The Apple ebook verdict shows the dark side of tech

11th Jul 2013 | 13:24

The Apple ebook verdict shows the dark side of tech

Why aren't we angrier about firms behaving badly?

The verdict is in, and Apple's getting ready to rock some orange overalls: it's been found guilty of ebook price-fixing. The verdict wasn't exactly a surprise. While Apple continued to protest its innocence, the publishers implicated in the same alleged conspiracy all settled out of court.

Apple maintains that it hasn't done anything wrong, but Judge Cote disagrees: "Without Apple's orchestration of this conspiracy, it would not have succeeded as it did in the spring of 2010."

Success in this context means making consumers pay more for ebooks, which suggests that Apple's desire to make the world's best products doesn't extend to being the world's best-behaved company.

Bad behaviour

It isn't the only example of Apple behaving badly, and Apple is far from being the only tech offender.

Whether it's Twitter's tax affairs or Google's apparent copying of Microsoft's famous "embrace, extend, extinguish" strategy - something encapsulated in a question by The Guardian's Charles Arthur: "When did Google change from being a company that wanted to send you away from its site to the best search result as fast as possible into one which wanted to wrap itself, Alien-like, around your face all day?"

Tech firms are just like any other kind of firm: if they can benefit from shafting someone else, then shaft they will.

Why do we keep forgiving them and defending them? What's so special about tech?

Too big to touch

As I write this, six inspiring women/absolute lunatics are climbing London's Shard to protest against Arctic drilling by Shell. We're regularly urged to boycott multinational firms for various forms of bad behaviour, and many of us do - but I wonder how many people would boycott Apple, or Amazon, or Twitter, or Google in the same way they might boycott Nestlé or Shell.

I suspect the answer is "hardly anybody", and the numbers suggest I'm right: while the various Prism-related privacy panics have seen Google rival DuckDuckGo double its traffic, it's still doing just 3 million web searches per day. Google does 13 billion.

The problem isn't just inertia, or fanboyism, although of course that's part of it: the majority of people don't change their default search engine let alone switch smartphone platforms, and for many people their relationship with Samsung or Sony is like the relationships people have with Manchester United or Radiohead.

But I think there's more to it than that. I think we've developed a dour fatalism about corporate misbehaviour, a belief that everybody's at it and that they're utterly untouchable.

And as long as we think that, they will be.

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