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The true benefit of Amazon and Google

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My colleagues wrote about the breathtaking sales of American technology superstars like Google, Facebook and Amazon. Your sales and profits this year, in the middle of a pandemic, are really hard to pin down. It's so much money folks.

But these companies also spend a lot of money, which in turn helps them make more money.

The ability to spend like crazy – because big tech has money and hardly anyone asks how companies spend it – is one of the secrets of why it is so difficult to get the tech giants off the rails.

A few examples: Amazon hired 250,000 full- and part-time employees – an average of 2,800 a day in the 90 days that ended in September – and about 100,000 additional employees in October. Google spent nearly $ 17 billion on things like huge computer equipment this year – roughly the equivalent of Exxon's spending on digging oil and gas out of the ground.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg excitedly spoke on Thursday about whatever is being spent on futuristic projects like glasses that overlay virtual images with the real world. Imagine walking down the street and seeing a virtual list of menu items for the taco shop on the corner.

Some of these things can instantly help companies get more of the stunning sales and profits my co-workers have written about. When Amazon hires employees to work in its warehouses or drive trucks, those employees help push more packages to your door this Christmas.

But honestly, a lot of them, who knows. What the hell is Apple cooking up in its research labs that it spent $ 19 billion on last year? Can Facebook make us shop into a future of our world mixed with virtual images? Are the tons of new package warehouses, transport depots and data centers from Amazon really justified? This is the kind of thing that could never pay off.

And that's one of the reasons Big Tech is so different. Few large companies mostly get pat on the back for spending money in a way that pays off or not.

This is part of the ultimate dilemma surrounding these tech giants who dominate our lives and often our leisure and work hours. They make a ton of money, which means they have more money to stay on top. (Also, governments and competitors say these companies are breaking the rules to gain an advantage at the expense of competitors and to harm consumers like us.)

One of the most harrowing words in business is "moat". This means that a company has a unique advantage – a globally recognized brand name for Coca-Cola, or a unique technology that enables Uber to move cars efficiently – that gives it an unreachable frontier of water with monsters.

It's a terrible, overused piece of jargon. But the tech superstars have a moat. (Imagine crawling as I typed this.) Your unique advantage is access to huge piles of money. And they use it to dig this watery trench of monsters even deeper.

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Retailers really, really, really want you to start your vacation shopping early because – read about possible delays in shipping vacation packages. That means Black Friday and other pre-holiday sales have already started. The problem is that often when websites scream DEAL it doesn't seem like much.

Nathan Burrow of the New York Times product review website, Wirecutter, has these tips to make sure we aren't fooled by something that promises a discount but is a bad buy:

Comparison shop: The hot element that the website says you can't find anywhere else for less? Yes you probably can. Enter the name of the product in a shopping search in your web browser. (If you are considering an online flash sale, add the item to your cart first. You often have up to 15 minutes to check out, enough time to check the price.)

Read the reviews: Customer ratings are not always reliable. Find out about a product that has fascinated you from several publications – may I suggest Wirecutter? This is not a guarantee that you will get a good price, but it will help you keep away from getting hooked on selling and buying a junk product.

Use (free!) Shopping tools: Websites like CamelCamelCamel.com or Keepa will give you a useful, if incomplete, idea of ​​how much a given item has sold on Amazon over time. This is a good indication of whether you may be getting a good deal right now or waiting.

Even if you're not shopping on Amazon, you can verify that the retailer's price is a good deal by comparing it to the price that the same product is being sold for on Amazon.

Do you have an informed plan: Don't believe the hype, be patient and know that there are good discounts available. You may just have to cut through the noise to find them.

He's a star on Facebook. He's not sure why: My colleague Kevin Roose spoke to Dan Bongino, the right-wing commentator, who said he couldn't really explain why he went from being a B-list expert to one of the most popular characters on Facebook. Kevin writes that it's both charming and terrifying that people like Bongino make it big on Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok because their "personas just happen to fit into the grooves of a platform's algorithm."

Listen to this to understand the antitrust proceedings against Big Tech: Lina Khan helped reshape the legal views on how antitrust laws apply to large tech companies. On my colleague Kara Swisher's "Sway" podcast, Khan had a clear explanation of how she believed big tech companies hurt us all, and she gave a glimpse into recent Congress investigations into the power of big tech.

sigh. Math problems of emoji are not a good solution: Bloomberg News writes about teachers in the Philippines improvising remote classes with printed handouts and lessons on Facebook Messenger as the majority of households in the country have limited internet access. A teacher started writing a daily math problem for her students using emojis instead of numbers.

The best moment of my week was reading this article about people obsessed with the $ 300 worth 12-foot Halloween skeleton that Home Depot is selling. (Hello to this video of a Home Depot skeleton lashed to the roof of a Mini Cooper.)

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