By Anjan Roy
One indirect result of the Covid-19 outbreak is the further vindication of the metamorphosis of the technology companies from private sector profit-earning units to the status of essential public utility services.
Old people living on their own have ordered medicines on various specialised internet sites, some teachers have used these for teaching their beleaguered students at home. Ordering food on some popular sites or groceries on the world’s largest e-commerce company has proved to be a rescue arm for many.
In times of outbreak when the lock-down were imposed by most countries, these technology firms played a critical role of facilitators. They had turned out to be essential services like electricity or water supplies, The Economist maintains.
If all businesses have suffered grievously following lock down in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak, the technology giant have gained further muscles. These are the powerful transnational digital companies and more specifically just about five or so technology biggies.
The technology firms’ platforms were used widely for putting through video conferencing for co-ordination of actions among governments bodies as well as among the non-governmental organisations. They were used for their apps for supply of food to drugs to people stuck in lock down scenarios.
The platforms of Google, Facebook or Amazon were the only succour to the besieged public for ordering essential items or for communications among anxious kins. They have earned the gratitude of the public and their range has widened substantially in the process.
This is not just one-sided service. The more these platforms are used the more they generate data and as has come to be known data is the “oil” of the future, Every user who have logged in on these platforms have given their personal details, maybe, of limited nature. But these can build the architecture for future generation of more specialised data applications.
These companies admittedly warn about “cookies” which they introduce when the services are used. Most people agree to these when they are in need of communication of or ordering essentials. But then, for future these data could be highly useful for specified business purposes later on.
They are thus acquiring valuable capital in course of their use by the public. These assets could be used to huge profit later on. Tis might be a price the users would at any rate agree for the advantages they are gaining in trying times.
But then, there is another aspect of their functioning which needs to be underlined.
Unlike other essential services, the digital ones are left completely unregulated. The electricity supplying companies or power distribution units are closed monitored and their charges are also regulated by the government’s regulatory arms. Not so the digital service providers.
Telecommunications firms for example are under the surveillance of the Telecoms Regulatory Authority (TRAI). They have to pay license fees and other dues to the government at huge costs to their customers as well as investors. The disputes over the ADR payments of mobile companies is a case in point.
However, similar telecommunication services provided by the digital technology major are under no one’s supervision. Maybe, one can say that the WhatsApp telephone calls are free. But it is these types of free services which attract massive number of people to register with them. They are therefore in a position to command digital advertisement revenues from other corporates who are competing for eyeballs.
In multifarious ways they are companies which refused to placed in boxes. Most of the digital portals and platforms are providing updated news as asides and thereby they are competing with the media. And yet, they do not come under any of the self-governing rules of media organisations.
In this respect, they generation of viewer based is also giving rise to so-called fake news. There is little control on what is being put on these platforms and as we have seen such bits and pieces could result in untold mischief fraught with grave consequences.
Once the dusts settle and the virus is put back into the bottle by the scientists, there will need sometime in the future to think about these humongous technology companies and how to touch these utterly private companies which are all but public arms touching every bit of our society and life.
They will become immensely powerful and could sway the public’s reactions on critical matters. Already they are in their aggregate financially immensely powerful having under their belt monies which are more than most of the even medium sized countries. Technologically, financially, in their essentiality, the post corona world will not be able to function without them. But they would be without any control or regulation. How best we should be able to guide them for overall good in future. (IPA Service)