(Oct 4): If you look at the world’s most valuable companies, you will find that even after the recent stock-market selloff, tech giants like Apple, Google’s parent Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon.com, Microsoft as well as China’s Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings are the major players on a list that was once dominated by the likes of oil giant ExxonMobil or conglomerates such as billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, which incidentally is Apple’s largest shareholder.
Increasingly, however, global tech behemoths are in the crosshairs of regulators around the world. Though policymakers from Brussels to Washington and Beijing are unlikely to do anything drastic like breaking them up at any point soon, their actions and growing regulatory scrutiny are starting to weigh on the tech giants. “The risk is that regulatory action could lead to business practice changes that ultimately negatively impact their financial outlook,” says Mark Mahaney, internet analyst for RBC Capital Markets in San Francisco.
To be sure, internet platforms have burgeoned to become huge beasts whose unfettered growth seems unstoppable. Take Facebook, for example. The social media firm has more than two billion active users, which is more than the combined population of China, the US and Japan. Google dominates internet search advertising, accounting for over 68% of global market share, and its mobile operating system Android is used by 79% of all smartphones sold worldwide compared with about 17% for Apple’s iOS-based iPhones. And Amazon is an increasingly powerful and growing force in retail. It accounts for over 5% of all retail sales and 43% of online sales in the US. “These platforms have created clear consumer value,” says Mahaney. “Google places a world of information free at your fingertips, Facebook offers us real-time connection with friends around the world, and Amazon gives us the best price, selection and convenience for whatever it is that we want to buy.”