The Big Tech Monopoly

Emmanuel Christi Das, Editor
Big Tech MonopolyThe past week witnessed the megaphones of the internet on a hunting spree, deplatforming Donald Trump in the wake of the US Capitol storming. Now that's not even the weird part. This is; Pinterest blocked the President of the United States. And I can't seem to come around this fact, as to how is Pinterest of any interest to nation politics? Nevertheless, the entire “left vs right” theatrics exposed the fragility of our institutions. The big tech jumped right into the barrel of a cannon by trying to silence the leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world. Facebook and Twitter especially, got severe burns as both suffered a significant market wipeout. While Facebook saw $47.6 billion erased from its public valuation, Twitter’s market cap plunged by $3.5 billion. Now, the takeway here is that the entire drama was a wake up call to people around the world, especially, the heads of the states. Countries like Poland took their lessons, and are reportedly mulling a law to fine Big Tech firms $2.2 million every time they censor lawful speech online. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Twitter’s decision to ban Donald Trump, “problematic”.
 
Here's what some of the leaders of Tech giants had to say about all the sacking Trump faced:
 
“A lot of people are going to be super unhappy with West Coast high tech as the de facto arbiter of free speech.”–Elon Musk
 
“For me, Jack banning Trump violates one principle of liberal-democraticness (Jack was not elected by a vote), but the event was a huge win for another principle of liberal-democraticness: separation of powers.”–Vitalik Buterin, founder, Ethereum
 
“The sudden fetishization of Terms of Service as a protection for free speech and due process is absurd. All that ToS stipulates is that you can say what the tech elite allows you to say.”–David Sacks, founder, Yammer
 
 
Considering the Upside of Big Tech's
 
Building an infrastructure that benefits the whole world is no easy feat. We can disagree as much as we want, but there's no denying to it that we all have one way or the other benefitted from the products of the big tech. It is highly likely that you are consuming this content on one of their products. However, in no way its an excuse for the cancel culture. Especially, considering the regulations are highly partisan in nature.
 
Last year, when COVID-19 haunted the west, the tech firms asked their employees to work from home. Here, Content moderators at Twitter and Facebook too started working from home. This change in culture invited an increased distress for the human moderators, whose job was now to manually flag malicious players on the platform. The heaviness of the content did take a toll on them. Obviously, you guessed it right, they brought in Artificial Intelligence. The big tech tried to replace these moderators with AI-based filtering. Well, it back-fired. AI filters struggled and led to quite a few accidental deletions of non-malicious content putting the whole notion of freedom of speech in the well.
 
Today, the Big Tech firms are worth a combined $5 trillion(almost equal to Japan’s GDP). Organizations like Google and Apple have got the markets in a spot by offering services of the highest quality. However, the consolidation of the market chokes the life out of healthy competition. A good case in point; the social media platform Parler that was taken down overnight. Your app should be hosted on servers owned by AWS. It is only available and can be only downloaded from app stores owned by Google and Apple. It can only run on operating systems owned by Google and Apple. Now, when these handful of companies decide to set the protocol and play Godfather, things get messy. And worst case scenrio, sometimes the Guillotine drops on a select few. Users have reported to have been blocked by Google quoting"repeatedly going against our community standards", when they had not once been warned for, or hinted on any uncomfortable posts.
 
 
As per the data released by the Federal Election Commission, employees at Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Oracle have contributed $4,787,752 to Biden, 20 times the amount Trump received ($239,527). The scale is clearly inclined to one direction. And, to what extent these vested interests of the unelected few dictate the freedom of the elected officials is still up for debate. So, here's a very important question: should the rest of the world be worried? Is there an alternative?
 
What can India Do? or Should Do?
 
To be honest, as of now, there is not much we can do. Consider this for instance, India welcomed its big digital disruption brought on by Reliance Jio. The 
telecommunication giant entered the competetion as the cheapest internet service provider. Like a mammoth it single handedly took the 'internet' to almost every Indian household, uprooted its competitors and drove them to eventually follow Jio's strategy. Today, Jio has its hands dipped into everything, from 5G to OTT  service, from AR/VR products to AI and more. To pull off a Google or a Facebook, India needs an impetus of Jio-esque proportions, which currently Jio is not in the position to do or even think of since Google and Facebook have made humongous investments in Jio. 
 
Google poured ₹33,737 crores in Jio Platforms; a 7.73% stake in Jio– one of the largest investments by Google in an Indian company. Will other players or newer ones pull their socks to take on these giants? Will the government support them? There are many such dilemmas, which can discourage many aspirants at once. And let's just assume, even if a local player rises and succeeds in building an OS, app store or a search engine, chances are given enough time they too would eventually go down the same dark alleys as those of the big tech companies. 
 
So, should the Indian regulators take control of the social media? Maybe, we can take some cue from China!
 
So, how can any community escape the eternal tug of war for power between the media and the state? One potential solution is decentralisation. Developing and deploying technologies like blockchain is not straightforward. But, there have been few successes of late. When Sci-Hub– a portal to access scientific research papers behind paywall– was suspended, the website created a censorship-resistant alternative based on blockchain.
 
At the same time, Paytm, India’s top payment app has launched an Android mini app store for developers and customers who are searching for alternatives other then Google play store– the go-to option for all Android users. “Paytm Mini App Store empowers our young Indian developers to leverage our reach and payments to build new innovative services,” said CEO, Vijay Shekhar Sharma.
 
However, the blockchain landscape in India is in a nascent stage. According to India’s policy thinktank NITI Aayog, it is crucial to first understand the mechanism of decentralisation or peer-to-peer exchange. It also has to be understood separately from government regulation – networks completely regulated by governments can be decentralised and feature peer-to-peer exchange and, totally centralised systems can also be unregulated and operate beyond the bounds of law. Decentralised networks do not necessarily mean they aren’t regulated.
 
We can safely assume that big-tech’s dubious handling of free speech will set new precedents  and  will serve as a shot in the arm for developers across the globe working on decentralisation technologies. We’re transitioning through a temporary bug in the Internet’s history before we knew how to build open social protocols. 
 
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