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.

MIT Technology Review | Building a better data economy

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

  1. To unlock a new wave of disruptive innovation and creative destruction in which some of these trailblazing startups disrupt older established tech giants

  2. To create more and better options for consumers with topics such as data privacy and new media in mind

  3. To decrease income inequality, misinformation, negative externalities, crony capitalism, and strengthen the tax base

  4. To improve democracy

The New York Times | The Big Deal in Amazon’s Antitrust Case

The Intercept | Antitrust Makes A Comeback

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.

Information Epidemic, Protecting Your Attention in the Attention Economy, Digital Mindfulness

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.

The New York Times Wirecutter | We Checked 250 iPhone Apps—This Is How They’re Tracking You

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.

China’s Surveillance State Sucks Up Data. U.S. Tech Is Key to Sorting It.

The Intercept | How Oracle Sells Repression in China

The Intercept | How a Chinese Surveillance Broker Became Oracle’s “Partner of the Year”

The Intercept | A Conversation on Privacy

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.

Wired | Tech Companies Don't Need to Be Creepy to Make Money

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.

Brave Browser, Brendan Eich, Digital Privacy, Web 3.0 and the Battle Against AdTech Surveillance Capitalism

Signal Protocol — Open Source, Private, Encrypted Mobile Messaging App

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.

The Role of Blockchain, DeFi and Decentralization in the Digital Economy

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.

Apple Takes Action on Privacy, App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14.5

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.

The Data Privacy Revolution