Vince Cable calls for the breaking up of Amazon, Facebook, and Google from their data collection businesses

Sir Vince Cable has called for the big tech companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook to be broken apart to stop the monopoly of data from limiting innovative start-ups.

In a speech at a CodeNode Tech Event Centre called 'Taming the Tech Titans -- Levelling the Digital Playing Field' the Liberal Democrat leader called for strong regulations on the big tech giants and even compared them to the US oil companies that exploited their market power over a century ago.

Cable called data "the new oil" and outlined the power Google, Facebook and Amazon have in collecting it in large volumes as an apparent "free bounty".

"Just as Standard Oil once cornered 85 per cent of the refined oil market, today Google drives 89 per cent of internet searches, 95 per cent of young adults on the internet use a Facebook product, Amazon accounts for 75 per cent of ebook sales, while Google and Apple combined provide 99 per cent of mobile operating systems," he said.

"The new internet giants mostly provide a 'free' service to the public, albeit paid for indirectly by the sale of advertising space and the bundling and sale to commercial clients of 'free' user data. Whatever these companies do, they are not price 'gouging' since their headline price is always 'zero'. It is the forces underlying this apparently 'free' bounty that politicians must address."

Speaking at the CodeNode centre to an audience of tech entrepreneurs, the Lib Dem leader highlighted concerns for small start-ups operating in the shadows of the tech giants.

"There are real concerns that while the tech giants may have begun as innovative upstarts, they have by virtue of their sheer size become a barrier rather than a boon to entrepreneurship," he said.

"By acquiring potential challengers before they become a real threat, spending millions lobbying governments to ensure their interests are protected, and tying in users through the sheer scale of features and interaction they offer, the tech giants' dominant position often leaves entrepreneurs feeling they have no choice but to sell up, or close up."

Cable called on national governments and the EU to bring in strong regulations and called for Amazon, Google and Facebook to be broken apart from the data collecting services they provide.

"National government and, even more so, supranational bodies like the EU can and should look to break up enterprises where size is detrimental to the economic wellbeing of the country, its citizens and its capacity for innovation," he said.

"There is a case for splitting Amazon into three separate businesses; one offering cloud computing, one acting as a general retailer and one offering a third-party marketplace. Other examples would be Facebook being forced to divest itself of Instagram and WhatsApp as a condition for operating in the EU, creating two new social media networks. Divesting Google of YouTube would be another."

Cable's words resonated with Adam Maskatiya, general manager of Kaspersky Lab in UK & Ireland, who in a comment sent to IT Pro, noted: "Customers should value their data as much as the money in their wallets and purses, so I agree with Vince Cable's sentiment on this."

"It is important that we on an individual level know what information is being kept and how it's being handled which will also reduce the likelihood of it falling into the wrong hands," he added.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Bobby Hellard

Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.

Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognize him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.