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Tech Steve Wozniak: Apple, Google, and Facebook have too much power and control over the economy

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, talks to Business Insider about the influence of big tech companies, the dark side of tech, and his love for electric cars.

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Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple and tech entrepreneur play

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple and tech entrepreneur

(Jesse Grant/Getty Images)

Recently, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple and tech entrepreneur, talked to Sabrina Hoffmann, Editor-in-Chief, Business Insider Germany at the tech conference 'We Are Developers' in Vienna, Austria.

He shared his thoughts on technology’s impact on the world, the influence tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon have.

He also discussed his love for electric cars, especially the yet-to-be-released Mercedes electric sedan.

The interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Business Insider (BI): You always seemed to be less focused on profit or power than on just creating amazing computers. In times of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, manipulated elections and cyber security threats: Are you disappointed or even afraid of what technology has become?

Steve Wozniak (Woz): I don’t know if those words are right. I am bothered about what technology has become. Usually, I don’t let things bother me. But what bothers me more than anything else in the world is when technology is bad. Because it’s people like myself who created something that turned out to be not really good and pure. I always want to put the human above technology. In a company like Apple that made computers easy to use, I always thought that the user is more important than the technology. We put a huge effort in to let them live life a normal human way.

The human way is changing. We used to be able to have conversations in secret with people. What I said to you other people didn’t hear. And now that isn’t the case anymore. We have lost our security a long time ago. We also lost our privacy and have it abused. If I think I am having a level of privacy and I don’t, that’s a lie. That sort of deceit bothers me. I hit a limit. I can’t take that. It’s one step in a long series of steps that are all in the same direction.

BI: Speaking about the dark side of technology, on a panel you’ve said you were frustrated with Tesla because they repeatedly broke their promises to customers. But this is harmless compared to what German car manufacturers like Volkswagen or BMW did. What do you think of their actions in the emission scandal?

Woz: All big companies will do some level of lying to make money. They’ll hold secrets. It’s not news. I don’t look at it and say: Oh, it’s a big phenomenon. I’ve had Mercedes’ before. It’s the greatest production car in the world. But now I really do like my Tesla a lot. I don’t want to ever go to a gas station again. I don’t want to drive a gas car again.

BI: But did the emission scandal change your view of German car manufacturers?

Woz: No. I have the highest respect. Especially for Mercedes. I’m waiting for the Mercedes electric ones. I just got so used to plugging in a car in the garage. No credit cards, no messy fuels, no waiting for it. It’s too convenient. I won’t give it up. If you walk through that door it’s a one way door. You can’t go back. My wife and I are paying very close attention. We would love to have an electric Mercedes sedan. That would be our next car.

BI: How much responsibility for our society do big tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook bear?

Woz: They don’t feel any of it but they should bear it equal to people. Everyone of them should have the responsibility to be a good player and not have unfair advantages due to their scheming accountants. I am not a financial person. I’d be too embarrassed to live my life if somebody could accuse me of taking advantage of them and getting a better financial deal than they got. But that’s me. I’m unusual.

BI: Do they have too much power and control over the economy?

Woz: They always have. It’s really easy. Politicians, money, lobbyists. Everytime I click accept to some online account they wrote the contract for it. Their lawyer wrote it. My lawyer didn’t. So with my agreement I am giving them everything in the world and they own it.

BI: What do you make of the call of experts like Scott Galloway to break them up?

Woz: Antitrust law is based on some good principles but it is rarely put into play and rarely executed. It is very hard. Once you have a monopoly position you start to exclude others from getting into the market that could be competitive. You use it to overtake new markets. Because if you have one market you can put all users into another one, maybe going to a music division of your company. You kind of got them captive. I disagree with Antitrust. It is not really enough.

BI: So monopolists like Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon should be split up?

Yes, in some cases you should consider this. Or maybe lesser things than spitting up. Splitting up goes back to the AT&T phone company in our country. But you could take a company like Facebook and say: The regulation is you will have to make it easy for people to move to a competitive website that does similar things. You have to give somebody the ability to exit with a list of all their friends and everyone of them should get a notification that if you want to go there they’ll all be friends there. Make it a equal competition. So you have to compete based on the quality of the product and not based on the fact that you’ve got somebody trapped.