A New Digital Life, Same Old Problems

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At the heart of many fights about digital life is a question: Should we hold what happens on the Internet to a higher standard than the old ways of the analog world?

This is a link between complaints about sell products on Amazon, deploying apps in smartphone app stores, trying to make money on youtube or Renting a house on Airbnb. In all these cases, people and businesses complain about the costs, rules and insecurity of activities that were even more burdensome in the old days if that were possible.

Some of these complaints are unfounded, while others reflect a fundamental concern about online life. The internet has promised to subvert the old ways and erode the power of old gatekeepers such as Hollywood bosses or department stores who say yes or no to people trying to do what they love. But instead, there are new and equally powerful digital watchdogs like Google and Apple who can determine who wins or loses.

I thought about this because of a recent email from an On Tech reader named Susan in Tucson about app makers saying that Apple is inflicting unfair costs and complexities on them and iPhone users:

For many years, artisans shared the profits with the shop, which sold their handicraft items on consignment. When I started in the 70s, it was 60 percent for me and 40 percent for the shopkeeper. Later the commission was sometimes 50/50.

That’s why I’m a little bit surprised that the App Store gets commissions for programmers’ apps. What is the difference between App Store and store owner? Both are responsible for providing the buyer with a place to display to provide quality assurance.

Susan doesn’t invalidate the complaints of app manufacturers, but provides useful context: This is how it’s always been done, and often for good reasons.

Stores have long dictated which products will appear on their shelves and how aggressively they will be promoted to potential customers. Apple does the virtual equivalent of this for apps. And as Susan (and apple), points out that traditional stores often have a much larger cut in a product’s retail price than Apple’s up to 30 percent commission on certain app transactions, such as video streaming subscriptions.

It’s understandable to compare the old world with the digital world and think: This new way is not so surprising, is it? It’s a great point where I’ve heard a lot from readers, not just about Apple.

I’ve also heard from people asking if some members are fair. Congress tries to change the law to stop Amazon From making their own coffee and sundress brands that compete with merchants in Amazon’s digital mall. After all, traditional retailers have been doing the same thing forever with store versions of Tylenol and Cheerios. Why do people shoot videos on YouTube or TikTok? overspeed and unpredictable paychecks Has it always been torture while making a living in entertainment?

These are fair points. But I also think that these complaints reflect the mismatch of expectations and reality about the internet. Now anyone can create and post anything online, but getting noticed can be incredibly difficult. Enter new rangers who can be just as powerful and capricious as the old ones.

A cat toys maker no longer needs to persuade a store to sell their product. He can build his own website or sell on Amazon. But he may still have to spend a fortune advertising on Google. or Amazon just to be noticed.

Likewise, a talented artist can make YouTube videos and skip trying to navigate the Hollywood studio system. But appearing at the whims of Google’s algorithms and ultimately paying off. Someone with a great idea for a video game might create an app instead of convincing a big company to make the game, but it’s almost entirely dependent on the instructions from app store owners like Google and Apple. (Dozens of attorney generals sued Google. Wednesday, amid allegations that the company has abused its dictatorial power.)

It’s still a miracle that people can reach billions of potential fans in a few clicks. The old ways were burdensome and difficult, but the disappointments with the new ways are real.


  • Totally Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook: In an excerpt from my colleagues’ new book on the company, Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang detail Facebook’s crises over the past five years. Sheryl Sandberg’s influence waned, the company’s second-in-command.

  • I need a database to keep track of all tech cases.: Dozens of attorneys general have sued Google since October, the fourth antitrust lawsuit brought against the company by federal or state officials in the United States. This accuses Google of abusing its power over Android phones and forcing unfair terms on app makers. David McCabe and Dai Wakabayashi reported that the lawsuit also put pressure on Apple, which operates the iPhone app store in a similar way.

  • GIANT KITCHER: three dimensional digital image of a “yacht-sized cat” My colleagues Hikari Hida and Mike Ives write that it attracts crowds and fans in Tokyo. The digital billboard calico opens briefly to greet people and snooze too much, just like real cats.

baby manatee!!!


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