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Big tech: becoming what it set out to destroy

A selection of 1950s toy robots for an auction of TV and movie toy memorabilia.

 .A selection of 1950s toy robots for an auction of TV and movie toy memorabilia.

The evidence is everywhere if you know how to look. 

Apple is an obvious one. The company that used the phrase "Think Different" to set itself apart from a homogeneous environment of personal tech just settled a class-action lawsuit alleging it colluded with book publishers to make the prices of all e-books more expensive. 

Amazon, a company that started selling books because founder Jeff Bezos loved the broad spectrum of titles available, has been in the news for understocking, delaying deliveries and preventing pre-orders of books from a publishing company. For an organization with a stated mission of being "where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online," fighting with Hachette doesn't really fit the bill.

And then there's Google. Even ignoring "don't be evil," the company's fight with independent artists and labels over terms and conditions for creating its new YouTube music service looks like a betrayal of what the company's platform stands for. YouTube is supposed to be a place where everybody can upload; where your success is only limited by the quality of your content and your ability to hustle. When that changes to "agree to our terms or get blocked," and Billy Bragg calls you "stupid," you're probably not serving that ideal. 

Is anyone else getting a creeping feeling that we're seeing some grand scale bait and switch? Tech companies -- even big ones -- pride themselves on "disrupting" in a good way, and "removing friction" from traditional business transactions. When it's done right, innovation is a democratizing force that makes our lives better. And when they're doing right, tech companies offer us alternatives to petrified, monopolized industries and marketplaces. So what happens when we opt in early and often, and then find ourselves pushed and bullied by the companies we thought were offering a new and better way of doing business?

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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