What the riches of Big Tech mean for our future


This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns.

Every few months, I cook up new ways to say tech giants are making a lot of money. Today, I give up.

I will just say that Big Tech companies are really, really, really, really big and really, really, really, really, REALLY rich.

That’s even true for the company we know as Facebook, which hit a financial brick wall on Wednesday. It could be the end of Facebook as we know it – maybe! – but the business is likely to continue to generate big profits for years to come.

America’s five tech superpowers – Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook – are huge and continue to grow. They have almost endless resources to help them stay on top. And their products are in such demand that even obscure pieces from their kingdoms are incredibly popular.

Here are some numbers.

  • Apple’s profit for the past year ($101 billion) was greater than the combined annual profits of – take a deep breath – Walmart, General Motors, Exxon, Pfizer, Verizon, Disney, Coke and McDonald’s.

  • Do you know what YouTube shorts are? No? They’re YouTube’s answer to small TikTok videos, and Google said this week that people have watched 15 billion of them. every day. This number was so crazy that I kept asking people if I misunderstood.

  • Facebook… OK, Facebook is in the wrong place. The number of daily users of Facebook and its Messenger app has fallen a bit. The company has warned that TikTok’s popularity is hurting it and its ad sales are falling, in part because of Apple’s recent restrictions on collecting personal data on iPhone apps.

    I’m not sure I believe Facebook has as many problems as it’s letting on. Again. Facebook executives are used to warning of disaster, but the company continues to move forward.

    This time might be different. But even Facebook’s suddenly scowling face generated, on average, $214 for every user in the United States and Canada last year. For a free product. Facebook is one of the best money-making machines in internet history, and if it dies, it will happen slowly. I think.

  • Microsoft owns the (unpopular) Bing search engine. It sells ads there and elsewhere online, including on LinkedIn. And yet, the company’s annual ad sales of more than $10 billion are about 20 times the New York Times’ 2021 ad sales.

  • Amazon’s stock price – like that of many tech companies – has fallen this year so far, by around 18%. But Amazon is so huge that the erased value ($267 billion) roughly matches Disney’s total value. Jeff Bezos’ new yacht is so big that a bridge in the Netherlands will be dismantled to accommodate the height of the boat. It’s rich.

Outside of tech, big American companies are also dandy. But the tech superpowers are on a completely different planet than just big and rich.

Big Tech’s continued financial madness grapples with key questions for this newsletter: Is Big Tech’s success good for us? And are these five superpowers big and dominant because they are doing good things, or do their size and power virtually guarantee further dominance?

We know that people and companies need products from Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook. And these companies tend to say they could die at any moment. The history of technology confirms this. Dominant companies don’t tend to stay that way for very long.

But this handful of tech companies have become so intertwined with our lives, our economies, global affairs, and our brains that they’ve had a grip for years. Microsoft and Apple are each over 45 years old. Google and Amazon started about a quarter of a century ago. These companies have fallen on hard times, but they have mostly been wealthy and successful for much of their history. We can’t imagine anything different.

Facebook is the youngest and most vulnerable of the bunch right now, but it’s been reinventing itself for a decade and has survived (so far) all doubts.

The angst over Big Tech – questions of illegal monopolies and how they control digital speech and economies – boils down to a debate about whether our digital lives are defined by dynamism or dynasties permanent. We will see.

Tip of the week

Brian X. Chen, the Times personal tech columnist, responded to our On Tech editor, Hanna Ingber, who posed a question she thought readers would have as well. Hana wrote:

“I find the choice between cloud storage options endlessly anxiety-inducing (so I’m paying everyone). What should I do?” (Hanna pays for three cloud storage services!)

Google Drive. Drop box. Box. iCloud. Microsoft One Drive. These are all cloud services, which are servers to store our data online.

They are convenient to use because you no longer have to worry about losing your data when copies of your files reside in the cloud. They all cost a few dollars a month to store a significant amount of data. So how to choose just one?

I explored this question in a previous article on the best way to manage your smartphone photos. Based on my conversations with technicians, the wisest approach is to choose a “device independent” service. It means a cloud service that is not exclusive to a specific brand. That leaves out iCloud, which works primarily for Apple products like iPhones.

It’s important to choose a cloud storage service that gives you the freedom and flexibility to take your files elsewhere if you want to move to another device.

This is why I often suggest that people store their data in Google’s cloud. Google’s cloud apps for word processing, photo management, spreadsheets, and file storage work on Apple and Android phones. And in general, its tools can be used via a web browser on any computer or smartphone.

I write mostly in a web browser using Google Docs on my Mac. And if I wanted to edit documents on a PC, I could use the same tool in a browser on Windows.

  • A solo hacker says he took North Korea offline: A US security researcher who uses the name P4x online told Wired that North Korean spies targeted him in a cyberattack last year. Frustrated by what he felt was a visible lack of response from US officials, P4x says he hacked into North Korea’s internet from his living room and claimed responsibility for ongoing online blackouts in the country.

  • Bad reputation cleaning services: Rest of World has investigated companies that specialize in helping wealthy businessmen and politicians clean the internet of information they don’t like. The tech publication reports that reputation management companies often use bogus copyright claims and legal disclaimers to try to remove online news articles that contain allegations of tax evasion, corruption or trafficking. drugs from their clients.

  • You buy everything online. What about cremation services?

I asked on Twitter for sloth videos, and the Sloth Institute parked these long limbed charmers in my feed.

We want to hear from you. Let us know what you think of this newsletter and what else you would like us to explore. You can reach us at [email protected]

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