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Is Big Tech hurting Canadian small businesses?

By Tanya O'Callaghan
Senior Manager, Communications

Every year CIRA commissions an annual survey exploring how Canadians use the internet and publishes the insights in a new edition of Canada’s Internet Factbook. This year, CIRA is publishing a series of blog posts based on the findings of the 2022 Canada’s Internet Factbook survey. The blog that follows below is the final of four in the series

Everyone likes to root for the underdog. It’s why we’re fascinated by entrepreneurs, rags to riches stories, and the “move fast and break things” mindset of Silicon Valley.  

As the modern-day fable goes, we idealize the lone entrepreneur who tinkers in their garage, a mere David willing to pit their brilliance against the Goliath of the established market. Where so many others fail in their ambition, a few manage to sling that stone on target and topple their much larger competition.  

We’ve seen it play out so many times. When Google was on the rise during its “don’t be evil” days, Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s Goliath moment came when they rebuffed a $3 billion Yahoo offer to acquire their search business. Jeff Bezos stood in defiance of Wall Street by quitting his hedge fund job to start Amazon in a Seattle garage, writing its business plan as he drove across the country. Travis Kalanick dared to challenge the entrenched and regulated taxi driver industry in cities around the world with Uber. 

In 2022, we have the benefit of hindsight to understand that some of these myths haven’t played out the way we expected. Rather than toppling a Goliath, these Davids have quickly become the new Goliaths of our time. Over the past decade, dominant monopolies have begun to push out competition in regional markets, often at the expense of small and medium-sized businesses here in Canada.  

Silicon Valley vs. Canadian media 

When Canadians are looking for their news fix, it’s almost an even split between those going directly to a news website or doing a Google search. The top method for Canadians is still visiting news and media sites, with 52 per cent saying they usually access news this way. Google is a close second, with 47 per cent saying they usually do searches about news events. Facebook is the third most popular news source at 34 per cent.  

During the transition of news from print to digital over the last 25 years, media’s advertising and subscription-based revenue model has been disrupted. It’s no secret that Google has entrenched itself in the online advertising space, using its position as the default directory for the internet to position itself as the dominant advertising method. Meta is the other tech giant siphoning online ad spending out of Canada, using Facebook’s social graph and reach to become indispensable to advertisers.  

Both Google and Facebook evolved over the years to include more snippets and content sourced directly from media websites. That’s why the government is considering controversial new legislation that will require tech giants to share revenue with certain news providers.  

U.S. Big Tech Firms vs. Mom & Pop stores  

Despite already dominating retail and technology services around the world, Amazon became even more entrenched as the world’s online mall during the pandemic. Canadians have gravitated more towards the site too, with 49 per cent saying they are shopping from global e-commerce retailers like Amazon more frequently.  

Despite the shift towards American retailers like Amazon, Canadians still show an affinity for shopping local. Two-thirds of Canadians say they prefer to make online purchases from Canadian retailers when they have a choice. Only two per cent say they prefer U.S. retailers.  

When asked why they prefer to shop in Canada, these shoppers say that spending locally is a boost for the national economy. More than half say supporting local business and benefiting the Canadian economy is their main reason for preferring Canadian businesses.  

When they can spend their money with Canadian websites and retailers, the experience is just as good as anywhere else. Fifty-seven per cent of Canadians say that the experience of purchasing from a Canadian retailer was about the same as past experiences making similar purchases from the U.S. or internationally. One-third of Canadians say the experience was even better—just one more reason to get a .CA domain!  

The convenience of Amazon is a strong pull on Canadians. But there is still an underlying desire to find local online stores to do business with.  

Uber Eats vs. local diners 


Uber started as a taxi service and later transitioned to a food delivery service. Today it’s competing with other brands that offer the delivery of a hot meal via a few taps on a mobile app, including Skip the Dishes and DoorDash.  

Given all the commercials for these services you might think they dominate the market. Yet 64 per cent of Canadians say they order take-out directly from a restaurant’s website or app, over the 48 per cent that use a food delivery service like Uber Eats.  

It’s just one more indication that while it often seems like we live in Silicon Valley’s world, Canadians still have a strong desire to support local businesses and interests.



About the author
Tanya O'Callaghan

Tanya is CIRA’s Vice-president, Community Investment, Policy and Advocacy. A former journalist, Tanya has worked in the not-for-profit sector for nearly 20 years and currently leads CIRA’s community investment, policy and advocacy group. She is also a founding member of the multi-stakeholder committee behind the Canadian Internet Governance Forum and is a frequent speaker and moderator on a range of communications and digital issues.