One fine morning In India, millions of Android phone users (Google Mobile operating system), discovered a strange phone number in their address book which they have never entered. It was the number of UIDAI helpline, and all hell broke loose (UIDAI is managing Aadhar – a Govt run a biometric program to create a unique identification system for all Indian citizens). Pretty soon, it started trending on Twitter with allegations flying thick and high. Privacy activists who are already highly suspicious of Narendra Modi Govt went on a super allegation spree. Is it Ministry of Electronics or Ministry of Communication or UIDAI itself or BJP govt (interesting nobody blamed foreign hand – the default culprit behind everything going wrong in India). However, all the outrage quickly died down when it appeared that it was Google which had inserted UIDAI contact number in phone books (so it was really a foreign hand this time). All outrage on a state having access to phone books while no outrage while a private company incorporated for profit having full access!!
In another universe, some years back there was a huge uproar about NSA snooping over call data / accessing chats/emails etc. It created a huge uproar among activists/privacy champions and everybody questioned NSA who was trying hard to figure out terrorist activities. However, there has been no outrage or hysteria when same activists buy Amazon eco and use Alexa or Google assistant and allow the companies to listen to everything. Some activists believe that one can opt out from subscribing to these services and these are optional services. Really!!
Very recently, in a coordinated move, Apple, FaceBook and Google, all US companies governed by US laws, purged some ultra-right activist presence on their system as they found his content offensive. No first amendment/free speech protection worked here. There were hardly any voice protesting this move but rather applauses as the majority was not happy with that particular person. What if the leadership of these technology majors subscribe to some extreme ideologies or have the error of judgment? any scope of appeal or play of natural justice.
It seems that citizens have more freedom in physical space and access to the law but are just powerless data/revenue source without any right/legal recourse for all tech companies.
From a distance, it seems like the biggest paradox of our times, where we are willing to put maximum trust in the for-profit digital private enterprises but are deeply suspicious of Governments/welfare state.
The one reason can be related to the influence or control which digital private enterprises have on our life compared to the governments. While we are hardly dependant on the govt in conducting over day to day life, we literally can’t function without access to the digital world. Imagine for a moment where Facebook bans you and google does not accept you as you refuse to sign their “not another yada yada” terms of conditions! You are an app developer or an Amazon seller and one fine day without assigning any reasons, Google / Apple / Amazon can wipe your economic existence without giving even a hint or scope of redressal. Life suddenly can be very lonely or can have server economic consequences against which you have very little chance of appeal or redressal. Courts can do a little as you have agreed to those 40 pages of terms of conditions and knowing your senator/member of parliament won’t help as we are yet to build a knowhow to penetrate support call centers.
Interestingly while one shall expect Governments to be extra vigilant about the excessive power being enjoyed by these digital private enterprises, Govt seems to be either clueless or seems to be providing more and more powers to these faceless, unaccountable private enterprises who are getting more and more powerful thanks to the network effect. However, we hardly see any government action like it was done against AT&T etc in the early 70s. Interestingly governments seem to be totally oblivious to the danger and power of these new powerhouses as we have seen in terms of fake news or Cambridge analytics scandal etc.
The role of Russia in manipulating US presidential election is still being debated however very few have questioned the role Facebook played in influencing elections or pondered about the role except few meme or jokes. Any law being passed to limit social media control. What if there is an enemy within and some evil Dr manages the election using social media? So far, all focus has remained on Russia, but almost negligible measures have been taken to control or manage SocialMedia influence related to management of state/democracies. Already elections are being won or lost, people are being killed on basis of some rumors being spread on social media, reputation, and livelihood of the digital population is being managed beyond their control while the state looks on in a confused state!
Has the end of nation-state began and the age of corporate state arrived?
Part II – Money