Corporate Duality

By Mark Nuyens
5 min. read📜 Legislation

The business landscape is increasingly witnessing collaborations and acquisitions that may not be fully transparent to customers. These relationships, while offering strategic advantages to the companies involved, can lead to an unbalanced and opaque marketplace, affecting consumer choice and fostering potential market power abuse.

Take the partnership between OpenAI and Microsoft as an example. While both companies operate as separate entities, their collaboration can sometimes lead to product overlaps, giving consumers the impression that they are witnessing free market dynamics in action. In reality, however, they may be engaging with a single entity behind the scenes. This lack of transparency can be considered misleading, and it is crucial that such mutually beneficial relationships between large businesses be disclosed when interacting with customers.

Disclosing these partnerships doesn't have to be obtrusive or disruptive to a user's experience. It could be as simple as mentioning the collaboration during the signup process or displaying the information alongside other metadata, like credits and version details. In cases as significant as the Microsoft-OpenAI collaboration, not revealing this information to users can be seen as withholding vital facts and contributing to an unethical and dishonest product experience.

Another example is the acquisition of Mobile Vikings, a smaller telecommunication company, by Proximus. Though both companies offer similar services and products, the takeover was not clearly communicated during the process, nor is it reflected in their offerings. This lack of transparency can lead customers to believe they are making informed decisions based on comparisons, when in reality, they are choosing between two brands owned by the same entity.

The debate over how far companies should go in disclosing such collaborations and acquisitions is crucial, as these scenarios can lead to potential misuse of market power and manipulation of consumer decisions. Establishing a fair and transparent approach to communicating this information without disrupting business operations or product design is essential for preserving the integrity of our free market system.

As corporate power continues to grow and companies increasingly collaborate or acquire smaller businesses, it is vital to ensure that consumers are not misled into thinking they are interacting with entirely different entities. Open and honest discussions on the best approaches to implementing such disclosures, raising public awareness, and safeguarding consumer interests are necessary steps in maintaining a balanced and transparent marketplace.

Update July 10th, 2023

This week, Meta launched Threads, their new Twitter competitor. In response to the declining popularity of Twitter under Elon Musk's leadership, Meta aims to attract users to their platform by promising a sanely run environment, directly challenging Elon Musk. Interestingly, Threads presents itself as an "Instagram application" on their website, but it is, in fact, a Meta application. It seems that Meta is trying to create the perception of Instagram as a separate entity from Meta itself, which is unexpected considering Meta's original purpose as a brand to divert attention from Facebook. It appears they are leveraging the success of their existing apps to introduce new ones, possibly hoping that users won't notice the connection to Facebook—a company that has faced criticism for its privacy practices and user-friendliness over the past decade.

Thank you for reading!