Jan 14, 2022 - Technology
Column / Signal Boost

Tech giants play the blame game


Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

With regulators around the world looking at reining in Big Tech, the companies in the crosshairs are increasingly eager to point out their rivals' sins.

Why it matters: Investigations in the U.S. and around the world are targeting Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon. To make their case, regulators need to show the companies are squelching competition — a task the tech companies may be aiding with their infighting.

Driving the news: An increasing part of each company's game plan seems to be to try to shift the spotlight and hope that regulators will put their limited time and resources against some other target.

  • A top Google executive recently called out Apple for its control over iMessage. "Apple’s iMessage lock-in is a documented strategy. Using peer pressure and bullying as a way to sell products is disingenuous for a company that has humanity and equity as a core part of its marketing," Android chief Hiroshi Lockheimer said in a tweet.
  • Facebook has criticized Apple and Google for the commissions they take on apps and in-app purchases.
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook regularly derides Facebook for its monetization of customer's private information.
  • Last year Google and Microsoft ended a pact not to attack one another, leading to public criticism of Google by Microsoft, Google-commissioned reports attacking Microsoft, as well as a push by Google consultants to highlight Microsoft's power to reporters and regulators.

Yes, but: All the finger-pointing to protect individual companies' interests could just further blemish the entire industry in the court of public opinion.

  • What incriminates one company doesn't exonerate the others.

Between the lines: Industries that face a concerted threat from Washington often band together and send their trade groups into the fray to represent them as a united front.

  • With the tech giants, the opposite is happening: The Internet Association, which long represented the interests of many of the industry's largest players, dissolved last month.

The big picture: The government's campaign to limit Big Tech's power faces a big challenge in going after many targets at once, each of which has a different approach and grip on the market.

  • What's more, the companies do compete against one another at the edges, allowing each to make the case that they not only face competition from start-ups, but also from their peers.

Meanwhile, the tech giants are collectively frustrated at legislative proposals that take aim at them but exclude both foreign tech companies and other corporate giants, such as Walmart.

  • TikTok frequently gets held up both as proof that competition in tech is alive and well — and as another company that regulators ought to be scrutinizing.
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