Business professor Scott Galloway both eviscerates and praises Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, offering worthy cautions and witty insights.
Beware the Four
Good Acts and Threats
Renowned business professor Scott Galloway’s irreverent style may exaggerate the monstrous intentions of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, but he’ll engage you and likely cause you to wonder uncomfortably what the “Four Horsemen” might do with the information they gleaned from your last post, purchase or search. Whatever that may be, according to Galloway, rest assured the primacy benefit accrues to them, not you.
Galloway acknowledges the benefits Facebook delivers by connecting people, and he notes the happiness and health this connectivity bolsters. He has little bad to say about Google and praises it for living up to its motto: “Don’t Be Evil.” He reserves his moral condemnation for Steve Jobs, for whom he demonstrates genuine personal dislike, though he admires Jobs for turning a basic commodity – the smartphone – into a luxury product.
Galloway also warns that Amazon’s low prices and convenience mask its ambition to rule retail, shipping, delivery, groceries – everything the world over.
The Four are engaged in an epic race to become the operating system for our lives.Scott Galloway
Galloway believes the long-term implications of the Four becoming even more dominant threaten civilization, though he doesn’t quite nail that concept. His warnings about Facebook enabling the spread of fake news ring prescient regarding Facebook’s collaboration with and permissiveness toward Russian, populist and nativist interests. Galloway cites the unbelievable tricks the Four get away with as both consumers and governments grant them preferential treatment.
Amazon’s World Conquest
Galloway reveals lesser-known foundations of Amazon’s success. He credits Jeff Bezos with clairvoyance and skillful masking of Amazon’s threats to retailers.
Amazon can muscle everyone else out of the game.Scott Galloway
Bezos convinced investors to wait years, possibly decades, for returns as they poured billions of dollars into his company. Galloway points out that Amazon’s massive cash reserves put it in an untouchable position because no retailer – ever – enjoyed so much accessible, inexpensive money for as long as Amazon has enjoyed its money. For example, Amazon can lose billions in shipping costs annually to keep customers happy. Bezos loves big risks with huge costs because they allow him to go where no one can follow. Galloway’s compelling insights into how Amazon leverages its capital offer a cautionary tale to anyone underestimating Amazon’s potential to dominate retail.
Facebook Threatens Civilization
Galloway reserves his greatest disdain and disgust for Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg. He criticizes Facebook’s complicity in allowing fake news to confuse and polarize voters. By displaying irresponsible journalism along with articles from credible news sources, Facebook legitimizes inflammatory and deceitful posts that threaten democracy in America and the United Kingdom.
As measured by adoption and usage, Facebook is the most successful thing in the history of humankind.Scott Galloway
Facebook ruthlessly exploits the content you feed it, slicing and dicing users into targeted commodities for sale to the highest advertising bidders. Galloway might go too far in identifying Facebook as an existential threat, but he does call readers out for their complicity and urges them to demand that Facebook behave as a responsible member of the media.
Galloway simultaneously dislikes and admires Steve Jobs, but he appreciates that Apple collects only scant data on its customers.
Apple is the largest tax avoider in the history of US business, but Apple is hip, and everyone wants to be friends with the cool kid.Scott Galloway
He implies that Apple products differ only slightly – except in style – from cheaper phones, tablets and computers, while costing way more. Galloway makes excellent points about Apple’s genius in turning commodity electronics into exclusive, luxury items – a truly magical feat, he believes.
Galloway implies that Google controls too much of the web, yet he praises its restraint in not exploiting the incredibly revealing data it collects about people.
If Apple has managed to achieve a degree of immortality by converting itself into a luxury goods company, Google has accomplished the opposite: It has made itself into a public utility. Scott Galloway
Google intends to suck up as much digital advertising as possible and corner the world’s information. Still, Galloway believes you needn’t fear Google as you should fear the other giants.
A New Royalty
Galloway asks you to compare Facebook’s 17,000 employees and its $448 billion market cap to Unilever’s 107,000 employees and its $165 billion market cap. The Four’s employees have high-paying jobs and these lucky few represent a new royalty as everyone else turns into a serf. By creating vast wealth from so few job positions, the Four are hollowing out the American middle class.
Behavioral targeting is now the white meat of marketing. The ability to attach behavior to specific identities is the quiet war taking place in media. Scott Galloway
To thrive in today’s job market, you need credentials – preferably from a good college – and a range of mostly soft skills, grit and a tireless work ethic. And, Galloway cautions, don’t expect work-life balance until at least mid-career.
Data, Location and Billions
Galloway acknowledges that the Four will eventually fall prey to the same decay and dissolution that ruins every great firm. To take their place or to join them, he recommends you build a global firm in a connected city featuring great universities.
The world’s most important companies have become experts in data – its capture, its analytics and its use.Scott Galloway
Galloway advises differentiating your product and playing nice so your reputation discourages regulators while attracting top talent. He warns that you must acquire data, and then analyze and exploit it using the latest techniques, such as predictive analytics and artificial intelligence. He cautions that to compete with the Four, you must cheaply raise billions of dollars so you can control your customer experience – online and in stores – at every step from production to delivery.
Hype and Cautions
Galloway did not become a bestseller by understating. Here he follows the online mantra: Make people nervous to gain and sustain page views. Even if he makes too strong a case for the evil of these firms over their good, Galloway’s admiration for Zuckerberg, Jobs, Bezos and Schmidt shines through, which makes for an – at times – contradictory read. Nevertheless, businesspeople, students and consumers anywhere within the reach of the Four – and that’s just about everyone everywhere – will welcome Galloway’s hyped-up insights and words of caution.
Consumers talk a big game about social responsibility and then buy phones and little black dresses manufactured in factories where people kill themselves and pour mercury into the water.Scott Galloway
Scott Galloway also wrote The Algebra of Happiness: Notes on the Pursuit of Success, Love, and Meaning and Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity. Other books on the Big Four include Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire by Brad Stone; Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson; Googled: The End of the World As We Know It by Ken Auletta; and An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination by Sheera Frenkel and Cecillia Kang.