Survey: U.S. Consumers Fear Power of Big Tech

Big Tech Consumer Trust
Variety Intelligence Platform; Adobe Stock

Big Tech’s power remains a key concern for most Americans.

Variety Intelligence Platform partnered with GetWizer Consumer Insights to ask 1,700 Americans their attitudes around the influence Big Tech has as part of our ongoing “Demographic Divide” series.

The firms that make up Big Tech — Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Meta — are already facing market challenges as stocks faltered in Q1, with investors briefly losing faith, although Apple, Amazon and Alphabet have since somewhat recovered. The findings from VIP+’s study with GetWizer will only add to these concerns.

The vast majority of Americans have heard of the term "Big Tech," which shows how ubiquitous these firms have become, with products and services that touch our everyday lives either directly or indirectly, and it is this influence or idea of influence that concerns many Americans.

Two-thirds of Americans think Big Tech wields too much power over the public. When assessing this by age groups, it’s particularly interesting to note that 15-29s have the second-highest level of concern, behind those 60+. Considering that these groups are vastly different in terms of being digital natives or analogue/paper natives, it is intriguing to see they have similar concerns around these companies.

When asked which individual companies had the greatest power, Meta was consistently number one across all age groups. However, it saw its lowest score among 15-29s, perhaps as they use alternative social networks to IG and Facebook, with this age group having a far greater concern around Apple than any other.

Of concern to all of Big Tech, and perhaps of interest to lawmakers in Capitol Hill, is the fact that a majority of respondents think all of the constituent companies have too much power. This has not altered much from the first study GetWizer fielded in the "Demographic Divide" series in July 2021, suggesting this is a permanent concern for the public.

Given public fears over the power these firms wield, it is not surprising that over two-thirds of Americans think the government should pay more attention. This brings up the issue of having the right people in government to monitor, as hearings in 2021 suggested not all members of Congress have an accurate understanding of Big Tech, something that surely benefits these companies whenever they are called to a hearing.

When asking those who thought Big Tech should be broken up to name a company this would happen to, almost three-quarters said Meta. This concern grows by age group but should be a real concern to Mark Zuckerberg and shows the company will need to roll up its sleeves to convince Americans that it being one company is for the best.

A majority also thought Amazon should be split up, with it literally 50-50 for Google and Apple. The overall sentiment is at least one Big Tech company should be split up, with fewer than 1 in 10 saying none of these.

When asked why, consumers tended to name one of four themes consistently: too much power and influence over the public and markets; too much wealth and not paying enough tax; being close to monopolistic and able to stifle competition; and manipulating public opinion and having biases against certain social groups.

All are very concerning to the MAAA companies (FAANG as an acronym must now be retired given Facebook’s name change), but this does represent a way to tamp down concerns. A concession must be made, whether it’s the cessation of tax-avoidance strategies or more transparency, in the name of regaining public trust.

Addressing the major concerns of American consumers will be painful and may see stocks fall in the short term, but it could help avoid a much greater impact of being split into multiple components and/or seeing heavy government oversight.

Should things stay the same, it’s unlikely the public worry will melt away. It’s more likely to get stronger and drive increasing demands for exactly what Big Tech wants to avoid. Change will likely ultimately occur, though the key driver of what that is and how impactful it ends up will depend on whether Big Tech is the change agent itself.