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(en) France, Union Communiste Libertaire UCL - #307 - Digital, States, Gafam, BATX: The win-win nesting (de, fr, it, pt)[machine translation]

Date Thu, 13 Aug 2020 09:33:39 +0300

What is the impact of the current economic crisis on the digital sector ? Looking more closely, the balance sheet is not homogeneous and several different levels must be distinguished. ---- It is now accepted that the health crisis is accompanied by a historic economic crisis, perhaps even unprecedented. However, not all sectors are affected uniformly, some actually managing to benefit from the crisis while others do indeed collapse. Even within a complex and omnipresent sector in our societies such as digital technology, several realities coexist. ---- The big versatile multinationals: Gafam, BATX, etc. ---- Although the landscape is contrasted because of the specialties of each, these behemoths of surveillance capitalism are doing very well overall. Video streaming services, social networks, videoconferencing platforms (WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts have benefited from the situation as well as outsider Zoom) and "cloud computing" services (clouds) in particular have benefited greatly from global containment [1].

Source: Framasoft
The crisis also confirms the trend of the last 20 years: the growth sector in IT is no longer the production of equipment (which dominated before 2000, and which Microsoft and Apple dominated) but indeed surveillance capitalism (historically driven by Google, Facebook and Amazon, even if today all the tech has got into it, Microsoft and Apple themselves having caught up with the boat), that is to say the exploitation of Internet users' data for the purposes of Behavioral predictions, whether to produce targeted advertising or for other purposes, let's not forget the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Smaller boxes and specialized boxes
In general, the small companies are sinking and being bought out by the bigger ones: we are in a strong phase of monopolistic concentration. Some medium-sized companies specializing in an activity impossible during confinement have experienced the same disastrous fate, for lack of versatility (computer-assisted transport and hotels (AirBNB, Uber) in particular). Conversely, a few exceptions are heard, specialized boxes having "had the chance" to be present in the main containment markets: videoconferencing (Zoom), distance school (Pronote, Klassroom), etc.

The relationship to states
The Gafams took advantage of the health crisis to consolidate their influence. Management of "fakes news", management of hospital or school data, tracing experimentation, videoconferencing, free advertising for the WHO and even production of protective equipment, the Gafams are imposing their solutions and overwhelming those of the States in competition. It is enough for them to put into action the formidable technical means at their disposal, and which States do not have because of previous political choices (public-private partnerships, devastation of public services and therefore of their IT services), to make indispensable [2]. And it doesn't matter if it's just a stroke of bluff: even if Facebook appears publicly in the fight against "fakes news" linked to covid-19, we know that it will never really question its algorithms which are directly responsible for the emergence and virality of these lies [3]. This is how states like India, South Africa, Singapore, South Korea and also France find themselves using the services of Gafam rather than developing theirs. Even the WHO is irresistibly redeemed: while the Gafams give several hundreds of millions of dollars to the WHO and NGOs working in the health sector, Trump has cut US funding to the WHO.

Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Palantir (CIA partner surveillance company) have signed agreements with Germany or Great Britain to set up tracking applications, which blocks any attempt at European coordination on this topic. Associated with Apple, Google is developing a technology for finding Covid-19 contacts for government health organizations [4]. The tech giants, specialists in surveillance, know well that tracing is an essential issue and above all a gold mine on which to sit first.

The Franchouillard episode StopCovid is an ironic example of this: France is stubbornly stubborn with its "sovereign" project but which is struggling to take off and the Google and Apple project could well end up cutting the rug out from under its foot in the event of possible rebound. The Gafams are becoming essential players and we are witnessing a "merger" between the States and the Gafams, in particular through public-private partnerships.

We therefore take issue with the theses according to which states are currently in competition with the large private platforms of surveillance capitalism. On the contrary, like La Quadrature du Net, we believe that we are in a phase of "fusion Between these two authorities. On the one hand, the Gafam and the like reign supreme in the digital world and are the only ones capable of coming to the aid of States on digital issues, in particular during crisis situations like the one we are currently experiencing. On the other hand, states continue to rule over peoples outside of the digital world, and only those capable of imposing laws and police order allowing capitalists to do business quietly. A win-win exchange, a merger that suits all parties, very openly assumed in China with the BATX for example, but just as true in Western countries.

The librism commission and the UCL economy working group

The Batx, the giants of the Chinese web
We are familiar with the acronym Gafam (for Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft), but we are less familiar with its Asian cousin BATX. This acronym brings together the companies Baidu (search engine), Alibaba (Amazon-style e-commerce), Tencent (online services, social networks, instant messaging) and Xiamoi (mobile telephony and consumer electronics). The BATX are hegemonic in Asia and especially in China, where the Gafam are struggling to settle because of cultural and especially state resistance. Their market capitalization estimated in 2019 at 950 billion dollars, against about 4200 billion for the Gafam, and the annual growth of their turnover is significantly higher than that of their cousins in Silicon Valley. Globally, it is therefore essential to get rid of the bias " occidentalo-centré "considering only the Gafam ; BATX are key players.


[1] Covid-19: Tech companies hitting the jackpot, those who are disillusioned, those who get away with it, ZDNet , May 2020.

[2] The government forces hospitals to give up your data at Microsoft, InterHop collective , May 2020.

[3] Coronavirus: Facebook will warn you if you have reacted to messages considered dangerous to health, Le Monde , April 16, 2020.

[4] Covid-19: Apple and Google partner on contact tracking, ZDNet , April 27, 2020.

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