'The Four' book cover (in English)

According to Scott Galloway, a NYU Stern School of Business professor, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have complete control over our lives. (Portfolio/Penguin)

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Scott Galloway says we’ve given Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook too much power

In his book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, the writer explains how these tech giants have taken over our lives

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In The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, author Scott Galloway doesn’t mince words about these world-renowned companies. According to the NYU Stern School of Business professor, these firms have complete control over our lives and are able to see value where others don’t.

Take Amazon, for instance. After fuelling our insatiable need for consumerism, CEO Jeff Bezos invested heavily in the “last-mile” program, which was aimed at delivering products in just a few hours. This was a bold gamble. But here’s a company with unlimited capital that reinvests every dollar in its growth, meaning Amazon never pays dividends to its shareholders. So even if Bezos only has a one-in-10 chance of scoring a win, he still takes a shot, while other executives would probably walk away. History, Galloway reminds us, is full of firms that failed to take risks.

So, what are the “four horsemen” (as Galloway refers to them) out to accomplish? To gain an advantage that is so expensive to implement—such as reducing shipping times to a few hours (hello again, Amazon) and selling user data (thanks Google and Facebook)—that no one can compete with them. Galloway suggests Amazon will inevitably replace UPS, DHL and FedEx, and take over maritime shipping worldwide.

Google is no different. The search engine knows our deepest secrets—ones we don’t share with anyone—which it then sells with our consent. The New York Times (and Galloway, who sat on its board at the time) experienced this first-hand a few years ago. Google’s web crawler, Googlebot, selected content from the Times to send to its own users (for example, suggesting users read the Times’ travel articles about Paris). On the upside, traffic to the paper’s site increased, leading advertisers to buy ad space. However, Google learned much more about the readers’ wants than the paper did, enabling it to sell ad space for up to 10 times more than the newspaper could. By the time the Times figured this out, it was already too late.

So, are we victims of these tech giants? Yes, but we are also willing participants, Galloway says. Users like to think social media platforms are neutral, acting only as a platform to pass on information; but in fact, nothing could be further from the truth, suggests the author. We visit these platforms to fulfill a subconscious need for belonging, approval and security, Galloway argues, likening it to playing on a slot machine. Does your post get two likes, or 200? We keep playing compulsively without much thought, he says.

Think about it: Facebook doesn’t create content. Instead, it asks its users to produce it for them, which they do willingly. Users’ identities are gleaned from clicks, searches, movements and their network of friends—which Facebook then sells to advertisers so they can target their ads back to those very same users.

In 2017, Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook had approximately 418,000 employees with a combined market capitalization of US$2.3-trillion. To put that into perspective, that’s like Halifax alone generating the GDP of France, whose population is 67 million. Therein lies the divide, says Galloway, between the big tech community (which is blessed with wealthy, super-productive and powerful minds) and the rest of society (the land of the erstwhile General Motors and IBMs), which live off the crumbs the web giants leave behind.

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