The shopping ecosystems of tech giants – the influence of Amazon, Apple and Google on consumer choices

In theory, the new technologies associated with the Internet are quite egalitarian in nature, since over time all network users can enjoy their benefits. Is this really the case? Big tech giants quite regularly face allegations of unfair practices and taking advantage of their often monopolistic position to mislead consumers. One thing is certain – the biggest players increasingly have to explain their actions to state institutions. Examples?

“They can pick winners and losers in the marketplace” – a disturbing opinion of US congressmen

It is worth going back a few years to mention an interesting report by the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Antitrust Law and Commerce. After several months of work, its members harshly criticized the practices of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google. Although each of these companies offers slightly different services to consumers, they all follow a similar strategy: according to the congressmen, through their own platforms they create a market for other players while using them to sell their own products and services, which is an obvious conflict of interest.

They also pointed out monopoly practices involving controversial mergers that do not give consumers much leeway in the future. A good example are the hugely popular Messenger and WhatsApp messaging apps, theoretically competitors, but in fact both owned by Facebook. The authors pointed out that these entities can “pick winners and losers in the marketplace”, which sounds like a very serious charge1.

“Censors” in the crosshairs of the European Commission

Similar concerns have been raised on the Old Continent. In September, the European Commission took a closer look at six giants – Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Meta, Microsoft and China’s ByteDance – placing the companies on a list of monopolists that have been compared to censors. According to the EC, platforms owned by these giants restrict access to services provided by smaller competitors – messaging apps, search engines and software2.

All companies have until March 2024 to improve on the existing arrangements. We can certainly expect some changes, but lengthy court battles should be expected as well.

Controversial subscription practices under the scrutiny of the UOKiK

Now let us look at an example from Poland. In December 2023, the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) launched an investigation into subscription services offered by Apple, Disney+, Google, HBO, Microsoft, Netflix and Sony. The Office identified a potential malpractice related to the possibility of increasing the price of subscription services without the prior consent of consumers, particularly when this involves blocking funds on a payment card.

Amazon EU and Amazon Digital UK had already been made by UOKiK to change their subscription policies. It may therefore be assumed that more big players will need to make a similar move3.

Big tech giants certainly have the tools to influence the decisions of consumers. Hopefully, with the pressure coming both from politicians and consumers alike, they will not take advantage of this possibility.