Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak doesn’t do many media appearances. But when he does, people listen. This week, in a Bloomberg interview, Woz weighed in on the topic of antitrust in big tech and said that big tech companies should be broken up.
“I’m one of the four founders of the EFF [Electronic Frontier Foundation] so I am really against monopoly powers being used in unfair antitrust manners,” Wozniak said.
He stated that big tech has been using its power in “unfair ways” and that “they can get away with a lot of bad things”.
“A company that has a strong presence in one market, using that presence to grow another market, is sort of unfair. I’m in favor of looking into splitting up companies. I wish Apple on its own had split up a long time ago and spun off independent divisions to far-off places and let them think independently.”
Big tech companies have been increasingly facing antitrust scrutiny in the last year – especially when it comes to privacy and censorship.
Several 2020 presidential candidates have made regulating big tech part of their manifestos. Senator Elizabeth Warren has outlined plans to end big tech dominance and Senator Bernie Sanders has said that the Google-Facebook advertising duopoly has got to end. Representative Tulsi Gabbard has said that big tech has to be broken up to protect free speech, after a handful of Silicon Valley companies have tasked themselves with deciding what people are allowed to say.
Apple, Google, and Facebook have long been facing antitrust scrutiny in Europe and it’s just taking starting to take off in the US.
Woz expressed how concerned users are with a lack of choice and being “forced into modes” – referring to the lock-in factor that often comes with many tech companies and their products.
Apple's lockdown of their iPhones and iPads so that users can only install what apps Apple says they can install, has been a particularly pressing issue that has annoyed many over the last year and has also spurred antitrust complaints.
Spotify has accused Apple of anti-competitive practices and using its dominance by charging competitors to its Apple Music subscription a 15-30% fee, putting Spotify at a competitive disadvantage to the tech giant.
Referring to anticompetitive practices, Woz said further, “We see this all over the place. I mean, just apps that come standard with products, like phones.” Apple has long been notorious for not letting users choose their default browser on the phone – forcing iPhone and iPad customers into using only Apple’s own Safari browser as the default. This is something that's gotten Google in trouble in the EU.
“I’m pretty much in favor of looking into splitting up companies,” Woz went on to say. “Big tech has gotten too powerful a force in our life and it’s taking our choices away…Competition forces companies to make good products and be the best at it, and not just say; we’ve got you trapped!” he said.
Wozniak said that, while it had its problems, Apple was probably the best of the big tech companies and that Google and Facebook had more issues.
When asked about what else could be done to reign in big tech, Wozniak said that companies like Facebook should give users a way to pay for the service to avoid all of the privacy-invasive tracking.
On privacy, Wozniak said that companies need to make clear what’s happening with user data, saying that tech companies shouldn’t be able to read people’s private messages and also criticized Apple and Amazon for letting staff listen to users' Siri and Alexa recordings. “That’s beyond what you think is going on,” the Apple co-founder said. “I’m always for the consumer over the producer.”
The full interview is available on Bloomberg.