By Shira Ovide | June 22, 2020

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The American technology industry was built on the white hot rage of underdogs.

When Apple was founded, it mocked IBM as a bully that made terrible computers. Pipsqueak Google made Microsoft its mortal enemy. The young Uber hated … everyone, basically. It’s energizing to be the scrappy upstart fighting a rich superpower or the big, bad system.

The technology companies still like to believe that they’re Davids — except many of them are now Goliaths. And the underdog tactics and fighting spirit that once served them well now make these companies look petty and mean.

Allow me to point you in the direction of lawsuits that Amazon has repeatedly filed against employees who leave its cloud-computing business for other jobs.

The most recent lawsuit said that a former marketing employee who was hired at Google possesses valuable Amazon secrets, in part because he wrote marketing speeches and made presentation slides. Look at this incredibly revealing Amazon secret, for example. (Amazon has said that it’s enforcing clauses in contracts that limit what its employees can do after they leave.)

Google is big enough that it can presumably wait this lawsuit out. But how many other Amazon employees or potential employers are willing to risk the stress and uncertainty of possible litigation?

Then there’s Apple, which continues to butt heads with app makers including Spotify and most recently the email service Hey. (The Hey drama continued Monday morning.) These feuds are over money. Apple — with some justification — wants a share of the revenue that app companies earn when they sell to you and me in Apple’s App Store. The app companies want to keep all of it.

Financial disagreements are common, but Apple can sound defensive and aggrieved in these cases. It created its rule book for app developers more than a decade ago, and Apple doesn’t get why these companies are complaining.

Apple and the app makers now live on different planets. In 2008, the year Apple started the iPhone app storefront, the company had nearly $33 billion in sales. Last year it had $260 billion. Apple mans the gate to hundreds of millions of iPhones. When you’re that big, every business disagreement is lopsided. (Kara Swisher, a contributing Opinion writer for The New York Times, made a similar point in her column last week.)

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It seems as if everywhere you look, former tech upstarts are turning the tables on today’s youngsters. Facebook made obvious copies of Snap’s Bitmoji personalized cartoon characters. Facebook and Google are pitching hard their own alternatives to the suddenly popular Zoom video service. Copying smaller companies is not a great look.

None of these giants is necessarily doing anything wrong or unusual when they emulate, sue or pick fights with people and companies with less power.

It’s cool to be a rebel with a cause. It’s uncool (and unsympathetic) to be a rich and powerful giant. Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has repeatedly said that he still views Apple as a pretty small company. (Insert my booming laughter.)

Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook are Scrooge McDucks swimming in vaults of gold, but they like to act as if they’re still ragamuffins taking on The Man. They’re not. They are The Man.




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