Consider these interesting statistics:
At first glance, they sound like monopolies, don’t they? And, if that’s the case, why hasn’t the government pursued action?
And, of even greater importance to consumers, what is the true “price” everyone is paying for that sort of dominance? It may be much more than we all assume.
A Decline in Monopoly Cases
According to Bloomberg, from 1970 to 1999, the federal government tried an average of 15.7 monopoly cases a year. Between 2000 and 2014, it was less than three cases a year.
Part of that drop can be attributed to a lack of an anticipatory mindset and strategy on the part of government regulators. As I point out in my new book, The Anticipatory Organization, regulators have traditionally had to play catch-up with technology regulation. But in a world of exponential change driven by both disruptive and transformational technology breakthroughs, reacting after the fact is no longer good enough! Federal oversight needs to become much more anticipatory to address potential issues before they have the chance to take hold as expensive, pervasive problems.
But another factor has to do with the definition of a monopoly. Traditionally, monopolies engaged in predatory behavior, undercutting competitors’ prices and, once those competitors were driven out of business, quickly raising prices again.
That’s far from what Google and Facebook engage in. As most everyone knows, most of their services are offered free of charge. How can you go after a purported monopoly with that sort of uncharacteristic generosity?
True, we may all be using Facebook and Google without spending a single penny for their services. But there is a price to be paid, one that consumers should pay considerable attention to.
Private Information? Of Course!
Think back to the last time you downloaded something off the internet for free. All it took was a few personal details about yourself, and you were off and running with a cool new technology.
But, it really isn’t free. To obtain all that free stuff, you willingly provided information about yourself—demographic data, shopping habits, with whom you associate, information of your activities and even access to personal photos.
If you take a step back, that’s an expensive price tag.
In happily sharing details about ourselves, we overlook a central question: What is the personal information I’m giving away really worth?
That’s a question no one can truly answer. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Breaking it down a bit, personal information that we pass along in exchange for “free” products doesn’t come without a price tag. Not only does that data offer companies insights as to who you are and what you’re doing right now, so, too, can it offer valuable peeks into what you may be or do in the future.
Additionally, think about that in the context of a monopoly. Maybe not now, but in five or 10 years, who can imagine what a handful of companies may be able to know and do—all based on information that millions of people handed over without a second thought.
To me, that suggests the necessity of developing some means of calculating the value of private information—a “behavior value index” or some other way of pinpointing the true value of personal information.
In the meantime, this is by no means a panicky warning to stop accessing new technology. But, it may be wise to consider what you’re giving up in return. Free, in fact, may be anything but free over the long term.
Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading futurists on global trends and innovation. The New York Times has referred to him as one of the top three business gurus in the highest demand as a speaker. He is a strategic advisor to executives from Fortune 500 companies, helping them to accelerate innovation and results by develop game-changing strategies based on his proven methodologies for capitalizing on technology innovations and their future impact. His client list includes companies such as Microsoft, GE, American Express, Google, Deloitte, Procter & Gamble, Honda, and IBM. He is the author of seven books, including The New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller Flash Foresight, and his latest book The Anticipatory Organization. He is a featured writer with millions of monthly readers on the topics of innovation, change and the future and has appeared in Harvard Business Review, Wired, CNBC, and Huffington Post to name a few. He has been the featured subject of several PBS television specials and has appeared on programs such as CNN, Fox Business, and Bloomberg, and is quoted in a variety of publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Fortune, and Forbes. He has founded six businesses, four of which were national leaders in the United States in the first year. He is the CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients profit from technological, social and business forces that are converging to create enormous, untapped opportunities. In 1983 he became the first and only futurist to accurately identify the twenty technologies that would become the driving force of business and economic change for decades to come. He also linked exponential computing advances to economic value creation. His specialties are technology-driven trends, strategic innovation, strategic advising and planning, business keynote presentations.