From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 2- Regulation of Big tech and challenges
Article highlights the issues with the growing dominance of social media giants and challenges involved in regulating them.
Issues to consider
1) Conflict of interest
- Many of the big tech companies were not, as they claimed, mere platforms.
- This is because they began to curate and generate their own content, creating possible conflicts of interest.
2) Monopoly power
- There is a suspicion that big tech companies were acquiring more monopoly power leading to lack of free competition.
- There is a conjunction of technology and finance here.
- The more companies were valued, the more they needed monopoly rent extraction to be able to justify those valuations.
3) Lack of accountability in algorithms
- There was an irony in an opaque algorithm being the instrument of a free, open and equitable society.
4) Mixed implications for distribution of wealth
- While the companies had immense economic impact, their distributive implications were more mixed.
- They empowered new players, but they also seem to destroy lots of businesses.
- These companies themselves became the symbol of inequality of economic and political power.
5) Lack of accountability and standards in regulating free speech
- Big tech companies set themselves up almost as a sovereign power.
- This was most evident in the way they regulated speech, posing as arbiters of permissible speech without any real accountability or consistency of standards.
- The prospect of a CEO exercising almost untrammelled authority over an elected president only served to highlight the inordinate power these companies could exercise.
6) Effects of big tech on democracy and democratisation
- The social legitimacy of California Libertarianism came from the promise of a new age of democratic empowerment.
- But as democracies became more polarised, free speech more weaponised, and the information order more manipulated, greater suspicion was going to be cast on this model.
- All democracies are grappling with this dilemma.
Big tech in Indian context
- India will justifiably worry about its own economic interests.
- India will be one of the largest bases of internet and data users in the world.
- The argument will be that this should be leveraged to create iconic Indian companies and Indian value addition.
- India can create competition and be more self-reliant in this space.
- Pushing back against big tech is not protectionism, because this pushback is to curb the unfair advantages they use to exploit an open Indian market.
- India can also justifiably point out that in China keeping out tech companies did not make much of a difference to financial flows or investment in other areas.
The real challenge
- It will be important to distinguish between regulations that are solving some real problems created due to Big tech, and regulation that is using this larger context to exercise more control.
- It will be easier to address those issues if the government showed a principled commitment to liberty, commitment to root out crony capitalism, an investment in science and technology commensurate with India’s challenges, and a general regulatory independence and credibility.
Consider the question “What are the challenges posed by the dominance of social media giants? Suggest the measures to deal with these challenges.”
We should not assume that just because big tech is being made to kneel, the alternative will be any better.