I’ve been following with interest the brouhaha between Apple and Adobe over the use of Flash code on the former’s product line. According to the linked article, it looks as if this is just the latest instalment in a concerted effort by Apple to ensure that only those who buy into its business model – where Apple exercises total control over what’s available, is the sole source for it, and takes a hefty chunk of the profits – will be able to provide ‘apps’ to its users. As Slate put it: ‘Apple wants to own you‘.
This ties in with a number of other corporations and their efforts to control their particular market. Recently Amazon.com got into all sorts of trouble by trying to force publishers to accept its lower price guidelines for e-books. It actually had the gall to try to boot e-books from Macmillan (one of the largest publishers in the world) off its site, gambling that its sales volume would force Macmillan to knuckle under and accept its demands. It failed, and had to climb down in rather humiliating fashion . . . but this wasn’t the first time Amazon has wielded its marketing muscle to force its vendors to conform to its wishes. A couple of years ago it caused another fuss by insisting that its own print-on-demand vendor, BookSurge, be used to produce all POD books offered for sale on its Web site, despite quality control issues that had plagued BookSurge products. Needless to say, this held out the prospect of vastly increased costs and diminished profits for those forced to comply. Cue screams of outrage from unhappy customers.
Another example is Facebook, which is trying to make the personal information of its members as widely available as possible. The benefit for Facebook is that it gets to dish up advertising to a much wider audience; but the benefit for its members is less obvious. The New York Times reports:
This week, Facebook’s introduced the “open graph,” a giant expansion of the “social graph” concept on which Facebook is built. The word “open” alone should be a tip-off that there are significant new privacy issues to weigh.
In the open graph, Facebook sees us as connected not just to other people – our friends — on Facebook, but to myriad things all over the Web. These things could be favorite bands, news outlets or restaurants. It’s a potentially powerful idea – Facebook wants to uncover all these interests and predilections and let us share them with our friends, whether we’re at Facebook or somewhere else, in ways that could deepen personal connections and help us discover cool and interesting information.
But there’s a price paid in privacy. Facebook deems these “connections” to interests and businesses and content to be public information — along with your name, profile picture, gender and friend list. And it intends to make them very public through new “social plugins” and “instant personalization”.
If you like the idea of broadcasting which articles and bands and restaurants you like, you’re in luck. But if you’d rather keep your personal preferences private, beware.
There’s more at the link.
I got to thinking about such corporate tactics. There’s a real problem here. Companies like Apple can say, “We have the latest, greatest and hottest gadgets – buy into our product line, and you can make money off our sales volume”. Trouble is, the only way you can do that is to let Apple control what you sell, and rake off a very large share of the profits. If you want a more independent product, or want to sell it for less by avoiding having to pay 30% of the gross price to Apple, you’re out of luck. Amazon doesn’t primarily sell its own product line (unless you count its Kindle e-book reader, which it’s trying hard to make into a de facto standard in that market), but it tries to use its overwhelming market share among readers as a ‘carrot’ to force you to market your books and other products through its portal – in return for which, of course, it also wants a very nice chunk of your profits. Facebook offers its members social connectivity, but at the price of greatly diminished privacy – which lets it make money off them.
Such policies remind me irresistibly of statism. Isn’t the problem with statist governments very similar? They promise to give you peace of mind, help when you need it, free this, free that, etc. – but only if you let the State control almost every aspect of your everyday life. You want free health care? Sure, statist government can provide it – at the cost of vastly increased taxation. There’s also the little matter of ancillary issues. Citizen, if you want free health care, you surely can’t object if we control what you eat, drink or smoke, can you? That’s to make sure you don’t live an unhealthy lifestyle that would increase health care costs, you understand. You want us to provide for the poor? Sure, we can do that; but then we get to take more of your pay packet in taxes, because someone has to pay for that care, and you can’t expect us to do so from other sources, can you? You want us to protect the environment? Sure, Citizen, we can do that; but then we’re going to regulate what you can do in that environment, in case your desire for water for farming condemns to death a minuscule fish that’s of no ecological importance. If that reduces the number of farm products available, and/or increases their price, that’s too bad, Citizen – it goes with the territory. Oh – and we’re cutting the amount of electricity you can consume, too, so that we reduce polluting emissions from power plants. Need more, you say? Too bad, so sad, your bad.
I’d love to see a statistical comparison between those who support statist government (as opposed to the freedom and rights of the individual), and those who support and remain loyal customers of firms such as Apple, Amazon, Facebook and the like, who try to dominate their market segments, decide what’s good for you (and them), and impose it on anyone who wants to market to their clientele or use their marketing channels. I suspect there might be an interesting correlation of views.
For myself, I share Cory Doctorow’s perspective on Apple (he won’t buy an iPad, and thinks you shouldn’t, either). I’m also with Angela Hoy of BookLocker, who chose not to knuckle under to pressure from Amazon, but sued (and won). I’m with all those who are locking down their Facebook profiles, or even deleting them altogether, rather than allow that company to use them as marketing fodder. I’m with anyone who stands up for liberty and personal freedom, be the context corporate dealings, politics, or government. The more freedom, the better. The more restrictions (no matter how appealingly packaged and attractively presented), the worse for all who love and want their freedom.
What say you, readers? Can you provide more examples of ‘corporate statism’ (to coin a phrase), and the damage it’s caused? How are you dealing with it in your own life?