I make no bones about the fact that I’m an Apple fan, and have been for years. I don’t claim to be objective when talking about them, or about tech in general. However, I know enough to take a step back from time to time. There is a difference between being a fan of a company and their products, and being a shill.
Sure, I can stray too far over that line at times, as many tech bloggers do. It is easy to be a fanboy, at times. However, I understand one very important fact that keeps pulling me back where I need to be: There is nothing to be gained from blind love and devotion to Apple, because they don’t love me back.
Tim Cook will take the stage at WWDC in three weeks, and will tell us how much Apple loves its users. He usually says something to that affect, as most CEOs do during such events. You know what, he may actually believe it, too. However, that isn’t really how the corporation-customer relationship works. Love is not a transaction, but doing business is. In reality, there are a couple of key words missing here. Apple doesn’t love us. They love our money and our loyalty.
Please don’t mistake my words as equivalent to the nonsensical rant that Ralph Nader went on a few days ago. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the typical consumer to corporation relationship. I don’t think that a company that has done more than most of its peers in terms of sustainability, environmental, and social issues should be held to an even greater standard just because they are big and very successful, as Mr Nader misguidedly does. I am simply saying that we need to keep our end of the bargain in perspective. Apple may go above and beyond most companies in terms of customer service and product quality, but that isn’t love. That is simply them doing their job better than most other companies do, and they don’t deserve love in return.
I bring this topic up because of the diametrically opposed reactions to some of Google’s product demonstrations during their I/O event last week. I tend to be a critic of Google, not because of the fact that I am an Apple fan, but because I am not a fan of their business model. As with Apple’s product quality and customer service, free stuff doesn’t mean that Google loves you. It doesn’t mean that they are altruistic. They are not even remotely close to a non-profit or a charity. Offering free software and services doesn’t mean that they care one bit about any of their users, no matter how impressive those products are. What they care about is your data. They want it all, and they will give you as many cool free toys as it takes to get you to part with it.
Again, if you keep this all in perspective, there is nothing wrong with this transaction. If you understand what you are giving up, and what you receive in return and are good with that, then there’s no reason for any concern. The issue I see with Google is that people see free stuff and instantly dismiss everything else. As such, I would venture to guess that a large majority of Google’s users would have no idea that they are primarily an advertising company.
Another issue I have with Google is that their new Duplex addition to Assistant underlines the fact that they really don’t care that much about where technology goes or what boundaries it crosses. If a service gives them an advantage in getting to your data in another area of your life, they will roll it out. They have proven this time and time again. They will cross the “creepy line,” and will only step back when forced.
For example, despite what I have seen some Google fans write about the company’s restraint or thoughtfulness in regards to Duplex, the company didn’t come out and clarify that AI calls would be identified as such to those being contacted until they were called out for being completely and totally tone deaf on the subject. We are at a point when robocalls are at an all-time high, and those who employ them will use any means at their disposal to get you to pick up the phone. Now here comes Google getting ready to take the wraps off of technology that will ultimately make that situation far worse once it is reverse engineered. It most assuredly will be, and you can be certain that they already know that.
If you think that this technology is being rolled out exclusively for your benefit, then I don’t have much to say to you beyond wake up. Again, like Apple’s hardware and attentive customer service are made to part you and your money, Google’s new toys serve one purpose and one purpose alone- to help them toward their goal of harvesting every piece of data from every human being on the planet. For what purpose? To serve you ads, because that is still Google’s biggest business. At the end of the day, the ultimate purpose of the most sophisticated AI on the planet is to sell stuff on the Internet. That doesn’t deserve love in return any more than Apple selling shiny new hardware.
I am picking on Apple a little and Google a lot here, but they definitely aren’t the only ones trying to get you to substitute love in place of what should be just a buyer-seller relationship. What Amazon does in peddling cheap assistant and speaker hardware to buy an omnipresent place in your home is just as worthy of skepticism, as their business model is far more capable of doing real harm to local economies and businesses in the short term than anything Apple or Google are up to right now. The second place AI isn’t selling ads. Echo’s primary purpose is to make it easy for you to buy stuff from Amazon instead of their competitors. Everything else is just window dressing to keep you using it.
Amazon’s goal is to use its advantages to take over all e-commerce. That isn’t anything new. Unfortunately, they need to put a lot of companies out of business and take a lot of jobs away from their own customers to accomplish that goal. So while you may love your Alexa and Prime, Amazon is simply concerned with both your money and your shopping data. Considering that my wife works for a company they are actively competing with and trying to put out of business, I definitely have no love at all for Amazon.
Facebook is an even bigger target right now than Apple, Google, or Amazon because of how horribly they have handled security and user privacy. They are finally feeling the pain for it thanks to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Even with all of their billions of users, it’s actually getting harder to find people who “love” Facebook these days because of all of the issues they have had. While the other big tech companies give their fans enough to mask flaws and intents, Facebook isn’t meeting that standard anymore.
It can be easy to dismiss Facebook, since they are just a social network. They aren’t putting anyone out of business. They aren’t trying to get you to hand over your health data, like Google and Apple are. However, the insanity that surrounded our last US Presidential election and the mudslinging over “fake news” ever since show how much influence that Facebook still has. While many people like me don’t care for Facebook as a company, we still use their flagship social network because it is often the only place to find the majority of our friends, family, classmates, coworkers, etc to stay connected online. We all ought to be getting more out of this relationship than we currently do.
I could keep going. Microsoft comes off as a little less “evil” than they used to, but make no mistake about it. They are still after both your money and your data. Netflix is all about your watching habits, and makes no bones about the fact that they are more of a data company than a media company. Uber is right in there, as well, tracking you with their app and living off of your location data and patterns of movement. It’s the same with pretty much any successful company in Silicon Valley and elsewhere else.
Whatever tech company you may have incentive to love, just step back and understand that they don’t deserve it. None of them do. That is a one-way street that leaves you at a disadvantage. Remember that, while you may be a single individual, you still have something each of these companies want. They all want either your money, your data, or both. Make it a more equal relationship, and demand that your preferred companies give you the products and services that you deserve in return. It can get a little confused sometimes, but at the end of the day, this isn’t personal. It’s business.