Global experts have warned of the rise of ‘digital colonialism’, and have asked people to safeguard their data and avoid disclosing or storing any more sensitive information, such as credit card details and email passwords online, as this could be used by tech giants to monitor and report on people’s activities.
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The concept and discussions of digital colonialism have been discussed by internet watchdogs and academic researchers in terms of the grip of potentially unchecked power it gives corporations such as Facebook and Google, which have access to personal data of hundreds of millions of people around the world, who use their services, often multiple times in a day, through mobile devices and computers.
so that people can continue to access them during these challenging times. Putting more information on servers, however, means more of it is accessible to the corporations that hold this data.
“Prodding people towards online ‘solutions’ during a global pandemic like the coronavirus is perhaps unsurprising given that the default model of capitalism today is seemingly a world of online convenience built upon the foundations of seemingly inevitable processes of data collection,” wrote Anri van der Spuy, a PhD researcher at the London School of Economics.
“Concerns about our relations with data and data barons have become more widespread over the past three to five years,” she added. “Many of these critics have focused on certain aspects or impacts of data relations; prodding the ways in which data extraction can discriminate against society’s most vulnerable through the automation of inequality; or criticising one type of contemporary capitalism which provides ostensibly ‘free’ services while monitoring our behaviour in extraordinary detail.”
While governments did not recognise the control global tech corporations had over people’s lives if they controlled their data, they are now waking up to and enacting legislation to ensure people’s private lives remain just that…private.
In March 2018, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was summoned to the US Senate to provide an explanation, after a Facebook data breach, on why his company needed to hold on to so much information from people, and what they did with it. That same year, in The Internet Health Report, which is published by Mozilla, the company that founded Mozilla Firefox, human rights lawyer Renata Avila, a digital rights advisor to the World Wide Web Foundation, said the control corporations have over data today is very similar to the power empires exercised over the lives of the common people.
“The foundations of freedom and democracy are at stake when centralized, global agents have the power to monitor, process and mediate all user communications,” she explained. “They analyse personal data and make collective behaviour predictable, and the knowledge is privatized and protected by trade secret laws.
She went on to say: “Honestly, I cannot find positive terms to describe the relationship we have with big tech companies today: it is based on the erosion of basic human rights and data extractivism – and it offers few benefits in return.”
Last year, Michael Kwet of the Yale Law School said that by making their products vital for so many people, big tech corporations were able to make them dependant on it, thereby making it possible to influence people economic, cultural and social behaviours for their benefit, and not always in a positive way.
“The centrepiece of surveillance capitalism, Big Data, violates the sanctity of privacy and concentrates economic power in the hands of US corporations – a system of global surveillance capitalism,” he wrote, in an article titled Digital colonialism: US empire and the new imperialism in the Global South, which was published by the Institute of Race Relations’ journal, titled Race and Class.
“Multinationals exercise imperial control at the architecture level of the digital ecosystem: software, hardware and network connectivity, which then gives rise to related forms of domination,” he added. “The monopoly power of multinational corporations is used for resource extraction through rent and surveillance – economic domination.”
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