Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon are the four giants of technology, and Scott Galloway is determined to make the public question the power of these platforms. In his latest YouTube video, he contends “They’ve validated an age old truth: power corrupts.”
These four are the largest in the world by market capitalization (along with Microsoft in the number three spot), because they are the four most powerful platforms in the world. Google is the most important platform for search, with 90 percent of all queries going through the site. Apple is the most important mobile platform, because, even though it has fewer users than Android, it has far more users who will spend money on their phone. Facebook is the world’s most important social platform (we don’t really need to back this one up further, do we?), and Amazon is the platform for commerce, just about all online commerce.
The New York University professor and serial entrepreneur has a new book coming out next week called The Four (guess who it covers), and no doubt he’s shaking these trees as hard as he can right now to drive attention that way, but not all of his arguments in this video are a hit.
For example, he points out that Amazon has only paid $1.4 billion in corporate taxes to Wal-Mart’s $64 billion, since 2008. He calls this crazy in light of the fact that Amazon has nearly twice the valuation of Wal-Mart. It sounds mind-blowing, except Wal-Mart’s revenue is roughly 12 times Amazon’s. So the tax figures don’t seem quite so nutty in that light.
Amazon recently announced that it would bring 50,000 new jobs to the next city to host its second headquarters. This is a very strange game that Jeff Bezos is playing, but we’ll leave our guessing about what he’s up to for another time. Galloway’s fundamental point is dead on: cities are competing in ridiculous ways to win the new digs, and the “winner” will be left regretting it long after the mayor that recoups the political windfall from closing the lease is long gone.
But then Galloway says that Amazon should just turn its back on all inducements and go straight to Detroit. Balderdash.
Detroit is the cause célèbre of every part-time urbanist, but if Bezos were going to take a stance it could take a better one. Let cities compete to be their best selves, but Bezos should refuse any Amazon-only inducements, evaluating each city’s package solely on investments the municipality would make with universal benefits, such as worker training, education improvements, parks, walkability/transit upgrades and—obviously—amping its internet access. Basically every American city besides Chattanooga and Kansas City could stand to do that last one anyway.
Galloway also rides roughshod on Apple over its refusal to decrypt an iPhone. Why should police be able to search a car but not a mobile, he asks? That answer is so easy that Galloway should know better. It’s because getting into one car doesn’t scale exponentially like getting into an iPhone does. If Apple creates a key for one iPhone, it creates keys for them all. To search a car, you have to physically visit the car, too. This, also, is not true for iPhones. They can be accessed from anywhere.
Despite Apple’s best due diligence, thieves still find ways in, but it would be far worse if they all knew for sure that there definitely is a way that Cupertino built on purpose.
Still, Galloway’s Apple invective is high art. “Apple: We have our religion. The new Jesus Christ is Steve Jobs. The iPhone X should be called the iPhone ✝,” he quips, because we treat it as today’s holiest of fetishes.
But if Galloway wanted to take a dig at a company over taxes, Apple might have been the easier target.
But there’s nothing to quibble with on his digs at Facebook and Google. Facebook has said it would basically be too much work to ferret out cynical propaganda on its sprawling website, but Galloway isn’t having it.
“This isn’t about censorship,” Galloway says to Zuckerberg, “it’s about you refusing to introduce friction and cost into your scaleable business model.”
Google, he contends, has decided that taking some fines in Europe can just be tucked into a reasonable business expenses line item and forgotten.
And that dovetails nicely with Galloway’s overall point: that these are companies that are so big and so powerful that they can break the law and largely get away with it. The public should expect better.