In the midst of uncertainty about the future of national – and, by extension, global – economies, companies have seen how the covid-19 pandemic has had a full impact on their bottom line. Airlines, hotel chains or giants related to the tourism sector have been the hardest hit. On the contrary, the most favored have been the so-called FAANG, an acronym formed by the commercial name of the five large listed technology companies on the Nasdaq index in the US: Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google.
The so-called ‘Big Tech’ have continued to make money despite the coronavirus: from April to June their turnover grew by almost 19% (243,614 million dollars) and their profits another 13.5% (39,835 million). And the confinement has changed the television, telephone and internet consumption habits of Spanish homes. The CNMC has analyzed this use through online payment platforms such as Netflix, HBO or Amazon Prime Video.
The results confirm the intensive use of mobile phones to connect to the Internet: nine out of ten Internet users do so regularly. The smart speaker also appears for the first time as a connection device and, like the rest of them, it generates a trail of information that is later monitored by digital platforms and serves to create our profile for obscure commercial purposes.
Every minute, 3.78 million searches are performed on Google (a subsidiary of the Alphabet emporium), 3,472 photos are uploaded to Facebook, 300 hours of video are posted on YouTube (owned by Google) and 4,000 products are sold on Amazon. Exorbitant figures that have called into question the power and business of the Silicon Valley giants.
The Netflix documentary ‘The Network Dilemma’, which features statements from former senior managers of ‘Big Tech’, highlights the ethical and legal problems of these platforms. The lack of regulation has allowed them to achieve unimaginable billing volumes, with a business based on the economic use of data. According to experts, on the Internet there is a maxim: “if something is free, it means that you are the product.”
The European Commission (EC) has opened public consultations in all EU States on the new regulation it intends for digital platforms, where it seeks to establish additional requirements for “those that perform the function of ‘gatekeepers’ (information controllers). ». This new Directive (DSA) would replace the rules that now apply to these companies derived from the Electronic Commerce Directive, believing that they have become ‘old’.
A new free platform
Even the father of the World Wide Web (origin of the Internet), Tim Berners-Lee, has proposed redirecting his offspring so that “users have control of their data.” An adventure that he has already launched with his startup Inrupt through Solid, an ambitious open source platform. This famous British computer scientist wants to force large multinationals and governments to build applications that respect privacy – the same one that Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, said in 2013 was no longer “a social norm” –, at the same time give citizens back power over their own information.
This platform, developed by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is already underway and will represent “a fundamental change that will not only regain users’ trust in their data, but will help them improve their lives,” explains Berners- Read on his blog. The idea of returning to a fairer and more decentralized internet has been in the head of the father of the web since 2018. “From time to time a large social network drops a large amount of private data on the ground,” he says. “We have assumed in the past that we have to use those networks because the world works that way, but that idea is being challenged on several fronts.”
This scientist insists that “it is not just about privacy, but about access.” The objective of Solid, more than bringing together all the data on a platform so that it is more accessible to companies, is that citizens can control it and see what access they have to it. «It is the big difference with other similar proposals –explain its creators–; Here the user decides who can access that information, and the owner of the application must ask permission to see it.
It is, in reality, a large warehouse distributed by personalized blocks called ‘Pod (Personal Online Data’. Before its launch at the end of November, the platform has already been working in the shadows with companies and executives. The British BBC , the National Health Service in the United Kingdom and the Government of Flanders in Belgium have been the first testing grounds for Solid and Inrupt.
Users, however, are already beginning to become aware of the problem. According to Eurostat data, one in four EU citizens aged between 16 and 74 said they had avoided giving personal information on social or professional networks during 2019, for security reasons. France (40%) leads these misgivings, followed by the Netherlands (39%), Finland (37%), Sweden (36%), Germany (34%) and Spain (34%).
Amazon, the last to fall
After Apple and Google, Amazon has been the latest ‘Big Tech’ to suffer the scourge of Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition. In mid-November, the EC sent a warning letter to Jeff Bezos’ firm as a first step before filing formal antitrust charges over the way the world’s largest online commerce company uses seller data. appear on their platform.
According to Brussels, Amazon illegally abuses its position in Germany and France, its two main markets in Europe, while taking advantage of its triple role as a digital platform, retailer and marketplace for suppliers. The Community Executive affirms that, in practice, Amazon competes with the operators to which it offers its platform, using algorithms that give it a substantial advantage. They come from transaction data from other sellers and also from their consumers.
‘Nightingale’, example of Google’s dominance
The ecosystem of applications around Google, which Washington has denounced for monopoly practices in internet searches and advertising, means that it knows almost everything about its users. In recent years, he has also shown special interest in health data. Through ‘Project Nightingale’, it launched a tool in 2019 that seeks to “organize” the medical information of millions of people in the United States.
Together with the Ascension group, one of the largest North American health systems, he has been collecting his complete medical history. It is estimated that about 150 Google employees have had access to this data in 21 states in the country. Google claims that its objective is to modernize the health industry, but its tool has raised many critical voices due to the ethical implications, although the company defends that it is completely legal.