During this crisis, digital platforms have proved crucial to teachers, athletes and other professionals working from home. At the same time, the limited role big tech appears to be playing in the actual battle against the pandemic has garnered criticism. This disappointment could influence our views on these companies in the West, and the regulation they may face in the future.
What does this mean?
The criticism expressed about big tech, and digital technology in a broader sense, is twofold. On the one hand, there is disappointment that these parties don’t seem to be able (or brave enough) to help us understand and deal with the health crisis. In the perception of the public, insights from companies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook (about our health and our search-, purchase- and travel patterns) could help trace the virus, which, as yet, has largely failed to happen (this could change with corona tracing apps). On the other hand, critics argue that after the crisis, digital technology will (still) not be able to create valuable jobs, which are likely to arise in health care and infrastructural projects.
Chances are big tech companies will emerge victorious from the crisis at first. They’re becoming more deeply rooted in our daily lives and will likely profit from the demise of companies from the old economy (e.g. in retail and tourism) and are already the big winners of the American stock market. The disappointment felt about the lack of a real solution to the pandemic will likely lead to a more realistic perspective on these companies and their actual ability to innovate and create jobs. This doesn’t mean big tech has outlived its usefulness but that we may come to conceive of these corporations as somewhat dull utility companies that may be of great societal value in that they provide infrastructure, but are not the ones to solve all our problems. This “exposure” of Silicon Valley would further pave the way for more stringent regulations and, possibly, the breaking up of these giants that are wealthy in both data and capital. The latter ties in with the notion of states claiming a much larger role for themselves during times of crisis.