Are we moving to a point where our lives are regulated more by the big technology companies than our laws and moral standards? The big tech are International and local companies that command a huge share of the world and local markets. Google, Facebook, Twitter and locally, Safaricom. The power they wield is so huge both at individual and at the wider society level. These applications are used daily by individuals and therefore they acquire large amounts of personal data day and night. They also command a huge market share such that their names and products have become widely used verbs in everyday conversations. Their market share has also allowed them to enter and disrupt traditional markets. A good example is Safaricom which traditionally offered voice services, and has grown to offer mobile banking, home broadband and domestic energy services.
If they wield so much power, should we be concerned? Ofcourse there are possible dangers of citizens being regulated by technology companies other than the provided legislation in their respective boundaries. As much as big tech have grown over time, such that they are heavily relied on for daily essential services like communications and money transactions, some of them have become part of critical information infrastructure and have experienced downtime freezing the economy for significant periods of time. A good example is the mpesa. They have also been able to enter new markets, forced people into closing businesses through their disruptions, and dominating new markets. Regulation should come not as a punishment to these companies, but as a way of to protecting citizens, ensuring continuity of service provision and creating conducive environments through which the both the big tech and other business flourish.
When huge numbers of people are physically brought together; for schooling, for rallies and for other collective functions, the convenors bear huge responsibility to protecting the participants. Same as the big social platforms, Facebook Twitter and Google have come under heavy criticism whenever their users’ rights are abused. As a result, they have tried to develop their own community standards that have again clashed with their users freedoms and rights. Facebook has suspended activists accounts on grounds of spreading misinformation and violent content, but without proper procedures that allow for appeals.
The idea of having a super regulator is also not fit at all because most big techs are in different industry and would therefore require to abide by multiple sector regulation. Further, the international policy landscape can be very chaotic, and slow to policy responses because of the multiple interests at play. A big global regulator would likely fail to move with the pace of tech developments. Even if we are to have it, what would it look like? Would it be a private company? an IGO? under what jurisdiction? It is more a question of who would you want to control/own the internet?
Over the last few weeks the regulator and the Kenya Revenue Authority(KRA) have attempted to develop policies to regulate and tax the e commerce industry, including the big tech companies. They bring forward a very valid case for their regulation and taxation. The big tech have negatively affected revenues as they influence the huge shift of physical businesses to their platforms. There are very little incentive for online traders to register their businesses, or have websites when they can have Facebook pages.
However the technical models of implementing these policies are not feasible. Regulating big tech would require a more diplomatic approach.
The companies have also faced challenges of applying different laws in the different countries.In what may seem fair regulations to one country, would be seen very unfair in another because of the varying cultural contexts. The European General Data protection Regulations(GDPR) offered a better model for regulation by standardizing policies at a regional level. It also gives the bargaining power for countries to demand for accountabilities from these companies. France can sue google because it carries the support of other EU member states from the same regulations.
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