It ain’t easy being a digital disruptor – just ask Facebook and Uber

Credit: Sarawut Aiemsinsuk /

Our world is going mad, if it has not already got there. And it seems that even the coolest companies are becoming ever so slightly stained by the journey. You have to wonder if the disruptors of yesterday are about to suffer their own uncomfortable disruption. Like Facebook and Uber, for example.

Facebook is fighting a rear-guard action on several fronts. In Italy, it has been forced to stop using its location technology, because the authorities believe they stole it off a start-up. Its fight with the original makers of Oculus Rift might put its VR plans back, who knows how long.

In the UK, the BBC spent several years investigating child pornography on Facebook. Having found a lot, they asked for an interview, sent the images it had found to Facebook, who cancelled the interview and reported the BBC to the police. For the first time, we saw posts from friends saying they were close to “never using Facebook again”. Several high-profile people have said they will not use the site. And, frankly, even the most hardened Facebookers must be getting bored of all those adverts, political rants and fake news.

We also know that the filters that Facebook uses simply do not work. They cannot. AI is simply not that advanced at present. Yet Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to become our “social infrastructure”.

Other disruptors are in hot water. Ultra cool Uber seems to be continually suffering from accusations of sexual harassment by drivers – and engineers – and their CEO has come to the conclusion that he “needs to grow up” and has hired one (a grown-up) to try and sort things out. That, the long drawn-out battle to become accepted in many countries and the loss of 200,000 customers because of ties with Trump add to the mess.

And while the largest technology companies are beset by lawsuits from competitors and competition regulators alike, even the old stalwarts are finding that the once solid earth is no longer to be relied on. Toshiba is the latest to suffer a domino effect, with giant holes appearing in its balance sheet and an Extraordinary General Meeting called for the end of the month. Westinghouse will probably end up in Chapter 11 by the end of the month.

Add to this a sudden appetite for mergers, as huge consumer goods companies consider the benefits and giant automakers make plans, and, surely, you begin to worry – just a bit? Almost every burst bubble is preceded by large companies making themselves larger.

Bear in mind that half of the companies who were in the Fortune 500 in 2000 are no longer there, having been bought or gone bust, and frankly, no one should get too comfortable.

And in the telecoms and digital worlds, investors are about to be asked to fund hype for the next few years until technologies like 5G become mainstream. If they ever do.

Frankly, with the environment as it is now, even the toughest and best funded disruptors need to watch out they are not disrupted themselves.

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