Only a handful of giant companies dominate the internet. Two of the biggest are Facebook and Google. These companies rake in billions of dollars in profit through monopoly and control of the biggest internet operations.
Facebook is well known as a social media website where users communicate and interact. Google, on the other hand, started off as an internet search engine. Subsequently, both companies branched out to other services.
Facebook began in 2004 with only seven workers but is now employing more than 35,500. It swallowed up more than 70 companies, whose net worth amount to more than $23 trillion. Among the companies it owns are Instagram, the internet’s largest stock of photos; WhatsApp, the most popular messaging application, and many other companies of varying technologies. In the stock market, Facebook’s market capitalization amounted to $456 billion in the third week of February this year.
On the other hand, Google acquired more than 230 smaller companies since 2001. Most of these are in advertising (17 companies); media and entertainment (32 companies including YouTube); mobile (23 companies including Android); cloud (24 companies); social media and photos (26 companies) and many other services.
Being monopoly capitalists, foremost of their concerns is to reap profits, however much they declare that they advocate “democratization of knowledge,” “connecting the world in a community” and “free services.”
Google and Facebook’s profits primarily come from ads posted on their pages. In 2017, Facebook declared more than $40 billion in profit, 89% of which came from ads. In the second quarter of 2018, Google’s mother company Alphabet recorded a profit of more than $26 billion, 86% of which came from Google ads.
The biggest source of Facebook and Google’s profits, including those by Amazon and the relatively smaller company Twitter, is selling information harvested from billions of their users. While services by these companies are utilized for free, every user activity is tracked to the detail.
More than two billion Facebook users created their accounts for free to interact with “friends.” In exchange, Facebook harvests, processes and analyzes all information from these interactions. A study revealed that based on the pattern of Facebook “Likes,” personal traits of the users are automatically and almost exactly calculated, including their sexual orientation, race, religious and political beliefs, age and gender, location and other data.
Without heedful use of Google and its products (including Android smartphones), an individual’s exact location may be determined by Google. All data stored by the user in any of Google’s free services are synchronized by the company with its other services.
These data are considered “raw materials” that are harvested, processed and sold by Facebook and Google. Through digital processing, a person’s current, immediate and future actions may be estimated—a matter considered gold by advertisers. This profiteering by giant internet monopolies is called surveillance capitalism. Marketing of these processed data as “products” by surveillance capitalists is their source of superprofits.
These companies argue that such data mining are intended for the creation of ads tailored for an individual’s particular interests. However, such data mining is done by Facebook without consent and in violation of the right to privacy and will of majority of its users. Seven European countries have already filed cases against Facebook, while Google is facing a string of investigations for violating the right to privacy of millions of users.
Data mined by these companies are sold not only to advertisers. In 2018, data sold by Facebook to Cambridge Analytica, a company offering political consultancy, was exposed. Personal information of millions of Facebook users, including more than a million in the Philippines, were sold without consent. These data were used to design campaigns believed to have benefited US Pres. Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte in the 2016 Philippine elections.
Facebook and Google likewise have close ties with the military, alongside other tech companies. Thus, the seemingly free internet services are being used in the machinery for widespread surveillance. Two of the companies owned by Facebook use facial recognition. Google on the other hand carries out widespread mapping in every corner of the globe without consent from governments and peoples. These data are used in the US National Security Agency’s huge database.
In modern technology, people’s digital activities may be processed and analyzed, producing summed-up information about their personalities. Under the control of monopoly capitalists, modern technology is utilized as an instrument for superprofit generation and suppression of democracy.
Democratic forces utilize the internet in general, and social media infrastructure in particular, in propagating information for the interest of the majority of the people. However, these have to be undertaken while actively defending the right to privacy and mindful of the limitations set by antidemocratic internet giants.