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More about Big Tech – Tik Tok, ChatGPT, Google, Meta and Apple in the hot seat

Viewership of Tik Tok, it is claimed, has now reached an average of one and a half hours per user. Inevitably this has attracted research in the US which indicates that Tik Tok is addictive and therefore is causing mental health issues among its Gen-Z audience. Apparently, the research shows that the algorithms used by Tik Tok are designed to lead the user to watch ever more (surprise,surprise). Gen-Z Americans are admitting to watch 4 or 5 hours of Tik Tok each day.  Of course Gaming is the other activity which has been declared highly addictive.

Heard of ChatGPT? I’m obviously not woke because I hadn’t! This is one of Elon Musk’s initiatives whose chatbot has dazzled amateurs and industry experts with its ability to spit out haikus, debug code and answer questions while imitating human speech. ChatGPT makes it easier to generate and update product descriptions in real time to optimize product listings across multiple marketplaces such as Alibaba, Amazon, Walmart, etc, and grow online sales. Microsoft Corp is in talks to invest $10 billion in ChatGPT’s owner, OpenAI, as part of funding that will value the firm at $29bn, according to a Reuter’s report in early January. Microsoft has already put down seed money in 2019 when OpenAI was formed. (But see below, a report on OpenIA’s labour practices)

Meanwhile Google remains in the hot seat over allegations that its online search and Android app store constitute market dominance (a position taken by the SA Competition Commission’s Interim Report on the Online Intermediation Platforms Market Inquiry). Most recently, in October the Competition Commission of India (CCI) fined Alphabet Inc’s Google $161m for exploiting its dominant position in online search and the Android app store. The CCI asked Google to change restrictions imposed on smartphone makers related to pre-installing apps. The European Union’s Court of Justice in September upheld an antitrust ruling against Alphabet, but reduced the fine imposed in 2018 by the European Commission’s Competition Directorate to 4.125bn euros ($4.12bn) from 4.34 bn euros. The EU holds that Google uses the Android operating system to quash competition, and the case was initiated against the company in 2015. The initial fine was issued  in 2018 and was the largest ever for Google. The EC said that around 80% of Europeans used Android and that Google gave an unfair advantage to its apps, such as Chrome and Search, by forcing smartphone makers to pre-install them in a bundle with its app store, Play. Google contends that Android phones compete with Apple phones, which use its iOS operating system, and that using Android still allows consumers a choice of phone maker, mobile network operator, and the opportunity to remove Google apps and install others.

In November, the Irish Data Protection Commission fined Facebook (aka Meta) €265m ($275m) for failing to adequately justify collecting and processing user data for behavioral ads. Some commentators believe that by compelling the Irish Data Protection Commission to fine Meta, the EU regulators have sent a message that they are making up the rules as they go along, and that the decision will have zero impact on consumer privacy.

Apple also was before the courts – in mid- December the Paris Commercial Court fined Apple just over 1m euros ($1.06m) for imposing abusive commercial clauses on French app developers for access to the company’s App Store. It had been expected that the EC would initiate action against Apple earlier in the year, but instead the European Union adopted the Digital Markets Act which will require changes to the European App market (see this Newsletter’s report on that new Act of early in 2022). The Paris court’s fine is another sign of the legal pressures Apple faces to loosen its grip over its App Store, so far the only gateway for alternative app developers to access customers.

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Alastair Tempest

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