By Alex Lightman,
Alex Lightman is the chairman of Coinfield, a regulated exchange operating in 186 countries, which is currently offering the Coinfield coin at Coinfieldcoin.com. He is a director on the board of Tingo, Inc. (OTCBB: IWBB), Africa’s leading Afro-fintech with 10 million. Lightman is the author or co-author of five books, most recently the Amazon bestseller Augmented: Life In The Smart Lane. He attended MIT and Harvard.
The term Big Tech is reserved for megacorporations that control the lion’s share of the global technology and software market. These companies, also known as The Big Five, are Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta — until recently known as Facebook — and Microsoft.
The Covid-19 epidemic has only strengthened the position of the Big Tech companies as global businesses started moving a large portion of their operations online from fear of having their employees contract the disease. The Big Tech giants were swift in their reaction to the quarantine restrictions on communication by deploying a large array of applications and software packages for their clients in an effort to capitalize on the big new remote working solutions market.
The Big Five earned revenues equaling 68% of US GDP growth even before the pandemic arrived on the scene. With each new Covid wave, and the enforcement of quarantine measures, these giants struck gold and raked in astronomical annual revenues. Meta, formerly Facebook, earned over $55 billion in 2020, Amazon made over $233 billion, Apple reported $265 billion in earnings, Microsoft declared $110 billion, and Google $137 billion.
When the pandemic finally proved to be a power to be reckoned with in economic terms, the question of control over information flows became a matter of life and death for states in the mounting struggle for geopolitical dominance and the internal strife that ignited against the backdrop of restrictive quarantine measures. Data stream controlling companies — Apple, Google, Twitter, Meta/Facebook, Amazon and all their subsidiary companies — suddenly found it economically profitable to become turncoat fighters against free speech on the internet, essentially taking on pro-partisan stances instead of their usual states of neutrality.
The blocking of Donald Trump’s personal accounts on Twitter and Facebook, as well as the ensuing ban on his Parler social network, are clear evidence of the sellout nature of the Big Tech giants, who are ready to become political players in their own right. The manipulation of social opinion and data on the internet became a new weapon for political elites and, as the gateways and censors of virtually all online social networks and communication channels, the Big Tech giants decided to take sides for profit.
Another market where Big Tech makes huge profits, and has its manipulative efforts rewarded, is digital advertising. With input from their ‘masters’, the Big Tech giants effectively leverage this immensely powerful market, where they have a stranglehold monopoly of over 50% in the West. Advertisements affect the choices and tastes of billions of people, resulting in huge profits for these monopolists, and giving them the ability to influence the decisions made by both consumers, and entire classes of populations in countries of interest.
The main support that Meta/Facebook, Google, Apple, and other Big Tech companies rely on in their dominance is the fact that people spend a lot of time on smartphones. As long as people remain online and browse social network feeds, they are subject to manipulation. During the pandemic, the amount of time spent online increased significantly by over 25% to almost 7 hours a day on average — catastrophic figures in many respects.
The coronavirus epidemic coincided with pressure from the Chinese government on local tech giants, at a time when local authorities started combatting the destructive influence of foreign social media on local society and mentality.
The restrictions that were enforced by the Chinese government on local tech companies included a range of court cases and seizures, and even de facto bans on IPOs and entry into foreign markets. After Alibaba founder Jack Ma publicly criticized the Chinese authorities and state banks for their “pawnshop mentality” and opposition to innovation in October of 2020, his companies started encountering numerous problems and restrictions in the local market. In December of 2020, an antitrust investigation was launched in full against Alibaba Group. Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings will have to get approval from Chinese regulators to release updates and new applications as a result of the enquiry.
Video game market restrictions were also put in place. According to the new rules, gaming platforms can only allow children to access their services from 8 PM to 9 PM on Fridays, weekends, and holidays. The previously set limit on playing time for teenagers was one and a half hours a day. Severe regulation of the edtech market increased the pressure on the highly competitive local labor market and exacerbated the country’s problem of unemployment.
The immense pressure that China is experiencing from its geopolitical rivals and economic competitors is reason enough and an effective measure for strict regulation of Big Tech. But the repression of individual entrepreneurs and the destruction of entire sectors of the economy is not a solution. The Chinese government is likely trying to make a show of force to bring local Big Tech companies in line with national ideals and economic interests.
The problem with freedom of speech and the monopoly of Big Tech is being highlighted even by the representatives of these businesses. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, seems to have become a pioneer as he announced the development of a decentralized social network.
Decentralized social networks are considered the next iteration of such venues of public communication, networking, advertising, content-creation, and entertainment. By being established on immutable and decentralized infrastructures provided by blockchain technologies, such next-gen social networks present immense potential for both individuals and businesses.
But to be effective and free of the influence of the Big Tech giants, next-gen social networks should be open-source in terms of coding, and apply decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) principles for community governance. Such a basis will allow for democratic decision-making and make users co-owners and partners in determining the vector of development in IT companies.
There were attempts at launching decentralized social networks even as early as 2016, with GNU Social, Twister, Pump, Pandora, Hubzilla, and Mastodon. But the community and technology were not sufficiently developed at the time to allow such projects to scale. A new wave of decentralized social media hit in 2017 with Steemit, Sola, Diaspora, Manyverse, and Minds to name but a few.
There are alternatives to Big Tech outside the social media space. Solutions that would free the online world from the chokehold of Big Tech have to be aimed at the strengthening of public control over technological platforms without fear of repression, and the creation of alternatives using blockchain technology and open source software.
The ideal scenario is for every business niche to have inexpensive and convenient alternatives to Big Tech solutions, which are often archaic and binding. These should include mapping technologies, operating systems, data management, and much more.
The privacy-first services of the decentralized internet and Web 3.0 will compete with Big Tech in the near future, and some companies are already taking the fight to the market. Among the most notable blockchain startups in the given sector are the Brave browser, Helium, PKT, Chronicled, Arctouch, Filament, NetObjex, Hypr, Cadena, Flux, Xage Security, GridPlus, and many others, all of which offer an extensive range of software solutions that often outstrips Big Tech alternatives in terms of effectiveness, convenience, and cost.
The fight against Big Tech in China and the gradual limitation of the monopoly of Big Tech in the United States raise questions related not just to the interests of individual users or big profits. The main issue associated with Big Tech is that of a power struggle and the manipulation of public opinion for that aim.
But the alternative to Big Tech, presented by Web 3.0 blockchain startups and open source, will eventually dominate as users migrate to the decentralized environment in search of digital freedom and new opportunities.