Part A： The meaning of Techlash：
In the age of digital media, platforms are seen as technical tools that help build online infrastructure. These platforms not only bring convenience to people’s lives but also give people opportunities to have more opportunities to communicate with the world and reshape people’s lifestyles. However, digital technology has lost the trust of most people in recent years, and the growing hostility to tech giants is causing a shift that can be felt throughout the industry. (King, 2019) Both people and the government have negative sentiments and dissatisfaction with large technology companies, thinking that a series of social problems are caused by them, then this phenomenon is called Techlash.
Part B： What are the public concerns behind Techlash?
It is precisely because the emergence of technology giants has brought people not only a positive impact but also a strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence of such technology companies. As King (2019) said, the era of blindly trusting these five major technology companies (Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft) is over. The article will analyze the public’s concerns from two aspects: social issues and economic issues.
Social problem: 1. Invasion of privacy
Privacy issues have always been one of the most discussed topics on online platforms because people not only use online platforms as a tool to improve the efficiency of life, but it has become a part of people’s daily lives. All kinds of data and information in people’s lives are widely spread on the Internet, and technology companies, also need these data to establish their business models.
The “free” strategy adopted by many platforms has led to an ecosystem where the default model is to exchange personal information with convenient services. Consumers are starting to ask more questions about who owns their information, and more importantly, what they plan to do with the information. The digital footprint of ordinary people is huge, so it is difficult to take back control. (King, 2019) For example, a new clause in the Airbnb terms of service stipulates that The platform can share users’ personal information with affiliates and third parties for targeted advertising. (Van Dijck, 2018)
Although the platform and the customer will provide some informative information and terms of service, which contains content about information sharing in name to provide better services, the content is too long and difficult to understand, resulting in Often most people don’t even check this agreement.
- Rumor & Fake news
One side effect of the freedom provided by the Internet is the rapid spread of “fake news.” To ensure that the algorithms they rely on deliberately magnify the types of content that users participate in, giant technology companies relatively indulge the emergence of fake news, because research shows that lies spread faster than the truth. This is why fake news is better than real news.
As Cohen (2019) mentioned in his speech, the business models of social media platforms all rely on generating more participation. System design will create improper incentives at the expense of user value, such as advertising-based revenue models, and commercial rewards for the virality of clickbait and misinformation. (Berners-Lee, 2020)
Economic issues:– Monopoly of Internet giants.
World Economic Forum: Can we live with Monopolies? Via Youtube https://youtu.be/OksUxHOt1xc. License: Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed)
As we all know, there are five giants in the Internet industry in the past ten years, they have become larger and larger by avoiding and bypassing institutions and governments. The platform ecosystem mentioned by Van Dijck (2019) allows a variety of new users to enter; however, the unlimited growth of the five major infrastructure platforms leaves little room for competitors to penetrate the core of the US ecosystem. Facebook and Google are responsible for nearly 80% of the referral traffic of news publishers. In 2017, they accounted for about 80% of every new online advertising revenue in the United States. Google accounts for 85% of global online search advertising revenue. When you combine what Amazon sells itself with what others use it as a marketplace, the company controls approximately 40% of online commerce in the United States. (Smith, 2018) Such giant companies rely on their monopoly position in the industry to hinder the development of competitors to a certain extent.
Part C: To what extent can governments, technology companies, and civil society organizations solve these problems?
Government: formulating laws and regulations
The government uses the establishment of laws and regulations to restrict and supervise such large technology companies, take action when the interests of the private sector threaten the public interest and stand up to protect the open network. For example: in response to privacy issues, the EU issued the General Data Protection Regulation and the updated California Consumer Privacy Law and other regulations (Shankland, 2020). The United States introduced antitrust laws to prevent technology giants from anti-competitive situations in the industry.
The various laws and regulations promulgated by the government can prevent the problem from occurring to a certain extent because the strong supervision and legal binding force enable such large technology companies to make contributions to society following formal procedures. However, government supervision is a cumbersome and time-consuming project. As supervision, it cannot completely solve the problem, but easily affects the innovation and progress of enterprises. In general, the government needs to cooperate with technology companies to reduce negative impacts without affecting the development of science and technology.
Technology companies: self-regulation
With all kinds of problems emerging in an endless stream, to reduce the negative impact, technology companies have also made self-regulation and set up new algorithms at the platform technology level to protect people’s rights. For example, Facebook has deployed a new fact-checker to help it deal with the spread of misinformation. But even so, how the company decides which content to remove and which content to allow may be another point of contention. (King, 2019) The adjustments made by the platform itself will be more direct and effective than the government’s supervision, but there are still platforms that blur the category and are established in the gray area of laws and regulations. They use various online advantages to circumvent supervision.
For example, Airbnb claims to be a technology company that provides connection services for users in specific industries and claims that it does not assume any responsibility. Uber has long rejected the title of “taxi business”, thus bypassing the regulations that apply to the transportation industry (Van Dijck, 2018) The emergence of technology companies is to be able to build more convenient online platforms to serve the public, but at the same time they also need to make profits to maintain the long-term business. Self-regulation is a company’s self-choice. They hope to maintain safety through regulation, but at the same time, the restrictions brought by over-regulation will also cause them to lose some of their customers.
Civil society organizations:
–promote technology companies and the government’s supervision through public opinion
According to data, 70% of consumers are worried about their information security, and 66% of consumers are worried about whether the platform will use their personal information for commercial profit. (Shankland, 2020) People are paying more and more attention to the social problems caused by techlash, and there are more concerns about the negative impact of private security and fake news. People will discuss on the platform, calling for and calling on more people to join and urge the supervision of technology companies. When public opinion was at its peak, technology companies had to show up to respond and make guarantees. As Shankland (2020) said, “Trust is the ultimate currency of the digital economy”, to restore trust and establish a good corporate image, they have to make adjustments and inform the public of the results and steps. However, civil society organizations still need to work closely with technology companies and the government to resolve techlash in a democratic, free, and fair manner. Such discussions and activities can not only help more people realize the importance of rights protection, but also help implement effective supervision.
Part D: Conclusion
In general, techlash is the dissatisfaction and negative sentiment towards the practices of giant technology companies in recent years. Then the social and economic problems caused by the techlash mentioned above are all single individuals of the government, technology companies, and the public. Unable to completely solve the problem, they need to work closely together to form a triangle to supervise each other. As Berners Lee (2019) pointed out, when problems arise, you can’t just blame one of them. Maintaining a good platform ecosystem requires everyone in the world to work together.
- Berners-lee, T. (2019, March 12). 30 Years on, What’s next #ForTheWeb?World Wide Web Foundation. https://webfoundation.org/2019/03/web-birthday-30/
- Smith, E.(2018, January 20). The Techlash against Amazon, Facebook and Google—and What They Can Do. The Economist. https://www.economist.com/briefing/2018/01/20/the-techlash-against-amazon-facebook-and-google-and-what-they-can-do
- Cohen, S. B. (2019, November 22). Read Sacha Baron Cohen’s Scathing Attack on Facebook in Full: “Greatest Propaganda Machine in History.”The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/nov/22/sacha-baron-cohen-facebook-propaganda
- Huddleston, J. (2019, September 25). Breaking up “Big Tech” Is the Latest “Techlash,” but What Would It Actually Do? The Hill. https://thehill.com/opinion/technology/462995-breaking-up-big-tech-is-the-latest-techlash-but-what-would-it-actually-do?rl=1
- King, F. (2019, July 11). What Is Techlash and What Does It Mean for the Digital Industry?Baltic Apprenticeships. https://www.balticapprenticeships.com/blog/what-is-techlash-and-what-does-it-mean-for-the-digital-industry
- Shankland, S. (2020, February 12). Protect Privacy or Pay the Price of Consumer Techlash, Report Warns Accenture, an Influential Global Consulting Firm, Says Business Success Mustn’t Come at the Expense of Customers Worrying about Digital Dystopia. https://www.cnet.com/tech/services-and-software/protect-privacy-or-pay-the-price-of-consumer-techlash-report-warns/
- Van Dijck, J., Poell, T. & de Waal, M. (2018, October) The Platform Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 5-32 (‘The Platform Society as a Contested Concept’).