Senator Elizabeth Warren wants to break up Amazon, Facebook, and Google, and promises to do so if she becomes president in the next U.S. election.
But why not Apple?
Apple is a massive part of “GAFA:” the biggest internet/technology giants of our time. But Warren isn’t targeting Apple for breakup, even though it was recently the largest company by market capitalization with a value of over $1 trillion.
There are at least five reasons.
One: Apple is not acquisitive
Apple does buy companies. Most recently, it bought a small UK digital marketing company and a small conversational computing company. But it is not a major acquirer and it does not engage in mergers with large companies. Its largest acquisition was Beats, the headphones manufacturer, for just $3 billion.
In other words, Apple does not seek to dominate markets via acquisition. It acquires small puzzle pieces via acquisition, relying on its own technology and products to win largely on their own (slightly supplemented) merits.
In contrast, Facebook bought WhatsApp because WhatsApp was growing faster than Messenger. Facebook bought Instagram because its stickiness and engagement was a future threat. Amazon bought Whole Foods to extend its digital dominance into bricks-and-mortar. And Google bought one of the only threats to Google Maps, Waze. And Google bought DoubleClick to solidify its grasp on the digital advertising ecosystem.
Two: Apple is not monopolistic
Yes, Apple does operate a walled garden. Yes, Apple does control (almost) the only source of iOS apps. And yes, some call that monopolistic. But that is nothing compared to the tiny global share of mobile operating systems it controls and the tiny share its hardware sells.
In Q4 2018, less than 20% of all smartphones sold worldwide were iPhones.
In comparison, Amazon controls about 50% of all ecommerce in the U.S. Facebook is by far the leading social network outside of China and Russia. And Google has about 93% share of global searches, plus a dominant share of digital ad revenues.
Three: Apple is privacy-safe
All of the GAFA companies own a lot of data. Apple is the one that takes the most care to know the least about its customers — who actually are customers, unlike Facebook and Google, where the “customers” are users and the users are the product.
Apple uses differential privacy for targeting in its only ad product (Apple Search Ads for the iOS App Store) and Apple takes great care to protect and in most cases not know its customers’ private data.
On the other hand, Facebook has been a prolific leaker — by design at times — of personal data (CEO Mark Zuckerberg has recently had a change of heart). Google needs and uses less, thanks to the intent graph that a search engine provides, but also has a lot. And Amazon knows what many, many people buy.
In fact, when one journalist from USA Today used GDPR to get a copy of all the data the internet giants had on him, he got this: Apple, 9MB; Google, 243MB; Facebook, 881MB of data.
Four: Apple is (largely) a one-product company
While most of GAFA have many products — Amazon for instance has the dominant cloud for developers, AWS, as well as its retail operations — Apple derives almost all of its profits from one product: the iPhone. The company is working to lessen that, of course, and bolster it with services revenue, but it’s hard to be dangerously powerful in an economy with just one product.
It’s possible, of course. Just hard.
Five: Apple doesn’t impact political power
Facebook controls a lot of conversation. Google controls a lot of knowledge. Amazon controls a lot of purchase power … and which merchants can sell on the dominant commerce platform in the U.S.
What does Apple control? Mostly, where and when you buy new iPhones.
It’s a different level of political and economic impact, and one that profoundly changes how pivotal Apple as a company can be as a political force.
Naturally, the company does have the ability to impact what apps are available, and has used that power to suppress alt-right apps. But this pales in comparison to what Facebook could potentially do in terms of impacting public speech, or what Google could do in terms of impacting what people find online for politically-loaded searches.
What Warren wants
Warren is targeting Google, Facebook, and Amazon because she thinks they’re limiting innovation and stifling competition.
“Today’s big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy,” she writes. “They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation.”
She’s also targeting them because they’re critical levers for political influence:
“And we must ensure that Russia — or any other foreign power — can’t use Facebook or any other form of social media to influence our elections.”
Apple, in the main, doesn’t fit either of those categories.