Big Tech, Surveillance Capitalism and Antitrust
The Hi-Tech Industry and Big Tech Companies in particular have major problems with their business models which result in oppressive surveillance capitalism.
This is true for Big Tech Companies in America and in China and the effects are devastating. I have spoken about the negative externalities of the Attention Economy before and as more and more economic activity and commerce moves online our attention becomes increasingly fragmented and shortened as brands, companies, influencers and the media all want more and more of our waning attention spans. Why is this all happening so fast is one question. Data is the new oil, and our data is worth increasing amounts of money to the highest bidders who are advertisers. And the brokers who own most of our data is the big tech companies and they sell our data to other corporations and advertisers as well as give our data to governments as well.
This is resulting in high levels of misinformation, data exploitation and social and political polarization as well as deforming capitalism and creating a few Big Tech Companies which are Walled Gardens where they capture most of the value from the technological exploitation which they are most responsible for conducting.
There is now alot of talk on antitrust and breaking up Big Tech and I think this is vastly important and that large-scale antitrust reform should in fact happen for a few reasons:
1. To empower a new generation of tech entrepreneurs, employees, content creators and startups/small businesses/new media companies and to oxygenate the marketplace and encourage new business formation
To unlock a new wave of disruptive innovation and creative destruction in which some of these trailblazing startups disrupt older established tech giants
To create more and better options for consumers with topics such as data privacy and new media in mind
To decrease income inequality, misinformation, negative externalities, crony capitalism, and strengthen the tax base
To improve democracy
However, we as individuals can use digital mindfulness, watch our screentime, use less social media, and use technology more responsibly and at least try to have some control over our attention, focus and energy.
What is more frightening is the Surveillance Capitalism paradigm shift on the back-end in which Big Tech Companies mine our data, profile us, sell our user data and profiles to third party advertisers so that they can become highly profitable and we as consumers get flooded with ads we don’t want to see. A few big tech companies also control the narrative around freedom of speech and are deplatforming individuals which is not the direction we should be heading toward. Big Tech Companies will become more powerful than governments as they gain unprecedented technological, economic and media power and the attention of people and Yuval Noah Harari points out that that is very dangerous to democracy.
Another problem is when large technology corporations work with foreign governments and enable the oppression of certain groups of people such as in the case with Nvidia, Intel and Oracle supporting the Chinese Government/Military/Police in building Hi-Tech surveillance systems to monitor, surveil the Chinese People and oppress/detain Uighurs - a Muslim minority group.
This is a massive problem with the ethics of an industry that wants to change the world. I think one of the solutions to problems with these exploitative and dark business practices is building technology products that move away from business models of surveillance capitalism and have Data Privacy and Data Security as fundamental features.
I have talked about 2 such technology products - Brave Browser as an alternative to traditional web browsers such as Google Chrome and Signal as an alternative to traditional mobile chat apps such as Facebook Messenger, iMessage and WhatsApp. Brave and Signal are both focused on data privacy, data security and move away from data surveillance, or surveillance capitalism.
Moving away from centralized forms of authority and institutional-driven decision-making to decentralized forms of authority and user-driven decision-making and moving from centralized technology corporations toward P2P and decentralized technologies and business models can help solve many of these problems.
Although Apple is a Big Tech Company, it has recently made moves on protecting user privacy as well and giving users a choice of letting iOS Apps track them.
I think these are all collectively great moves towards individual liberty, freedom and privacy and moves in the broader tech industry to focus on ethics, data privacy, user choice and uplifting people rather than oppressing people.