarts will bring them down
We made a deal with Big Tech. They are allowed to vacuum up our personal data and become billionaires, and in return we get cool things to do on the Internet.
It has been a great deal for them. Google alone has raked in $1 trillion since 2000, while Mark Zuckerberg is now richer than entire countries like Iceland and Bolivia.
But for some reason being a billionaire isn’t enough for these guys. It turns out that more than wealth, what they really want is power.
So Amazon is buying up media like the Washington Post, Google is manipulating searches, Twitter is censoring, and Facebook is bankrolling elections.
Together, these leviathans of the tech industry are starting to bend our society to their will.
But there is something a lot of people don’t understand about Big Tech. Yes, they are powerful, but their power is brittle.
It took a long time to get where they are. Their fall will be much quicker.
Let me explain.
I recently came across the following Tweet by tech entrepreneur-turned-philosopher Naval Ravikant. He was hailing a new web browser called Brave.
“Easily the best browser. Chromium + privacy + crypto.
My first thought was, well, they chose the right name. Because you have to be really Brave to enter a market that is so thoroughly dominated by Chrome and Safari — and so littered with the bones of Firefox and IE Explorer.
But I decided to give it a spin and to be honest, I’m kind of blown away.
Brave is noticeably faster than Chrome. It’s also shielding my identity from trackers and comes with a very interesting advertising model.
It works like this.
When you use Chrome, Google scoops up your personal information and sells it to companies who then follow you around the Internet with ads.
But when you use Brave, your data is hidden and you can choose not to see any ads.
Brave does need to make some money so this is what they do. If you agree to some ads, you can choose how many (I opted for 5 an hour) and then they kick some of that ad revenue back to you.
The revenue comes in the form of crypto tokens called BAT. You can use your BAT tokens to tip creators elsewhere in the Brave ecosystem, or you can visit one of the more than 70 exchanges that trade BAT and convert them to other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and then into cash.
This is what my account looks like after several days: more than 23,000 trackers and ads were blocked, saving me 20 minutes of time. I also earned 1.4 BAT tokens which adds up to 44 cents.
It’s not a lot of money. But, you know, it feels kind of transformative.
I’m using a faster and better browser than Google’s Chrome, and in return I don’t have to let a company I don’t trust, sell my data to advertisers I don’t like.
Google has been earning billions from this deal.
And now I can say no.
This is such a no-brainer. Brave must be stealing a ton of market share from Chrome, right?
Well, the answer to that is nope, not even close.
Using traffic data on government websites, we can see that Google’s Chrome is out front with 46.9% of users, Apple’s Safari is at 36.7% and Edge, Firefox and IE all attract less than 5%.
So where are all Brave users?
They are buried among that 0.8% called Others.
Brave is growing. They doubled their users this year.
But despite providing a superior product and protecting your privacy, this still adds up to only 25 million active monthly users in a world with 4.5 billion people on the Internet.
Meanwhile, Google has an incredible 3 billion people using its Chrome browser.
So something big would have to happen if we are ever going to topple Google — or Facebook, Twitter and any other Big Tech company that now sits astride the Internet.
Or maybe nothing will happen. Because a lot of people say Big Tech will never be dislodged.
They cite two main reasons.
These are the first companies to enter a new market, which they then dominate with brand recognition, customer loyalty and a flood of money that they use to further cement their position.
Google’s search engine was a first mover. Even now, decades later, it controls over 90% of the search market outside China and still contributes the bulk of the company’s revenue.
Google has gone on to use this cash cow to enter and dominate new markets like video, email and of course browsers, as they did with Chrome.
This is the second big argument for the supposed unassailability of Big Tech.
A network effect occurs when the sheer number of users on a platform eventually becomes the most important reason to use the platform. This is a particularly potent reason to use social media like Facebook and Twitter.
You use it because everyone else is using it.
We can see the same phenomenon in cities like San Francisco. Despite a ridiculous cost of living and rapidly deteriorating quality of life due to crime, the city remains a magnet for tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.
Entrepreneurs move to SF to find capital. And capital moves there to find entrepreneurs.
The network effect is very powerful and an almost impossibly hard nut to crack.
Take Facebook as an example. It is still adding users even though polls show almost 2 in 3 people don’t trust the social media giant.
This is what new tech companies like Brave are up against. Big Tech has the history, the networks and of course the money.
But so what. Small, unknown competitors come out of nowhere and take down industry leaders all the time.
Just ask the hedge funds.
Reddit versus Wall St.
In some ways, hedge funds are to finance what Big Tech is to technology.
They have the smartest people, the most money and dominant positions in the most important industries in America.
They also buy the most influence in Washington. No one cuts bigger checks to politicians than the billionaires at hedge funds and Big Tech.
Their commanding positions at the apex of modern society can look unassailable.
That perception crumbled last week.
When hedge funds like Melvin Capital started short-selling the shares of video game retailer GameStop (basically betting the price would fall), they were confident that their power and knowledge would assure them of another big windfall.
But they had no idea that a small rebellion was stirring on Reddit. Thousands of geeks who spent nights lining up outside GameStop for the latest PlayStation were paying attention.
Now, if these events had occurred even a few years ago, they would have unfolded something like this: people would have vented helplessly on Reddit, GameStop would be struggling to avoid bankruptcy, and the hedge fund managers would already be putting deposits on summer homes in the Hamptons.
But something has changed. Instead of just venting online, Redditors have access to trading apps like Robinhood and WeBull that gave them with a quick and inexpensive way to fight the hedge funds on their own turf.
And they won.
(Note: I know Robinhood has been criticized for temporarily suspending trading but this was out of their hands. There would have been no rebellion without trading apps like Robinhood.)
You can see where I’m going with this. If hedge fund billionaires can be beaten so easily and quickly at their own game, then the tech oligarchs aren’t safe either.
They might be even brought down by their own technology.
Technology like the Brave browser. Brave is built on an open-source technology called Chromium that was originally developed by Google.
Google added lots of bells and whistles to the platform, called it Chrome and started harvesting everyone’s personal information.
Then Brave came along, added the same bells and whistles, and they don’t demand your personal information.
There is no good reason to continue using Chrome today. There is no reason to sacrifice your privacy to a company that sold your privacy for $57 billion in their last fiscal quarter. No reason at all. None.
(To be fair, Google does deserve a lot of credit for building an open-source browser that was available to everyone. Though this was back in 2008 before they removed the motto Don’t Be Evil from their code of conduct.)
Brave is just one threat among many now facing Big Tech.
The search engine DuckDuckGo is almost as good and sometimes better than Google. Messenger apps like Telegram are hands-down superior to Facebook’s WhatsApp. The social media platform MeWe is more fun to use than Facebook itself.
All of these upstarts will let you keep your personal information. Which means they won’t make billions selling ads. Which means they won’t get bored with their wealth and start telling us how to think, speak and vote.
Our privacy was a high price to pay for new technology. Now other companies are providing the same tech, and we don’t have to keep paying.
We just don’t.
If you are wondering how to move over to a more customer-friendly platform, here are some links I found helpful.
Transfer contacts to Telegram from WhatsApp
Transfer photos and videos from Facebook