Now that Mark Zuckerberg has endured a public inquiry by agitated (and often confused-seeming) U.S. representatives, I’ll wager the chief executives of Google, Amazon, and Apple are being advised to keep a low profile—at least until public attention gets diverted to fresher chum in the media waters and it’s safe for them to come out.
After all, while Facebook has become the chief villain of surveillance capitalism, it’s not the only tech giant that profits from harvesting personal information.
Of other potential targets, Google is the biggest. It’s built a vast empire out of offering free Internet services such as search and email in exchange for user data. The public profiles we create on Facebook are likely more performative than precise, but it’s Google that knows our most intimate questions and desires.
Apple and Amazon could make a good case that their business models are vastly different—except when it comes to Siri and Alexa. How long before customers start to wonder about the listening/recording devices they’ve installed in their living rooms and bedrooms?
Apple and Amazon, along with Google, hope to make voice-activated assistants the hub of an array of network-connected devices, all slurping up nuggets of information about how we live. They’re also amassing giant data sets against which to train AI software that will likely be used to more seamlessly anticipate our desires–and have a product or service standing by to satisfy it.
Meanwhile, Tim Cook has piously scolded Facebook and Google for commoditizing their customers, and claims that he would never get himself into such a situation. To its credit, Apple has a better track record on privacy than many of its compatriots.
But what happens if Apple’s profits from device sales stall or even decline? Might not investors accustomed to eye-popping profits pressure the company to monetize customer data? What if another CEO comes along who has fewer qualms about privacy than the current leadership?
As for Amazon, the company has vast troves of data about its customers’ buying habits, reading lists, and entertainment choices. And that’s not all. Jeff Bezos is snapping up companies that sell in-home security cameras and a “smart” security system that lets Amazon remotely unlock a customer’s front door.
And we know that Amazon’s ambitions extend into other areas of our lives. The company is already involved in a variety of health initiatives, including medical equipment sales and AWS services for healthcare providers.
And the company sent healthcare stocks tumbling when it announced a partnership with JP Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to tackle healthcare costs of its own employees.
If Amazon is successful at becoming an intermediary to healthcare providers for its own employees, it could certainly do the same for other companies. As Ben Thompson of Stratechery notes, this would make it a powerful aggregator in the healthcare market, while also putting it in a great position to suck up troves of health data.
Consumers are beginning to realize the tradeoffs they make when they exchange privacy for convenience and connection. Zuckerberg may not be the last tech CEO to find himself in the congressional hot seat.