What is Techlash?
Since the early 21st century, significant information technology progress has driven the world into an entirely new and modern era – the digital age. Over time, several large technology companies, known as “Big Tech,” have broken out from a heavy siege and dominated the digital market. “Big Tech” is commonly used to indicate the “Big Five” in the information technology industry of the United States: Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, as well as their current competitors from China: Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent, and Xiaomi, collectively referred to as BATX. Subsequently, the Economist (2018) introduced the concept “Techlash,” a phenomenon created to describe the gradually increased animus toward the concentration of growing power of “Big Tech” and technology itself. There are three main factors attribute to this generalized opposition: innovation, globalization, and oligopoly maintenance. Firstly, innovation has brought creative society development and continuous improvement. What is more, globalization has provided the reorganization of production, trade, and the integration of international markets. Moreover, oligopoly maintenance has helped create opportunities and prospects for monopolizing the market. Although this “Techlash” phenomenon has promoted social development and progress on human civilization in several ways, it brought adverse effects and public concerns. At the same time, it has strengthened calls for greater platform accountability and governance against monopolies in the digital industry.
Nevertheless, the “Techlash” phenomenon has not escaped criticism from public concerns, despite its societal and individual benefits.
Monopoly & Unfair Competition
First of all, “Techlash” has fostered monopoly and unfair competition. Large technology companies use their dominant market positions to set norms and rules that further crowd out smaller or emerging companies and stifle the survival of their competitors.
Violation of Users’ Privacy
Additionally, “Techlash” violated users’ privacy. Since the commercialization of platforms, the idea of “surveillance capitalism” has been introduced (Shoshone, 2018). Merchandised platforms have begun to use pervasive tracking methods and ubiquitous data collection on their websites, taking cookies as an example. These practices have been eroding all of the user privacy.
The Filter Bubble
Moreover, with the innovation and popularization of algorithmic recommendations, “Techlash” has facilitated online companies to manipulate consumers through dark patterns. In 2011, Elis Pariser (2011) introduced the concept of “The Filter Bubble.” Technology companies cater to the users’ preferences and only recommend content that users might like better since they want to keep the usage and Internet traffic. Gradually, content that disagrees with their users, ideas, and people that challenge their existing values are excluded by the algorithm recommendation because internet companies think it will make their users more likely to leave their applications. Over time, users will only be exposed to contents that they do not have to think deeply about and naturally accept. “Techlash critics argue that the Internet polarizes societies through filter bubbles in which Internet users only consume information from like-minded sources” (Boxell et al., 2017).
Undermine of Pluralism in Journalism
Besides, “Techlash” has undermined pluralism in news publishing. The penetration and dominance of Internet use have changed the business models rapidly. Several large technology companies have taken the profits away so that many newspapers have lost their revenue as readers began accessing free articles online. As a result, the sink in funding for journalism has become a significant challenge for media companies.
In addition, “Techlash” has increased income inequalities. In the future, going forward, most income revenue from automated technology would be taken up by capitalism so that employees will receive fewer wages, and the unemployment rate in the workforce will increase as well. Last but not least, “Techlash” has facilitated racism, discrimination, and hate speech. Platforms, social media, and other online applications have offered radical groups an open space to express their opinions freely and the potential to recruit their followers more easily.
As technology development is moving too fast，with large technology companies called “overlords,” the digital market should have tightened governance and supervision approaches.
In addressing the issues and concerns outlined above, there are three parties to start with: governments, civil society organizations (CSOs), and technology companies themselves. Firstly, government regulation is a traditional approach that official policymakers and regulators should step in and implement a regulatory regime. Nowadays, national governments seek strategies to regulate the contents and operations of those digital media companies which have gone global to challenge their power and social influence (Flew et al., 2019). The executive power of government supervision is strong, and the external supervision system is excellent; the law is the basis for introducing and enforcing regulatory rules in particular industries. However, if it is through government supervision, the process of rulemaking, supervision, and enforcement is costly over time; some scholars criticized that the government’s regulatory actions are too slow to keep up with the pace of technological innovation. Policymakers and regulators may lack a precise and efficient understanding of technology (Hemphill, 2019). Moreover, different countries have different legal systems, and the rules set by the governments may be challenging to implement across borders.
Civil Society Organizations
Secondly, civil society organizations, namely non-governmental organizations, are groups of people in a particular industry coming together to define and address existing and potential risks with a high degree of public interest. Citizens’ participation in the ranks of supervising technology companies can increase citizens’ awareness of protecting their rights and interests. The participation of civil society can promote public opinions support for supervision and make the public aware of the necessity of supervision. Civil society can gather diverse forces and attract people from all walks of life. However, the supervision of civil society organizations is more of an advocacy initiative, and the actual implementation requires cooperation with the governments or technology companies, and ultimately it must resort to laws or industry organization rules to supervise. In addition, the online content landscape appears to have a more excellent distribution of governments interest, compared to other industries where civil society is a crucial driver and advocate for many informal governance arrangements (Vogel, 2010).
Thirdly, self-regulation is an approach that asks individual companies to consider and address the societal impact of their technologies under the category of “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR). For companies, self-regulation can be more efficient. Rulemaking, supervision, and execution are time-consuming through government supervision, while self-regulation is fast and efficient to protect consumers quickly. In addition, platform companies have a better understanding of the technology and business of the industry. As a result, self-supervising and formulating guidelines are often more practical and realistic, and the goals set are easier to achieve. However, the primary motivation of platform companies is to achieve corporate growth and global expansion profit, regardless of public value. It is not easy to guarantee that technology companies will supervise themselves fairly and impartially. If there is no incentive mechanism, the executive power of the platform’s self-monitoring is not strong. As Flew (2019) indicated that while self-regulation is efficient, it also means that these regulatory decisions might be made under little or no accountability and transparency, making it difficult for technology companies to balance maintenance of profitability and openness in their functions. In addition, self-regulation is reactive, namely that technology companies only respond after arisen problems, increased risks, and unwanted native attention on them. Besides, self-supervision can be conflicting, which may lead to unnecessary business conflicts within or among companies.
To summarize, technology is a fundamental force for human progress, and it can also present real challenges which deserve a wise, thoroughly considered, and effective response. The technical infrastructure of the Internet interacts with government regulation and the capabilities of human progress. These applications, contents, and human activities are enabled and facilitated through the Internet, meaning that the scope of governance of information technology is comprehensive. In order to interpret governance and supervision in a broader sense, the Internet should be regulated and managed at several levels (Flew et al., 2019).
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