Big Tech politics

By: Jurgen Vlaar

We are entering a new era of the digital age and too many governments are not equipped yet. Government institutions with too much bureaucracy make the transition too slow-moving for them to keep up with the rapidly changing digital landscape. That is why they should reshape their way of working towards something called ‘Smart Governance’.

Smart governance is a way for governments to find a balance of giving authority to tech companies to get more of a say in the public domain while still keeping the democratic system intact. On one hand, we need the knowledge and information that tech companies possess which government organisations simply do not have. On the other hand, tech companies need to respect the responsibility they are handed to help solving social problems.

Marco Hofman, an expert on governance, states that this calls for the government to give more room for improvisation. “The technological developments that tech companies make are unpredictable and fast. It is impossible for governments to keep up with that. This calls for them to work with those companies instead of trying to compete with them. That will require a lot of complex improvisation but that really is the only way,” Hofman says.

The reason that tech companies need to have a say in the first place is because of the rise of the importance of the internet according to Hofman. “People now form communities in the digital world instead of the individualised psychical world and this new phenomenon is called the network society,” Hofman states. Most of the information derived from the newly formed communities is in the hands of big-tech companies such as Facebook and Google, rather than in the database of the centralised government.

An example of the government working with tech companies already is how The Johan Cruijf Arena has made a security system with the local government: “Cisco and Huawei developed sensors on lights that can shine brighter to give more a feeling of safety and people are pinged through their GSM number through 5G technology,” Hofman says. Another example is the city of Rio de Janeiro where they managed to create a central point in which they can monitor the entire city for potential earthquakes, riots and big festivals. This central point wasn’t possible if they didn’t work with IBM for it.

Not democratic

It sounds convenient for governments to keep everyone safe, but there is a flipside. These tech companies do not have a democratic base. This is troublesome if they are going to have more power in the public domain, Hofman claims: “They need to incorporate a more democratic structure within those organisations to balance it out if that is the case. Both from within the organisation, with workplace democracy and from the outside, with special voting systems for people to have a say in that company. Especially when it is about subjects surrounding privacy or freedom of speech for example.”

The way big-tech is currently structured causes distrust within a vast majority of the people in this world. According to a study done by WhistleOut, an australian media company that focuses on IT, 85% of people think they are being spied on by at least one big-tech company. Aside from that, 57% of people are in favour of banning at least one big-tech company. The tech giants are surrounded by suspicion. By letting people have a say and by making procedures more transparent, trust can be regained.

Global governments and Big Tech companies need each other more than they would like to admit. Governments cannot handle the new network society on their own. They need to integrate tech companies into their way of governing. On the other hand, Big Tech companies need the reliability, stability and most of all democracy that governments can provide. Both parties need to place their pride aside and form an allegiance within the new network society.