Is there a need for a global neutral body to govern the behaviour of global technology companies? The unequal treatment of tech global companies highlights the need for a neutral oversight body. US tech firms, unlike China’s, get unequal treatment.
The US last year banned Huawei citing security risks and this year we may see more Chinese technology companies added to the list.
The White House recently hinted at the possibility of taking action against Chinese firm TikTok, once again flagging it as a security risk. TikTok is a Chinese video-sharing social networking service owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based internet technology company.
If the ban comes through, TikTok will become the second biggest tech company to be banned by the US after Huawei.
Stated reasons for the ban of these companies are different, however, there are commonalities. Huawei is accused of being too close to the Chinese government, while Tik Tok is accused of sharing its information with the Chinese government. So far there’s no evidence of wrongdoing in the public domain by these companies.
The UK has also just announced its ban against Huawei 5G. The common denominator amongst the banned companies is that they are all Chinese technology companies with a global reach.
What these companies are accused of doing is no different to what is done by US tech companies. It is a well known fact that companies such as Facebook and Google have abused user data yet they are not banned by any country. The Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data breach occurred in early 2018 when millions of Facebook users’ personal data was harvested without consent by Cambridge Analytica to be predominantly used for political advertising.This data breach was the largest known leak in Facebook history. The data was collected through an app created by Dr Aleksandr Kogan (at the time Dr Aleksandr Spectre), a Cambridge academic, in 2013 and consisted of a series of questions to build psychological profiles on users. The app not only harvested the personal data of the users that completed the questions, but also of the users’ Facebook friends. Cambridge Analytica sought to sell the data of American voters to political campaigns and, ultimately, provided assistance and analytics to the Ted Cruz and Donald Trump campaigns.
Facebook was fined for its wrongdoings that are related to Cambridge Analytica. Europe has been concerned about the behaviour of these technology giants and as a result this has inspired a legal framework – General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – to protect against data abuse.
Google became the first tech giant to be hit with a record fine for breaching the EU’s GDPR. A careful study of how Google operates suggests that in the past it has enjoyed US government support in one way or another. Google’s former chairman, Eric Schmidt, now serves on the US Department of Defence’s Defence Innovation Advisory Board. The Defence Innovation Board is an organisation set up in 2016 to bring the technological innovation and best practice of Silicon Valley to the US military. The board has dozen of members selected by the chair in consultation with the US Secretary of Defence.
Currently there’s no single country that has banned Google or any Silicon Valley company for its wrongdoings or any relationship with the US government. The internet that we use today is the product of the US. The first workable prototype of the Internet came in the late 1960s with the creation of ARPANET, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network. Originally funded by the US Department of Defence, ARPANET used packet switching to allow multiple computers to communicate on a single network. The world is grateful and benefits for this contribution by the US government. A lot has happened since then. The internet has brought good and bad in the world. Its origin and bad elements have not inspired a call for the internet to be banned.
Leading technology companies should all, not just Chinese, take responsibility for the technology mess that we see today. Society is no longer safe online and that is not Chinese technology companies creation. Something more fundamental has to be done to protect society from technology harm. Banning Chinese technology companies will not do anything to improve the situation. Repeated fines of US technology companies is doing nothing to stop them from abusing the data of the world.