December 21, 2020

There is too much “black box” technology: we cursed at the GPS that went rogue on us, which nearly causing a traffic accident when its “voice” broke up and barked a sudden “Left” and “Right” simultaneously. Then we found ourselves cursing at the Xbox One which mysteriously developed an orange death stare, the new version of the “ring of death,” as we used a modified paper clip to extract the disc. Frenetic thoughts wonder if the machine had been “programmed” to fail just after the launch of the new Xbox X—an entirely plausible plot given that Apple is busy settling its Batterygate lawsuits to sum up that healthy dose of paranoia.

After all, if they have surreptitiously profiled us, we would be ideal candidates for the Xbox disruption, being infrequent users (and thus no fears of withdrawal symptoms to result in customer backlash), with sufficient disposable income for the discretionary expenditure and besides, what choices do we have? It is either the Xbox or Playstation or Switch for games and it is nice to play that old Halo once in a while, so let’s just buy another Xbox. Do we really have a choice?

The illusion of choice we imagine we have is gradually coming to light; we note all the mergers and buyouts happening to create behemoths of companies that are too big to fail as the world spirals into the future of a potential singularity, which we would define to be a world ruled by just a handful of very powerful companies controlling our lives, in deference to the concept of singularity.

As it is, it is happening right under our noses as our choices grow more limited by the day and we will just list some of the stuff that is happening of late:

At home, we have ride-hailing and delivery company Grab exploring a merger with competitor Gojek with Grab getting a digital banking license in Singapore as well.

S&P Global nears deal to buy IHS Markit for US$44 billion to combine two of the largest providers of data to Wall Street that would give them control of where assets prices are marked to market daily.

Viacom CBS is selling Simon & Schuster to Penguin Random House for US$2 billion to merge the biggest and third-biggest book publishers in the US.

India is allowing large corporates to extend their empires into banking that will concentrate economic powers in their hands.

Bank of Japan is encouraging mergers among weaker and smaller lenders that will ultimately lead to industry concentration.

Small businesses are getting obliterated with nearly one-third of New York and New Jersey’s small businesses closed in 2020, delivering the pie to the big players, prompting Gary Cohn to tweet, “We need to make clear that the disconnect between the stock market and small businesses is real. The stock market only reflects the performance of the largest businesses, who increase their market share every time another small business closes.”

Even our beloved Nam Seng Wanton Mee has succumbed to the tribulations of operating in the “only the biggest will survive” world and called it quits after 60 years.

Major film studio, Warner Brothers, is attempting to kill off cinemas by sending all its 2021 movies simultaneously to HBO Max.

There are fewer choices in life than we think because Amazon now offers 22,617 products from 111 of its own private label brands (as of June this year) which makes it tricky because there is perhaps a conflict of interest for Amazon to recommend a better product, just as six employees were indicted for bribery by third parties in exchange for competitive advantage and fake reviews are flooding Amazon, Walmart and eBay.

To trust or not to trust, or anti-trust? Social trust in advanced economies is losing ground fast, especially among the youngsters (we will stop short of comparing actual ages here against our mental age as self-proclaimed Luddites), given that NUS researchers finally managed to figure out that the robot vacuum cleaner can be used to spy, as if we did not know that Mark Zuckerberg tapes over his webcam in 2016. And the world’s top cybersecurity company, FireEye, which is the first port of call for hacking incidents, got hacked last week and lost most of their toolsallowing new attacks around the world. It says so much about other incidences where the central bank of Bangladesh losing US$ 81 million in 2016 to wire fraud, which does not give any assurance about the digital sphere’s audit trail.

Antitrust is defined in Investopedia as pertaining to laws and regulations that “encourage competition by limiting the market power of any particular firm. This often involved ensuring that mergers and acquisitions don’t overly concentrate market power or form monopolies.”

Now that is a word that is starting to pop up a lot and we have something to say about it.

Since China’s 11th hour clampdown on the hottest IPO of the year, ANT Financial, we note that the rhetoric has done a U-turn and it is not just China, it is as if the old and wise men leaders around the world have started to take note of the importance of fintech and tech.

The Big Tech fight is starting to go global.

Consider this.

What is more valuable? US$100 million, or in-depth data on 100 million users?

Consider the power it can exert over their lives, knowing their intimate details through Alexa etc., their daily routines, routes, purchases and browsing details?

Consider the value of that information which could be used against their better instincts, needs and wants?

Consider the “content moderation” one would face on Facebook, Twitter and all, plus the brainwashing ads?

We would define antitrust as do not trust!

The action is unfurling as we write and it could be real this time because regulators have been behind the clock. We cannot trust regulators, seriously, to be on top because the really smart ones do not aim for a career in compliance or audit or regulation?

Let’s examine the headlines for the past fortnight.

Amazon Works to Avoid Google’s Fate With EU Antitrust Regulators

Apple faces lawsuits in Europe over slowing down older iPhones 

Global finance falls victim to China’s spyware campaign 

– Dutch Antitrust Agency Probes Payment Apps’ Access To Phones

Google faces third antitrust lawsuit as 30 U.S. states plan action 

At least three U.S. states weigh new Google suit over app store fees

10 Republican-led U.S. states charged Google with collusion with Facebook to shut out rival ad exchanges

40 U.S. states and the FTC sued Facebook in twin antitrust lawsuits, calling for the break up of Facebook

U.K. aims to regulate social media firms over content removal 

China’s move on Ant makes the fight on Big Tech global

China’s top watchdog vows ‘special’ oversight of fintech giants like Ant 

Warning lights are flashing for Big Tech as they did for banks 

Donald Trump is even threatening to veto the defense bill unless Section 230 is terminated. Section 230 happens to be the rule of law that “provides immunity from liability for providers and users of an “interactive computer service” who publish information provided by third-party users,” something that both Joe Biden and Donald Trump both agree upon, in their alternate realities.

Frankly, we are getting quite tired of living in fear of losing ourselves and the Xbox that “suddenly” died, but as a friend who had worked for Amazon espoused, “do you really think you are their target victim if you think that way?” They are right, but we cannot but help feel sorry for the people who are not “woke,” because we will not be buying the new Xbox or believing the next piece of news we get on Facebook. Yet we wish we could be more optimistic about the dystopian future, where our lives and thoughts are dependent on who is in charge.

Our vulnerability is laid bare with what is purportedly the largest and worst foreign-led hack in history on the U.S. government, Microsoft, Cisco and more to come, as more information comes to light which is a little too late because it happened about 9 months ago and investigations are still ongoing with still many unknowns

To trust or not is not the question. Unfortunately for our vulnerable and malleable brains, it is probably trust or antitrust in 2021 and beyond.