This is a Web worth untangling

Then, just the other day, Facebook hit Apple with the same beef plopped against it, even taking out full-page ads in American newspapers to drive home their point.

By Alvin R. Cabral

Published: Thu 17 Dec 2020, 11:35 PM

Facebook’s in trouble. Again. Having multiple US states sue you for antitrust issues isn’t just a show of force; it’s also a barometer of how popular or unpopular you are, depending where you are perched and what kind of lens you are peering through.

Then, just the other day, Facebook hit Apple with the same beef plopped against it, even taking out full-page ads in American newspapers to drive home their point. Palo Alto argues that if Cupertino’s new privacy policies embedded in iOS 14 would hurt the Goliaths of the industry, imagine the damage it could do to the Davids. (‘We’re standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere’ is the ad’s tagline. Umm, how ironic?)

Meanwhile, Google is also staring at the same tricky situation, with 10 states alleging the Internet giant is abusing its monopolistic stronghold on online advertising — and they’re even being accused of conniving with Facebook.

Welp, not only do these companies provide us entertainment in its most literal form — they themselves and the saga they’re in are all primetime material.

Just months ago, the CEOs of those three bigwigs, plus Amazon’s, virtually faced the ‘wrath’ of the US Congress, forced to defend their wares against a wave of allegations regarding their business practices. Their performances elicited mixed reactions and, yes, provided for some good entertainment in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic; sometimes those YouTube recommendations can feel wonky, so an alternative was much welcome.

Of course, they all pleaded innocence and maintained that they’re conducting business in the service of the people. It just so happened that they’re that powerful and have market caps that, altogether, outsize the economies of certain nations, some of which you can even combine.

Somehow it tickles the imagination to think whether or not they all secretly huddled somewhere before appearing, to chalk up answers and be in solidarity with each other discreetly. Well, that could be fantasy; what’s not is the fact that Facebook’s attack on Apple is a clear indication that — no — it’s every company for itself. Now.

I’m no law expert, but what I’m seeing through the eyes of a regular observer is that these companies have benefitted from each other, in one way or another. And it’s not just your typical benefits — they’re huge ones, really huge ones. Just refer to their market caps again if you’re not convinced; they wouldn’t be sitting atop mountains of cash if it weren’t for their ‘inter-cooperation’ (is there such a word?).

So, it’s really amusing to see that a fight they should be united against is devolving into an intra-spat. Don’t be surprised if more counterattacks — even legal ones — are on the deck. And just imagine all the tweets from Elon Musk if he was involved in all of this.

These firms grew before our very eyes (and hands and fingers), and right under the noses of authorities. It can be argued that why wasn’t anything done in the first place to prevent all these monopolies and unfair competitions. Facebook did get an approval to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp, with some resistance; now they’re trying to undo this, because Zuck and Co’s reach has exploded beyond the boundaries.

Mounting legal challenges isn’t a pleasant thing. Yet, it also provides the proper forum to prove yourself, no matter how daunting the odds are. And if that isn’t enough, there’s also the court of public opinion to deal with, a terrain filled with landmines; I’m not surprised if, through the years, the classic law saying has morphed into ‘anyone is guilty until proven innocent’. That’s a tough spot to be in.

I sympathise with all sides here — again, I’m no legal expert — but the merits of these cases and, assuringly, those to further come, have long been written on the wall. It’s just like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode with shrapnels guaranteed to scatter in all directions.

The proverbial he-said-she-said argument is already enough of a challenge to sort out; the Web that we know today is so complex, so interpolated and so intricately controlled by a handful that untangling it would be like trying to separate the components of a 3-in-1 coffee sachet.

Right now, this saga is perfect for a full-length documentary, Netflix-style. But I’m betting on one in the far future — because this is far, far from over.


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