5 Takeaways From Scott Galloway On Why We Need To Stop Idolizing Big Tech

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Scott Galloway
Big tech thrives in an autocratic economy that transfers wealth from the bottom 90 percent to the top 10 percent. “That’s not capitalism,” says marketing guru Scott Galloway. Image: Gartner for Marketers/YouTube

In his New York Times bestseller, “The Four: The Hidden DNA of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google“, marketing guru Scott Galloway calls out the tech giants for their monopoly over our wallets and our minds. He points out that most of us — knowingly or unknowingly — give big tech permission to monopolize us.

Galloway is a professor of marketing at the New York University Stern School of Business, a public speaker, author, and entrepreneur. He founded Prophet, a brand and marketing consultancy that employs more than 400 people; Red Envelope, one of the earliest e-commerce sites and digital intelligence firms; and L2 Inc, which was acquired in 2017 by Gartner for $155 million. Firebrand Partners, Galloway’s now-defunct activist hedge fund, invested more than $1 billion in U.S. consumer and media companies.

Here are 5 takeaways from Scott Galloway on why we need to stop idolizing big tech.

Google is our God

In his book, “The Four,” Galloway said Google develops trust with people by providing answers to all kinds of questions we ask the search engine. When faced with a symptom, we are more likely to google it and try to identify what’s happening to us than actually call our doctor. Google is more than a service, Galloway said. It’s a bond of trust. 

“You trust Google more than any priest, Rabbi, scholar, mentor, or boss,” Galloway said in a Fast Company column.

Google knows “if you’re thinking about getting divorced. It knows what STDs you have. It knows if you’re worried that you’re borderline or bipolar,” Galloway said. That’s way too much power.

He put this question to readers: “(If) you type in, ‘How to overthrow your government,’ is the first piece of content you see a voter registration form or an instruction manual on how to build a dirty bomb”?

93 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine

Ninety-three percent of online experiences begin with a search engine, and Google owns 90.1 percent of the total search engine market share, according to Junto. That’s Google and Google Images, followed by YouTube (owned by Google), then Yahoo!, Bing, and Amazon.

That’s way too much power.

Big tech shows little regard for the safety of their users

In an interview with Intellects, Galloway said that 700,000 of the world’s elite talent are employed by big tech companies “who are effectively working with lasers, compared to the metaphorical slingshots and squirt guns of the NASA and Manhattan project.”

After 10 years of working with and studying big tech companies, Galloway said, “I can tell you that their collective goal is to sell another Nissan. We have the greatest concentration of human, financial, and creative capital and they show little regard for their effect on the market; making the world a better place; or, most importantly, for the well-being and safety of their users.”

Behind the algorithms that determine the content in our lives is a profit incentive to create rage

We bought into a false notion that connecting the world would be a good thing, Galloway said during a November 2018 interview with Christian Sarkar that was posted in The Marketing Journal. “Unfortunately, it’s not.”

The American public spends a majority of their time on algorithmically-controlled screens, more than any other activity except for sleep.

“The problem is that the content is algorithmically driven, and the algorithm has been informed to maximize engagement – to drive as many clicks as possible – so that more Nissan ads can be served, and the owner of that algorithm can make more money and grow their shareholder earnings,” Galloway said.

“The algorithms have figured out that the way to create more engagement and more clicks is to foment rage, embarrass the other side or point out the shortcomings of the other side. If you look at the right rail on your YouTube channel, if you look at the Tweets that are served by the Twitter algorithm, or your newsfeed on Facebook, the moment they figure out you’re a progressive, they’ll show you video of a Senate intelligence panel making a fool of Betsy DeVos. If you’re hard right, they’ll immediately start serving you videos of Hillary Clinton saying stupid things.

“The algorithm has figured out that the way to make more money is to drive us to a pole. We overlook the fact that these algorithms that determine the content in our lives have a profit incentive to create rage.”

There’s a solution: break up big tech and restore capitalism, because ‘This is not capitalism’

We need to break up big tech, Galloway says. That will require action on the part of the Justice Department and a redefinition of anti-trust law.

“For the last 20-to-30 years, it’s been all about whether a product is good for the consumer, and when a product is free, it’s hard not to make that claim,” Galloway said. “What we need now is to look at anti-trust law and channel power – so if one company controls 93-percent share, is it creating an environment where small companies are having a hard time getting out of the crib? Are they stifling larger companies and euthanizing them prematurely?”

Galloway said he favors Brandeisian anti-trust, a new movement that traces its intellectual roots to Justice Louis Brandeis, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court between 1916 and 1939. 

Brandeis feared that the concentration of economic power (monopolies) aid the concentration of political power, author Lina Khan notes in the Journal of European Competition Law & Practice.

Competition is key to curbing big tech, Galloway said. “You want to thread the needle between curbing their power but at the same time maintain their stakeholder growth. You don’t want to kneecap innovation and economic growth.

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“Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, can all shrug their shoulders and say, ‘You know there will always be bad actors, we can’t guarantee the platform won’t be weaponized.’ But if they were four separate companies, one of them would raise their hands in the effort to attract more advertisers, and say: ‘We’re going to screen all our content, and guarantee that Russians aren’t going to weaponize the platform.’”

“The danger is that for some reason we have decided that this is capitalism,” Galloway said. “So people on the left, like me, run to socialism, the attitude being, ‘If this is capitalism, I want out.’ But this is not capitalism – this is surveillance capitalism, an autocratic economy that is totally fine-tuned to transfer wealth from the bottom 90-percent to the top 10 percent and that’s not capitalism.

“Capitalism only works when you have a vibrant middle class. Capitalism that works has guardrails. It has regulations. It’s thoughtful about how the engine of growth and the middle class thrive. So what I argue is that we don’t have capitalism – we need to restore capitalism. This authoritarian economic rule must end.”