Just a decade ago we lived in a different era where technology startups were as diverse, vibrant, and plentiful as the number of species in our rainforests. Back then I designed countless user interface solutions for dozens of tech startups around the globe. Over time, most of them were swallowed or suffocated by a few tech giants that now dominate a tech landscape resembling a barren desert with five massive, immovable, toxic dead rocks at its center.
Consumer Rights in the Digital Age: Social Media and Other Tech Giants’ Manipulative Tactics – A Halloween Story for Adults by Maxwell Alexander, EIC, Hudson Valley Style Magazine
In the era of digitization, where our personal, social, and professional lives intertwine with technology, consumer rights become more crucial than ever. A troubling trend has emerged among tech monopolies and social media giants: constant user interface (UI) modifications and re-enabling of notifications after each update. These deliberate tactics, combined with obfuscation of account deletion options, raise serious concerns about the ethics of these platforms and their commitment to genuine user welfare.
1. Constant UI Changes: More than Just Aesthetics
At first glance, frequent updates to the user interface may seem like improvements or natural progression. But when analyzed closely, one can notice the ulterior motive: increasing user engagement. By frequently changing UI elements and designs, tech monopolies and social media platforms ensure that users have to familiarize themselves with the platform repeatedly. This demands more attention and time, leading to increased usage, even if unintended by the user.
2. Re-enabling or Introducing New Notifications: A Siren’s Call
Another ploy deployed by these tech giants and monopolies is re-enabling notifications that users have consciously disabled or creating new ones for things that never needed a notification to start with. Every ping and alert pulls users back into the app, amplifying the platform’s reach and hold. Moreover, they make the process of turning off each notification as cumbersome as possible: each notification switch is buried deep on its own page, and with dozens of them (sometimes hundreds) to disable, users just give up and never even try to turn them off. It’s not just a matter of increasing screen time; it’s a breach of user choice, potentially leading to addictive patterns and increased mental clutter, stress, and mental health disorders.
3. Hidden Account Deletion Options: Trapping the User
Perhaps the most insidious strategy is making the account deletion process tedious and counterintuitive. Users who wish to leave a platform should find the exit clear and straightforward. Instead, they’re led on a maze-like chase through convoluted menus, with the exit often buried deep, almost as if to gaslight users into thinking that leaving is too cumbersome.
This tactic serves a dual purpose:
- Discouraging Deactivation: By making the process arduous, many users abandon the effort halfway, leaving their accounts dormant but still part of the platform.
- Inflated User Numbers: Dormant accounts still count towards the total user base. When presenting figures to shareholders or advertisers, these bloated numbers make the platform seem more successful and valuable than it truly is.
The Perils of Tech Monopolies and Conflicts of Interest
In our interconnected digital universe, the emergence of tech monopolies brings forth not only market control concerns but also palpable conflicts of interest. These tech behemoths, with expansive resources and influence, can dictate the rules of the game, suppressing competition, shaping user preferences, and at times, compromising the ethics of fair play.
One stark manifestation of this conflict of interest is seen in the realm of digital map services. Imagine a single company dominating map services, a utility many unsuspecting users access daily. While on the surface, users may receive directions and local business recommendations, behind the scenes, there’s a more insidious game at play. Small businesses that do not acquiesce to paying for advertising on the company’s search engine platform might find themselves ‘shadowbanned’ or subtly pushed out of prominent listings. This manipulative strategy not only unfairly elevates paying businesses, often bigger players, but suffocates small enterprises that resist or cannot afford to participate in the monopolistic game.
Moreover, when tech giants have an unparalleled amount of user data, the power dynamics shift dangerously. They can exploit this position, manipulating market trends, user behaviors, and even narratives.
Strategies to Counter Tech Monopoly Abuse and Their Conflicts of Interest
- Support Local and Alternative Platforms: As users, proactively seeking and supporting smaller platforms or businesses can challenge monopoly power. It diversifies the ecosystem and stimulates competition, driving better services and innovations. Ditch your default search engine and browser for an independent brand like DuckDuckGo, and consider deleting your social media accounts – you can live a happier life without social media and your mental health will thank you.
- Lobby for Digital Antitrust Laws: Governments need to be proactive in formulating and enforcing antitrust laws for the digital realm. Regulations can curb mega-mergers and discourage monopolistic behaviors that deter fair competition. Reach out to your elected officials and ask about their stand on the issue. Chances are they are all paid for by the same tech monopolies that are abusing you, but it is worth trying.
- Champion Open Source and Decentralized Solutions: Open-source platforms encourage innovation without proprietary constraints. Furthermore, decentralized platforms, like blockchain, can disperse data control, preventing any single entity from monopolizing it.
- Awareness and Advocacy: Knowledge remains one of the most potent weapons. By recognizing the conflicts of interest and educating others, consumers can rally for a more equitable digital space. Grassroots movements and digital literacy campaigns can amplify this message.
- Transparency in Algorithms: Encourage platforms to be transparent about their recommendation algorithms. This way, businesses and users can understand the mechanics behind listings and preferences, ensuring fair play.
In essence, while tech monopolies present daunting challenges, strategic actions by consumers, businesses, and regulators can pave the way for a more equitable and ethical digital world.
Standing Up for Consumer Rights
The underlying issue here is a blatant disregard for genuine consumer welfare. While businesses are, by nature, profit-driven, the line is crossed when manipulative tactics infringe upon user rights and well-being.
Consumers should be aware of these tactics and demand transparency and fairness. Digital literacy programs can help educate users about such practices, enabling them to make informed choices. Regulators too need to step in, ensuring that tech giants adhere to ethical practices and respect user autonomy.
In conclusion, as we navigate the complex digital landscape, it’s crucial to remain vigilant and prioritize our rights and well-being. Let’s ensure that the power dynamics shift back to where they belong: with the user.