It should come as no surprise, if you've been paying attention, that companies like Google, Facebook and Apple currently exert an unprecedented amount of control over how we communicate, do business, and learn about the world around us. (This piece in the Columbia Journalism Review does a nice/terrifying job of outlining the current state of news media in this context.)
But does the techie 1 percent really also have ultimate dominance over our smiley face choices? The specific shape of our thumbs-up signs? Our beloved, wholly necessary taco emojis?
Yeah, according to this San Francisco Chronicle story, they do. Our vaguely shadowy emoji overlords are a "group of mostly mid- to high-level engineers at big tech firms" who in 1991 founded Unicode, the standard programming language that makes symbols readable and shareable across different devices. While anyone can join, it costs $18,000 a year to become a full member with voting privileges -- which is why there are only 11 full members, "including Adobe, IBM, Google, Facebook, Apple and Yahoo."
Anyone can create an emoji, but Unicode is essentially responsible for approving those that get the widest distribution. As a group, it sifts through an average 100 proposals a year for new emojis, including an increasing number from corporations, which have an obvious interest in cell phone users being able to text symbols that look like their products. When was the last time you wanted to communicate via cell phone about candy, but were flummoxed by the lack of an emoji that looked specifically like a Kit Kat bar, for example?
The story also lightly touches on the ever-present emoji diversity question, noting that the "consortium's executive officers, technical directors, and committee leaders are mostly white men."