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Too much power?

Regulate tech platforms before it's too late.

Person using a smartphone and laptop with white graphics showing cyber security network of connected devices and personal data security
Last updated: 02 May 2022


Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

CHOICE's evolution has been heavily influenced by changes in technology. The first subscriptions to CHOICE were sent by 'snail mail' and manually processed by volunteers. Today, a new member can join online in a few minutes.

Technology has generally been a force for good, transforming how we buy goods and services and how CHOICE helps you to decide what to buy. But as technology becomes more powerful and more opaque, it also poses risks.

One of the biggest risks comes from the new types of mega-businesses that use technology to build power – the large tech platforms like Google, Apple and Facebook. They are, in effect, large global marketplaces that provide services to businesses trying to sell things, and to consumers who may wish to buy them.

Their global role gives them a level of power that could never have been imagined a few decades ago. Facebook or Google can make or break a business through a change in their algorithms that determines whether or not we'll see it online. Consumer regulators around the world – including our ACCC – are increasingly worried about how to rein in the power of these large tech platforms, so they don't end up stifling competition and innovation.

Facebook or Google can make or break a business through a change in their algorithms that determines whether or not we'll see it online

Technology is also changing markets in the way it allows businesses to use data to determine how they deal with each of us. That's not all bad – in the best circumstances, it means we get personalised service that's more relevant to our needs. But if used carelessly or inappropriately, data can result in discrimination, with terrible consequences for some consumers.

Our friends at Consumer Reports, the US equivalent of CHOICE, have studied the data some car insurers use to determine premiums, finding that some insurers charge people who work in poorer paying jobs or don't have a college degree more for their insurance. Insurers argue that data shows a correlation between these factors and the risk of an insurance claim. But if this practice effectively means that people in lower paying jobs or from particular racial backgrounds pay more for their insurance, you have to ask whether it's fair.

When decisions like this are made by algorithms or artificial intelligence, it's even harder for us to know what is really going on – as the story on Airbnb on page 18 in this issue highlights.

Technology has transformed our lives in ways that are mostly good, but we can't celebrate those benefits without acknowledging the risks. The enormous power of businesses that control big tech and large sources of data means we're potentially at a tipping point where, unless we regulate the use of some technologies in the right way, it will be too late.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.