Why letting Big Tech run free in the midst of the Covid crisis will lead to the next one
How companies off legislator radars during COVID increasingly keep citizens on theirs
Forgetting about Big Tech ’s side effects during COVID would be a missed revenue opportunity for Canada. The Canadian economy is, as in most western countries, being bankrupt by the COVID 19 crisis but Big Tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and video game producers like Epic Games have benefitted greatly from it.
Investors know use of these services and profits have dramatically increased. Just five stocks — Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google parent Alphabet and Facebook — accounted for more than 20% of the market cap of the entire S&P 500 index, according to B of A Global Research in April 2020. Netflix has added 15 M subscribers in the month of March alone!
Video gaming has increased 75% during these pandemic times, while public school boards have looked for ways to keep providing a semblance of education. Seeking Alpha article on gaming growth.
Families are Struggling with School at Home
A majority of parents who are juggling with work and schooling from home with varying support from their schools have little choice but to let kids and teens spend larger amounts of time ingesting « digital junk food » on Instagram, Tik Tok & YouTube.
As governments, universities and schools scramble to keep life going in confinement, tech companies are actively lobbying institutions everywhere to provide yet more online services, from tracing apps to elearning tools.
Negative Consequences of Tech are Ballooning in the Pandemic
Big Tech has already been accused of not paying its share of corporate taxes, thanks to its novel online distribution model. Whats new is its increased use in pandemic times will generate more « externalities », ie, negative side effects, than before: youth time on social media, series and video games is inversely correlated to school achievement and mental and physical well-being. It’s even associated with increased depression.
The externalities come from their unique « free-to-buy model »: addiction by design and data theft are embedded in their services to generate maximum viewing time & online interaction- because that translates to ad dollars. That model is robbing our societies of kids’ well being and privacy.
Its happening in seemingly innocent consumer apps and video games that are handed to kids without the realization they are akin to cigarettes or alcohol. Its also been happening in schools K to 12, where Google has given away its software suite (Google for Education) to help cash-strapped school boards and districts in exchange for student data.
Legislation such as the newly introduced KIDS act in the US is needed, but enforcement will be costly. And while Big Tech keeps getting richer as kids are robbed of their data and health, citizens face a losing battle.
The opportunity is ripe to impose a tax on Big Tech, similar to the one on pollution, to stop the free ride they’ve had on fixing the problems they create. They should also pay for the data they steal from us, without our informed consent — especially with respect to youth. They can’t be the ones filling their treasure chests while public treasuries and those of law abiding companies are emptied out.
Join Tech for Good Canada in demanding a Tech Data and Pollution Tax from government.
> Taylor Owen at CIGI: A Post Covid-19 Bretton Woods
> Jean Twenge, 2019 World Happiness Report: The Sad State of Happiness in the US and the Role of Digital Media
> March 5th, 2020: Sen Market and Blumenthal introduce KIDS act