Lately, there have been calls by 2020 US Presidential hopefuls to break up big tech companies like Facebook and Google. One of the democratic candidates, Senator Elizabeth Warren has been pretty vocal about this issue. In a recent Medium blog post, she shared an interesting statistic that pointed out that “More than 70% of all Internet traffic goes through sites owned or operated by Google or Facebook.” This stat is misleading and here’s why.
Elizabeth points out that these big tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon have vast power over the economy and democracy and she wants them to be broken up so that they have less power.
The stat she shared often gets repeated by other publications such as Washingtonian. Other publications go ahead and exaggerate it. A Newsweek article she links to in her post says that “Facebook and Google now have direct influence over nearly three-quarters of all internet traffic, prompting warnings that the end of a free and open web is imminent.”
This fact was debunked in an article by Alec Stapp. The data where this stat comes from is Parse.ly and it got misquoted. The company used data from around 400 publisher domains and is a less comprehensive measure of internet traffic as Parse.ly looked at external referrals in their “Facebook Continues to Beat Google in Sending Traffic to Top Publishers” article.
The company summarises their findings as “Today, Facebook remains a top referring site to the publishers in Parse.ly’s network, claiming 39 per cent of referral traffic versus Google’s share of 34 per cent.”
To accurately measure internet traffic, you have to consider total volume, in units of multiples of the byte, or as transmission rates in bytes per certain time units according to Wikipedia. Networking company Sandvine conduct an annual comprehensive tally of internet traffic using its huge footprint of equipment across the internet.
They measure statistics on connections including upstream traffic, downstream traffic and total internet traffic as shown below. It is worth noting that the dataset covers both browser-based and app-based internet traffic.
As you can see from the table above, Google-operated sites only receive 12% of the total internet traffic and Facebook-controlled sites receive 7.79% and when both are combined, less than 20% of all internet traffic goes through sites controlled or owned by these two tech companies.
Debunking this stat and fact-checking Elizabeth(her entire premise was off) doesn’t save these companies as they are a lot of other valid points that need to be looked at regarding their dominance.