When one tech billionaire wants another’s company to be broken, should authorities listen?
Elon Musk is a provocateur, not a particularly good undercover one but a sampling of his Twitter feed makes for some very interesting reading if nothing else, second only to US President Donald Trump. One of his latest missives on the social media network was his demand to break up Amazon, the e-commerce and web-hosting giant founded by Jeffery Bezos. Should this be taken seriously? Is Amazon too powerful, not just in the e-commerce space but also through its web services? The huge money-spinning web-hosting behemoth that it has become today, it runs almost half the internet. This is indeed a question that competition authorities across the world should seriously ponder about. Amazon is a giant which has outsized shares of e-commerce and web-hosting providers. Its sheer size and scale makes it impossible for newer, smaller players to enter this space. In countries like India, it may be challenged by the likes of Walmart and Reliance Jio but in other parts of the world, that bird has flown. And unlike China, which is flexing its muscles to portray strength at a time of international weakness after the spread of COVID-19, Amazon has used the pandemic to acquire strength (and cash). Jeff Bezos actually became richer during the pandemic.
But competition is a funny thing. The last tech company that almost broke up was Microsoft during the bruising browser wars of the late 1990s. By the time anything could be done, Internet Explorer was already the “king” of browsers. But today, Microsoft doesn’t even make Internet Explorer anymore. It has pivoted itself towards becoming a quieter and more socially responsible tech company. Its former boss Bill Gates is known as the world’s great philanthropist today. So it isn’t out of the question that another company will come and take on Amazon, we just don’t know which one. But Amazon’s dominance highlights the dangers of big tech. And as for Musk, he is only starting his dominance in the electric car industry but with the technological lead Tesla Motors has, one could conceivably ask the question whether in a decade’s time, we will be asking for Tesla’s break-up?
Monday, 08 June 2020 | Pioneer
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