Nick Ang profile picture

Nick Ang

Underdogs to incumbents (Grab buys Uber in Southeast Asia)

We root for the underdog at first.

Until the underdog becomes the new incumbent.

Then we start scrutinising the incumbent in fear, worrying they would start doing things that are harmful to us individually and collectively as a society.

Along the way to dominance, most would suspect the organisation of engaging in foul play. Things that are less than respectable, and sometimes outright illegal. But everything is just happening so fast, regulators are unable to keep up.

And who can blame others for thinking that? Business wars are not easily won, and dirty tactics that produce results without being noticed will embolden businesses to continue using them in their fight against one another.

At some point, the incumbent, under intense scrutiny, breaks. Then, all scrolls containing dirty tactics are burnt, and an apologetic face inevitably emerges. For how long, we can never really tell. Whether the apology is genuine is seemingly unimportant - though it really should be. Businesses are run by humans, for humans. And humans tend to seek the truth.


Two things happened today.

First, the ride-sharing, food-delivering, mobile-wallet-providing company Grab has effectively bought over Uber’s businesses in Southeast Asia. It’s an unprecedented triumph for technology entrepreneurship in the region, but that same lack of precedence puts us in a precarious position. How will this newly minted incumbent behave henceforth?

I don’t know, but I’ll be watching closely.

Then, I discovered the inquiry into Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal by the Singapore government.

This is an inquiry into an incumbent that has been amassing power and wealth for a decade, all of which flow from one ultimate source - user data.

As an individual Facebook user, I’m not frightened by how much Facebook knows about me.

But as a member of society, I’m mortified by Facebook’s ability to influence people’s minds, shape culture, and move the needle significantly in the democratic process.

I’m not accusing Facebook of wilfully influencing the outcome of elections or perpetuating false information. I don’t think they’ve done that willfully.

I’m reflecting on the state of affairs we’re in as a society in Singapore and collectively, as humanity.

We fear what we don’t know, and who can say that they know what will happen when one corporation holds (important) data points on virtually every person on this planet that participates in the global economy?

I’m usually averse to the news. I think it’s 99 percent noise and 1 percent potentially relevant. But as a pragmatic idealist and someone working in technology, I think this is something that needs our attention.

Here is a clip of the full inquiry of Facebook that happened in my home city, Singapore. I have to say, I’m thankful for the strong overwatch we have in this country.

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