GAFAM is an acronym for Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. They are all American technological leaders and probably the most powerful companies in the world.
For years, they have been tracking billions of users, collecting all kinds of confidential data.
It gives that joke: they know you more than you know yourself.
Permalink to heading An unprecedented digital imperialism An unprecedented digital imperialism
GAFAM is also known as the “Big Five.” They have a ridiculously high market capitalization of $4.5 trillion. Of course, that’s a tremendous achievement, but it’s problematic at the same time.
They have the power of acquiring hundreds of potential competitors, and it’s easy for them to dominate any market with that imperialist strategy. For example, Amazon has been buying Cloud Computing startups these years, making the company the number one globally in the cloud industry.
Apple has taken over enterprises in various sectors, including automation software and artificial intelligence. Google often creates new products by acquiring existing businesses (e.g., YouTube in 2007).
Microsoft has acquired LinkedIn for $26 billion in cash. Facebook owns Instagram and Whatsapp.
People may use various applications and buy different products, but the GAFAMs are literally everywhere. For example, Google holds shares in Uber, Apple in Shazam, Beats Electronics, and Beats Music.
Permalink to heading Sitting on mountains of data Sitting on mountains of data
The GAFAMs rise financially. Big Data is a significant part of their flawless domination.
With the “datafication” of our lifestyles, the amount of data has increased dramatically, providing highly strategic information to the GAFAMs on a global scale and boosting their influence.
In 2021, the IT business praises blockchains and decentralized apps, and it does have great potential, but for now, data storage and processing are anything but decentralized, leading to huge data leaks regularly (e.g., Facebook, Equifax) and all kinds of abuses.
Who possesses the data runs the world these days, and the covid crisis did not reverse the trend. Quite the contrary: the digital sales and incomes have reached the levels of the Christmas period.
Besides, the consumption of multimedia content and social networks has exploded, giving even more data to the GAFAMs than they could expect in normal conditions.
It is a massive threat to privacy and confidentiality.
Permalink to heading Privacy is now a sales argument Privacy is now a sales argument
Ironically, the GAFAMs are now highlighting privacy features, especially Apple and Google. Indeed, it was the main topic of the latest Apple Keynote and Google I/O.
They took advantage of the multiple scandals and data leaks that blemished Facebook’s reputation severely. Unlike what their advertising campaigns say, you still need to toggle off an extensive range of default settings in Apple and Google’s products to barely get some privacy.
It would be unfair to say that GDPR did not change anything. At least now, they need to get the user’s consent and explain why they need to track you.
However, many techniques such as fingerprinting are off the radar, and you cannot use their apps and services without being tracked.
Let’s be honest. The products are pretty cool, with innovative services and slick interfaces. While techies sometimes get similar features with freeware and fully “deGoogled” devices, it’s not exactly the same user’s experience, at least for now.
Permalink to heading Privacy is a cheating game Privacy is a cheating game
Whether it’s Google Analytics, the Facebook SDK, a YouTube video, or any like button, data are collected on pretty much all websites.
You might opt out of social networks and broken platforms, but it won’t solve all privacy issues.
Just go to any news website, and you’ll be tracked by the GAFAMs and dozens of advertisers and marketing companies. The GDPR forces websites to get the user’s consent, but in practice, websites can use clever patterns and unclear settings to influence the user’s choice.
I’ve even seen shameless websites using malicious techniques such as “scroll consent” to force the result, considering that if the user scrolls 10% or 20% of the page, it’s the equivalent of consent.
In most cases, the user clicks on “accept all” to get his news quickly.
Still, GAFAM is the main problem. Many websites have been using those tricks to “survive.” In addition, those privacy policies make no sense unless you take the time to read them every time your go to a website. Who does that? I guess very few people.
Google highlights privacy concerns and its new advertising technology without cookies, but only Google can survive such a massive shift in the paradigm.
That would only result in another monopolistic situation where Google uses its technology to promote its products over its competitors like it already does in search results.
Permalink to heading Towards digital independence Towards digital independence
Activists, non-profit organizations, and businesses are trying to provide credible alternatives, but it’s David against Goliath.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there is absolutely no way to protect your privacy online, but those organizations don’t have the same financial power as the Big Five, and not everybody knows how to use the Tor Browser correctly.
Emancipatory is not a myth, but there are colossal mountains to climb, and one of them is called entertainment. I won’t blame users for choosing the best platform, even if they’re not aware the service is free or cheap because they implicitly sell personal data.
While being aware of the threat does not fix issues, it’s the first step towards independence. The GAFAMs have ever-growing incomes, allowing them to expand their activities beyond the initial scope and influence the political sphere and society.
Google tackles death and aging at Calico. Amazon’s Satellite Internet Service will launch in 2021. Facebook bets big on its future Metaverse. Bill Gates wants to spray dust into the atmosphere to block the sun (Source: Forbes).
Permalink to heading Conclusion Conclusion
A few companies have taken over the entire Internet, dominating more and more economic sectors and tracking billions of users’ personal data. It’s not only a massive threat to privacy but to diversity as well.