A lot of these debates are occurring in America, of course, because that’s where Big Tech is. But because of this, they also miss the global picture. It is difficult to argue, for instance, that breaking up Facebook would stop data collection when China owns half of all global VPN services. And even where politicians have tried to introduce privacy legislation into the tech marketplace, it has arguably done more harm than good. Some argue the GDPR itself represents a security risk, in that the company’s carefully collected consent data is now a major target for hackers.
Breaking Free of Big Tech – the legislative bridle
The solution to the ‘problem’ of Big Tech may not be to break up these companies. In an ideal world, we would have a global bill of rights governing privacy and individual freedoms. As you Aussies call it a level playing field where Big Tech can operate if it meets those privacy rights.
Not surprisingly, FAANG et al. support this, but secretly they know that we will never get global legislation (too many parochial issues with the US 51 states, let alone hundreds of countries and nations).
So, all we can do is tweak, as the UE has done with GDPR, individuals privacy levels. It is not a panacea by any means because all Big Tech needs to do is move operations to ‘Neverland’ to avoid such legislation.
Big Tech – simply break free
If recent industry trends are anything to go by, citizens are taking matters into their own hands.
The most difficult way is simply donning a tin-foil hat and stop using free Big Tech products. To an extent, your information is already out there, but going cold turkey can significantly reduce your attack vectors and exposure to hackers.
By attack vectors, we mean both personal data you reveal online and the monumental number of data breaches (you can get a free weekly data breach email here) – it is frightening.
Recent high-profile data leaks like that from Instagram have made people more aware than ever about just how much data is being collected on them. And as I argued in my last GadgetGuy article, this includes the devices we have in our homes, our emails, and our browsing data.
But despite the knowledge that Facebook et al. are dangerous and lead to ID theft or worse, what people want, it seems, is the advantages of huge networks like Facebook and Instagram, without the data harvesting that goes along with them.
Big Tech – arm yourself against privacy intrusion
That’s why one of the biggest tech industry growth sectors over the past five years has been in security tools. Privacy browsers like Brave and TOR, no tracking
Ironically much of the encryption tech in these tools started life as black hat hacker tools.
I think they represent the beginning of a revolutionary shift in the way that we use the web. Many people of a certain generation (and I’m one of them) talk wistfully about the early years of the internet, which was a magical place completely free of surveillance. The last ten years have been different, as data harvesting and subsequent monetisation of that data became the norm in that space.
Now, we are in a third age: one characterised by a continual struggle between Big Tech and the people who use it.
Big Tech – does FAANG provide valuable services, or are they our evil overlords?
At its core, the debate about the power and reach of Big Tech, and whether that is a problem, comes down to how we see these companies and how we value our privacy. I put it to you that online privacy is of equal weight to the privacy we expect in our homes and well, private lives.
These views are driving the political debate, also. As Vox argued last month, ‘a political promise to stand up to nefarious special interests sounds good, but a promise to take on companies that are offering great bargains is a much dicier proposition’.