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Americans Say Nation's Big Tech Companies Have Too Much Power

According to a new CR survey, people have deep concerns about biased search results, unfair pricing, and misinformation

For many of us, it’s hard to imagine going through a single day without a Google search, Facebook’s News Feed, or a package delivery from Amazon. And where would we be without an Android or Apple smartphone?

But a large number of the people who rely on those products and services have concerns about the profound influence of the big tech companies behind them.

According to a new CR survey

In a nationally representative online survey recently conducted by Consumer Reports, roughly 3 out of 4 Americans worry about the power wielded by today’s biggest tech platforms.

And many U.S. residents believe that something must be done to rein them in.

“George Orwell had no idea that we would give up our freedom so easily,” wrote one participant in an online forum tied to the survey.* “We’ve asked ‘Big Brother’ for suggestions on what to buy!”

Over the past 15 months, members of the House Judiciary Committee have been investigating the business practices of the tech industry, carefully examining how decisions made by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Google’s Sundar Pichai have affected consumer choice.

Later this month, they plan to release a report detailing their findings. In addition, both the Department of Justice and state attorneys general have reportedly been investigating anti-competitive practices by Google.

Here’s a closer look at the issues raised by our survey respondents.

Too Big, Too Powerful

Over the years, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have mushroomed in size, using mergers and acquisitions to broadly expand their reach. Facebook famously snapped up rival platforms Instagram and WhatsApp. Google has bought YouTube, Nest Labs, Fitbit, and some 230 other properties.

Eight in 10 Americans now say those mergers and acquisitions unfairly undermine competition and consumer choice. Three in 10 favor breaking such platforms up into smaller platforms to remedy the situation.

Untrustworthy Search

Most Americans are aware that platforms such as Amazon and Google earn money by giving certain products and services more prominent placement on their web pages. But 46 percent say it is difficult to determine whether shopping and search results are delivered in an unbiased way, even if companies are paying to appear higher.

Self-Promotion

Twenty-three percent of Americans say it’s not right for companies such as Amazon and Google to give their own products—the Kindle e-book reader or the Nest thermostat—more favorable treatment than rival products in search results. And 52 percent say it’s fair only if that preferred placement is disclosed openly.

Unfair Pricing

Because major online companies such as Amazon and Google have access to vast stores of data on the consumers who use their platforms, they have unique insight into how much individuals in different ZIP codes and income brackets are willing to pay for certain products. If you’re troubled by that, you’re not alone. Three out of 4 Americans view “dynamic pricing” based on such information as a problem.

Misinformation

isinformation

Most Americans are wary of the control the nation’s tech giants have over the information you see when you go to their platforms.

Seventy-four percent believe companies should be required to take more responsibility for evaluating that info before it’s shared. Seventy-four percent also say those companies should be compelled not only to use impartial evaluations to produce search results but also to be up front about how those evaluations are conducted.

Keeping Big Tech in Check

Six in 10 Americans favor stronger government action—including new laws, regulations, and enforcement actions—to discipline platforms and reduce harmful conduct.

Consumer Reports’ Digital Lab has released a report on the findings (PDF), with additional information.

The online survey was fielded by NORC at the University of Chicago using a nationally representative sample of 3,219 adult U.S. residents. The survey was conducted July 7 to 22, 2020.

*The qualitative online discussion was delivered using a quota sample July 15, 2020, using Qualboard, an online platform offered by 2020 Research.

The survey and online discussion board were directed by Karen Jaffe, Consumer Reports’ associate director of survey research, and Debra Kalensky, senior research associate at CR.


FinancesOnline

FinancesOnline is one of the fastest growing platforms for B2B & SaaS software reviews, with more than 2,200,000 visitors every month.

They gather thousands of user reviews every month, with each reviewer authenticated via LinkedIn to ensure only actual users share their experience with the community. User reviews are based on detailed surveys, which offer a really in-depth look at each tool. Algorithmic analysis is also a foundation for quarterly reports in the most popular categories.

To balance the user perspectives, each review also includes a detailed analysis prepared by the internal team of B2B software experts, who analyze key usability factors such as: features, integrations, mobile support, etc. This evaluation is then combined into their unique SmartScore™ system, which gives readers an easy reference on what the experts' community thinks about each business solution.

As an added bonus, their product pages rank high in Google, so getting a few positive user reviews on their site could beneficial for your brand recognition.


Glassdoor

Glassdoor is an employee review site that helps anyone -- from prospective employees to prospective customers to investors -- get an idea of what a company is really like from the inside. In other words, it helps measure the more qualitative factors of things like valuation.

Employees can share what it's like to interview and work at their companies, and the site shows visitors which companies are rated highest by their employees. Many employers use it to build their employment brand so they can target and recruit candidates, but you can also use the reviews to share ideas internally for improvement among your management team.

Creating an employer account is free, and it's easy to track and respond to reviews. For example, you can set up alerts so you get an email each time a new review is posted so you can acknowledge and respond to each one.


Consumer Affairs

Consumer Affairs is a for-profit organization that reviews companies using an “overall satisfaction rating." This average is scored on a one to five-star scale that's updated every time a new review is submitted. Each company's page provides a list of all its reviews, which includes the consumer's star rating as well as a short explanation for their score. 

Consumer Affairs also allows users to submit review recordings, which are two-minute videos where people talk about their experience with a brand. This makes the review much more compelling because you can actually see the person talk and express their genuine feelings about the company. 


TripAdvisor

If you're in the travel, hotel, airline, entertainment, or restaurant industries anywhere in the world, you'll want to check out the reviews on the popular website TripAdvisor. As the largest travel site in the world, it has over 225 million reviews, opinions, and photos taken by travelers. They also have some awesome content on their about low airfares, travel guides, rental listings, and advice forums about pretty much every location in the world you could possibly imagine. A lot of people look there before making a trip.

The key to a successful profile on TripAdvisor is making it as close to the top of their popularity index as possible, so that people searching for information in a specific place see your listing. According to TripAdvisor, the popularity ranking algorithm is based on three key components: quantity, quality, and recency of reviews. Here's an excerpt of the advice they give businesses looking to improve their ranking:


ConsumerReports

A nonprofit organization, ConsumerReports is an independent product testing organization that runs unbiased tests to rate and recommend products. They've reviewed over 7.7 million products, accept no advertising, and pay for all products that they test. (Fun fact: They buy and test 80 cars per year!) This is about as legitimate as it gets. As such, there's not much you can do here "except" if you sell a product, make sure it's really, really good.

If nothing else, you could take this website as a lesson in excellent content creation. For each product they review, they provide the review criteria, product overviews, a buying guide, and social sharing buttons. It's all quite comprehensive and, well, helpful. Pretty much the key to great content, am I right?



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