The Church of Big Tech
Sunday may be the day of the Lord, but the other six days of the week belong to Big Tech.
When I say Big Tech, I am talking Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
The other day, I was mindlessly scrolling LinkedIn, and came across a post by a young first generation college student. The post was a story of continuous defeat that ended in success like many popular LinkedIn posts do. I will save you the details, but this person had landed a Software Engineering Internship at Apple, the company of his dreams. That last part really struck me because it was juxtaposed by news that came out earlier that week about Apple taking 3 years to sever ties with a Chinese supplier named Suyin Electronics because they employed underage workers, some as young as 14 years old. This is a violation of Apple’s ethics policies. This isn’t the first time Apple has been in hot water over working conditions at its suppliers' facilities. It begs the question: is this incoming intern fine with Apple’s supply chain complacence, but more generally why do people continue to work for companies who disregard the rights of people around the world?
↪ The 95 Theses
Apple isn’t the only company using shady practices to enlarge their marketshare. This a practice as old as time itself, but I want to start in Nazi Germany.
If you, the reader, have a big tech company you want to call out for ethical or even legal violations, feel free to comment below or email me.
↪ International Business Machines (IBM)
- In 1933, Nazi Germany announced plans to conduct a census. This census was important in identifying future victims of the Holocaust. The company that supplied the machines for tabulating the census was none other than our big blue friend, IBM.1
Apple had the misfortune of being called out in the introduction, but let’s talk about some of their other issues.
- One thing the European Union has definitely gotten right is its stance on the right to repair. Here in the US, we aren’t as fortunate. We continue to be embroiled in this battle for having the right to repair things that we own. Apple is one of the most hostile vendors when it comes to the right to repair.2 Finding replacement parts for various modules on a iPhone is almost if not nearly impossible. In some cases, you can only go through Apple to repair your devices which is an extremely monopolistic practice.
Google is one of the worst when it comes to this tech praise. Consistently Google is the subject of “It has always been my dream to be Googler!” posts on LinkedIn. Google has used their unique market position in ad tech and the web space to do some really unfortunate things.
Google Chrome is the most popular web browser in the world. It started off as an underdog in the late 2000s against Internet Explorer and Firefox. Chrome quickly rose in popularity due to its consistent ad on Google’s homepage. The ad makes claims that Chrome is the fastest and most secure browser. Both claims are either contestable or undeniably false. Firefox or Brave easily unseat it as a more privacy-oriented browsers, and most browsers are just Chromium skins these days anyways, so they have the same performance as Chrome.
Google has used its popularity on the web to squash competition through anti-competitive practices. The Web is governed by various standards committees that tell browser developers and web developers what should be consistent across environments. WebRTC is a standard that enables real-time communication like video and voice. Google has implemented a non-standards conforming WebRTC implementation which the likes of Teams and Discord both use. Firefox has chosen for a pure standards-compliant WebRTC implementation, and these aforementioned sites choose either not to support it or not support it well. Another standard that came out was the Shadow DOM. The Shadow DOM has had a couple of iterations since it first came out, and for a long time YouTube used the v0 of the API. The v0 was an extremely old version, hence the 0. Other browsers like Firefox didn’t support v0, because they moved on to the later and greater versions. This caused huge performance issues on YouTube when not using Chromium-based browsers.
Much of Google’s yearly revenue comes from their ad-tech of which they are the number 1 player. Google most recently introduced a push to ban third-party cookies entirely from the web, which is good but many other ad-tech companies rely on third-party cookies. Google has started pushing for the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC).3 In essence, Google wants users to be identified by previous browsing history through cohorts. I don’t think Google’s entire plan has totally been figured out here, but their push against other ad-tech companies is definitely suspicious.
Many of Google’s problems stem from the fact that the largest ad-tech company also owns the most popular browser. We are living in a world where the Web is becoming too directed by large corporations with nefarious plans.
Facebook has been in the news quite a bit recently.
Facebook faced questioning on Capitol Hill regarding anti-competitive practices, and more specifically their acquisition of Instagram in the early 2010s which seems like an open and shut case since the Senate committee produced emails in which Zuckerberg and other employees acknowledged Instagram as a threat and proceeded to buy them out.4
Apple has been pushing for privacy protections for the users of its App Store. This means Apple has begun showing more detailed information about what sorts of data and permissions apps need access to. Facebook has been one of the primary targets because their app has just an exorbitant amount of data and permissions that it wants to collect. While many of us knew this, the fact that the information is finally getting into the hands of consumers is a breath of fresh air. Due to finally being exposed, Facebook has chosen to sue Apple.
Oracle has become the butt of many jokes in developer circles and isn’t as popular as other companies in this article, but I wanted to call them out for one thing in particular.
- Back in 2010, Oracle bought Sun Microsystems who at the time owned the copyright to Java, hence Oracle now owns the copyright. In parallel, Google bought a company working on Android. Android was developed with a Java API for developers to hook into. Android re-implemented Java APIs for the platform. Oracle didn’t like this as the owners of the Java copyright. Hence Oracle sued Google.5 Oracle v. Google is up to the Supreme Court where it will finally be decided once and for all. Essentially this lawsuit can boils down to the simple question of “Can you copyright an API?”. My position is wholeheartedly no. Imaging if an author of a book could copyright the names and orders of a chapter in a book. That would be completely ridiculous, and people would laugh you out of the room just for thinking that. This case is very important for the future of computing, and if Oracle wins they will take the top spot on this blog for the worst company.
I don’t necessarily want this blog to go on forever, but at this point the purpose should be clear. Time and time against people say that working at X or specifically Big Tech is their dream. Every time I hear someone say that, I just have to sit back and think:
- Is your dream to facilitate anti-competitive behaviors?
- Is your dream to work for a company trying to single-handedly ruin computing?
People need to wake up and realize that the companies they are working for, or dreaming of working for, are toxic to the future of humanity and working to bring what we’ve built crumbling to the ground.