Big Tech: A moment for redemption?
The pandemic is doing wonders for Big Tech, said Daisuke Wakabayashi in The New York Times. “Amazon is hiring aggressively to meet consumer demand.” With many parts of the world under stay-at-home orders, “traffic is soaring” for Facebook, Google, and Netflix. Microsoft has witnessed a 37 percent spike in users of its collaboration tool, Teams. Even Apple—which is resuming iPhone production in China faster than expected—is seeing a boost, with iPhone app sales rising 20 percent in the past two weeks. These drastic changes in consumer habits make it likely that “the biggest tech companies are likely to finish the year stronger than ever.” The best part for them may be that they will probably get a break from all the regulatory scrutiny, said Kara Swisher, also in the Times. The House has already delayed its antitrust investigation into the business practices of Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon; government officials clearly have more pressing concerns than “the growing power of tech.” Meanwhile, there will be a “culling” as weaker companies sink in the storm. When it passes, many Americans will look with admiration at the profitable tech companies that have been able to hire and protect workers.
“Who knew the techlash was susceptible to a virus?” said Steven Levy in Wired.com. All the concerns we had about Big Tech before the pandemic are still valid, but a reckoning “doesn’t seem sustainable at the moment.” We are using Facebook to “comfort ourselves,” turning to Google to track the virus, and turning to Amazon for “food and vital supplies.” We’ve come to recognize “we are desperately dependent on what they’ve built. And glad that they built it.” Indeed, news about the tech giants has actually been “a bright spot at a time of great fear,” said Casey Newton in TheVerge.com. Facebook has made an effort to highlight high-quality information and pledged $100 million in grants to help small businesses. Apple is donating 10 million masks to health-care workers. Amazon is hiring. After three years of constant pummeling, the “tech giants have turned a corner in public opinion.”
Even so, we should expect more from Silicon Valley, said Tristan Harris in Wired.com. The tech platforms need to take “wartime action,” relieving their employees of any responsibilities not essential to fighting the pandemic. Google, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook could share their data insights to “provide unprecedented forecasting for planning in the medical supply chain.” All the tech companies should be targeting their users with information that serves the public good. And they can reimagine their platforms to elevate the social norms that will help in this battle. Imagine if Facebook sent you a notification that “240 of your friends chose to stay home.” ■