State of Big Tech 2022: Dismantling National & Global Digital Enclosures

Yves here. Documentary film-maker Lynn Fries gives a short overview of some of of the essays in the inaugural edition of The State of Big Tech, with this year’s theme Dismantling Digital Enclosures. From the introduction:

We invite you to delve into the first edition of our State of Big Tech Compendium. Envisioned as an evolving, year-on-year endeavor that will track and unpack the developments in the Big Tech space, the debut edition of this powerful volume of essays brings together important perspectives on the corporatization of digital technologies from across regions and constituencies.

The essays in this edition look at how this dynamic is unfolding across a wide range of contexts: from the integration of AI into education, to the digital capture of our food systems; from Big Tech’s attempts to monopolize research and innovation networks, to their trojan-horse proposals for instituting their power in multilateral spaces. Through diverse cases and illustrations, our many authors champion a basic set of concerns, exploring the machinations of private power, the short-comings of current regulatory frameworks, attempts at popular mobilization, and bold visions for alternative digital futures.

The State of Big Tech seeks to contribute a vision and blueprint for national and global pathways to reclaim society and economy for the 99%, providing a scorecard of tech corporations’ misdeeds, and a constructive and critical cartography of policy and political action based on what is not working.

I hope you can take the time to sample some of the essays. Hopefully the overview below will whet your appetite.

By Lynn Fries. Originally published at GPENewsdocs

LYNN FRIES: Hello and welcome. I’m Lynn Fries producer of Global Political Economy or GPEnewsdocs.

Capitalism in the Age of Intellectual Monopoly authored by Cecilia Rikap and Cedric Durand, Centering Society in Big Tech Reform by Richard Hill, Rigging the Rules: How Big Tech Uses Stealth “Trade” Agreements and How We Can Stop Them by Deborah James, When Big Tech Came for the Farm: A Blueprint of Resistance from Asia’s Small Farmers by GRAIN

Those are a sampling of essays that are part of a compendium of fifteen essayspublished in the 2022 edition of the State of Big Tech.

The State of Big Tech is a research project at IT for Change. It is supported by the Fair, Green and Global Alliance. This is an eight member alliance that aims to power voices of peoples and communities all over the world and that is collaborating with over a thousand partner organisations in countries where people and nature are under constant pressure.

Under the theme of ‘Dismantling Digital Enclosures’ and at the invitation of IT for Change, scholars and activists alike representing a broad spectrum of fields and experience have contributed to this   inaugural edition of the State of Big Tech.

As stated by IT for Change: “The essays break down various phenomenon such as the creeping onslaught of edtech into public education, the digital capture of food systems; Big Tech’s attempts to monopolize research and corner innovation networks, to their Trojan-Horse proposals for instituting their power in multilateral spaces, to the questions raised by Web 3.0. But going beyond detailing the problem statement, our contributors also capture attempts at popular mobilization, and bold visions for alternative digital futures that attempt to break out of the privatized status-quoist enclosures.

Today’s video short will feature clips of three of these contributors talking about their respective essays. Those essays include: Milford Bateman’s The Investor-Driven Fintech Model and Its Discontents, Michael Kwet’s Building a Socialist Social Media Commons and Sofia Monsalve Suárez and Philip Seufert’s The Big Tech Takeover of Food Systems in Latin America: Elements for a Human Rights-based alternative. We go now to our featured clips.

MILFORD BATEMAN, visiting professor of economics at Juraj Dobrila University at Pula in Croatia:  My interest in preparing the chapter in this book is FINTECH, short for financial technology. It’s something that is being widely celebrated across the world but particularly in the Global South. Because many see it as a way that will bring development to local communities and facilitate poverty reduction and many other benefits.

The evidence so far is that there are some benefits for communities in terms of easier access to credit, easier access to savings , better access to remittance, cheaper payments. But when you start to look into the long term and how these trends develop, you actually see that there are many downside appearing, And they are now at risk of swamping any of the initial upsides to FINTECH.

So that’s what I tried to look at. It is still research at an early stage. But it certainly is very worrying that so many of the initial upsides are now being completely obliterated by these downsides. And that FINTECH is now turning into a new way of extracting value from the Global South along the lines of the old colonial project.

And so I have documented some issues of that and other disbenefits I can find. And at the end of the chapter I point to a new type of model, a people-centered FINTECH model. Which is about local communities using FINTECH platforms as a way of directly benefiting the community. And not having to interact with Big Tech or international investors but doing it themselves. And promoting FINTECH and adopting and adapting FINTECH in ways that help local communities in the Global South.

MICHAEL KWET, visiting fellow Yale Information Society P roject: Today I am going to be discussing an article I wrote for IT for Change about social media. It is called Building a Socialist Social Media Commons. Andit is about how to transform the social media landscape so that it is truly democratic, bottom up and egalitarian and environmentally sustainable at a global level.

So right now over the last few years, the antitrust community has proposed a solution for social media that force big social media networks to interoperate with smaller ones. So that smaller networks have a real chance of growing their user bases.

However in their solution. There is a commitment to competitive capitalism and the private ownership of social media networks that pursue profit growth expansion and try to maximize their user bases in a war of all against all for a finite user base in order to maximize revenues and profits.

So I think that the harms that we see in big social media, digital privacy violations and user manipulations as well as a consumerist model built around advertising that threatens the environment – these things are going to remain intact under their model.

I argue in the paper that instead we should take this further and try to build a truly bottom up, community owned and controlled social media ecosystem, one that is free and open source and decentralized. So that we don’t run into these harms. And so that people are in control of their social media experience.

I offer as a model the fediverse which began development over a decade ago. And is a set of interoperable social media networks that already exist in the real world today with over several million users. I also discuss other alternatives to further decentralize the already existing interoperable social media landscape. And I explain how this works in the article.

And then I close the article out by discussing some legal solutions. Because it is one thing to have an alternative that exists in the real world that is functional and doing quite well but it is another thing to scale it up. Because the big social media networks already have cornered the market.

So I have a set of legal solutions that I think could be put into place that would actually transform social media into a socialist commons.

In order to make this work obviously we would need a big grassroots movement because you can’t destroy trillion dollar corporations without pushback and attempts to stop it from happening.

SOFÍA MONSALVE SUÁREZ , Secretary General of FIAN International: Big Tech is trying to control all domains essential for life. Food is one of those. In alliance with  Big Food and Agribusiness, Big Tech is a major factor in potentially increasing the corporate capture of our food systems.

But agribusiness is not the only entry point for Big Tech in agriculture. Big Tech is also trying to penetrate and control small scale farming. How is it doing so

It is providing digital infrastructure to rural areas as well as digital platforms for accessing markets, digital advisory extension services, agri-digital financial services and access to ‘smart farming’ for small scale food producers. Why is this a problem?

Bycontrolling digital infrastructure Big Tech is in a comfortable position to illegitimately appropriate small scale farmer data. Big Tech attempts to organize food production in a manner that will deepen the subordination of the small holder farming interests to global capital.

Capturing peasant and indigenous collective knowledge and monopolizing those rents that can be generated from it is a central piece in these endeavors. Big Tech jeopardizes the rights of peasants and of indigenous peoples. Defending our food sovereignty is a crucial element in today’s struggle against Big Tech.

FRIES: All of the essays in the State of Big Tech compendium can be found online at The direct link is as follows:

As well as the essays mentioned in today’s short, the compendium’s other published titles include:  Rise of the Platform Economy: Implications for Labor and Sustainable Development in Developing Countries, Taming Big Technification? The European Digital Markets Act; Big Tech and Digital Hype Against Covid-19, Can Data Save Lives: The Right to Health in the Digital Era, Web3 and the Metaverse: Which Way for the Web?, Big Tech and the Smartification of Agriculture, Taxing Big Tech: Policy Options for Developing Countries, Changing Dynamics of Labor and Capital 

Many thanks to IT for Change for putting this content into the public domain and to all the supporters and contributors to this research project. And thank you for joining us.

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  1. lyman alpha blob

    The big fintech needs to go the way of the dodo. Spoke with a Fortune 500 consultant type in-law of mine who has dealt with a lot of large corporations, and he seemed to think that a lot of the big B2B and fintech platforms were dinosaurs and would be replaced eventually. I certainly hope that’s true, and the sooner, the better.

    Having had to deal with them a lot for work, I absolutely despise them since they are complicated, often don’t work properly, and the companies that have installed them, forcing my company to deal with them in order to get paid, don’t understand the functionality themselves enough to be able to explain it to me. The fintech companies are often clients of ours too. Recently we had a payment deadline come due and the only company who couldn’t manage to get us payment on time despite being invoiced 8 months(!) earlier was SAP. Oh, the irony…

    In a post yesterday Yves mentioned that NC could take payments using the Wise system. I have not been impressed in my dealings with them, although for sending donations it’s possible the problems I’ve experienced would be moot since there is no invoice involved. My company has seen payments come in from that system in just the last several months so I’m guessing they are a relatively new operation. Payments come in with Wise listed as the payor, rather than the company they are paying for. Payments do not reference an invoice either, so they are extremely difficult to identify. After quite a bit of effort on my part, I managed to get an actual phone number to call Wise for more info. When I mentioned that we had several payments from Wise we were unable to identify, and asked if they could tell us what company had sent them to us, I was told that yes, they could tell us but they would not do so due to “privacy concerns”. They said they would have the actual sender contact us instead, which never happened. When I told them that if they couldn’t ID the payment for me, the eventual result would be an invoice marked as unpaid and past due on our end that would be sent to a collection agency, and our mutual customer would probably be more than a little irked at having an invoice they actually paid winding up in collections, they didn’t seem particularly concerned.

    I have seen one fintech company after another pop up in recent years, and you would think that in the 21st century with all the technology we have today, it wouldn’t be that difficult to simply send a payment with three pieces of info on it – the actual sender, the payment amount, and an invoice referenced if applicable. But it is. With the kludgy software of the banks combined with these fintech companies who don’t bother to make sure their systems work properly before rolling them out, identifying payments these days has gotten much more difficult in recent years and has wasted untold hours of my time, and that of accountants everywhere I can only assume.

    Fintech needs to be killed with fire. They are simply parasites on the existing ACH system, and I don’t understand why that can’t be revamped so bank customers can simply send payments electronically from their bank accounts without one or more middlemen attaching themselves to the process. And personally, I’d still prefer to be paid by check. Now get off my lawn.

    1. notabanker

      Wise, formerly Transferwise is absolutely the most cost effective way for a normal person to transfer foreign currencies. I worked for a large MNC FS firm overseas and transferred a lot of personal money. I called our FX desk and the fx rates I was receiving from Wise were lower than huge corporate clients with minimum $5M per transaction. Their transaction fees are based on the origin of the transfer, so if you use a credit card you get socked with $40+, but if you wire transfer from a bank account it’s like $4.
      I can transfer $1000 at spot rates for $4 with Wise. Compare that with PP and that same transfer can cost up to $12% or $120. They arb the exchange rate to the tune of 2-4%, charge percentage and fixed fees on top of that, it is criminal.

      The original intent and design of the transferwise platform was fx transfers. It does not surprise me they have issues with payments, but I would welcome them taking on paypal. They would clean their clock.

      Fintech in the US is near death. The FED and OCC have taken a far different approach then say, BOE or MAS, making it much more difficult to reach scale. On top of that, the VC’s are constantly shopping them and anyone who is close to breakthrough or scale immediately gets bought. There are teams in every single top 20 bank looking at this daily, not to mention the whole financial services eco system outside of the banks.

    2. cfraenkel

      I suspect the answer to your question is that there wouldn’t be any way to skim off a profit. Conceptually, all you really need is a commonly agreed to data format and a secure message to enable authentication. A talented group of programmers could likely set that up in a few weeks. But why would a bank open their system if there was no payola? Someone’s got to pay all those lawyer salaries.

      Hmm.. if only the Post Office weren’t under the thumb of bought and paid for congress critters.

      1. Questa Nota

        Blum, of the combine of Feinstein & Blum, already seized acquired the low-hanging fruit. Later on, he died.

        The torching has been passed to a new generation of grifters.

      2. notabanker

        Retail banking is not the issue. The issue is the regulatory nonsense that has been piled onto retail banking since the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

  2. NoFreeWill

    A good example of this is Chrome breaking ad-block entirely in a new update, which will force me to switch, but the browser dev community having already replaced most browsers base code with Chromium, most other browsers will have the same issue (sans Firefox/Brave I believe, even though Brave is also Chromium). Ads are a ton of revenue for Google so this whole move makes great business sense. This is the problem when all the internet infrastructure is controlled by private companies (ISPs included), but I think it was in some ways an inevitable outcome of a global digital network being built under capitalism, not a problem that can be solved on it’s own. Asking the regulators to properly regulate Big Tech is going to be no more effective than asking them to regulate any other industry that has already captured them. The EU privacy rules are a good counter-push, but that is not enough. Nationalizing internet infrastructure and making it all free for public access, and regulating it as a right of each citizen (including those in rural areas who don’t have it now) is the way, but that requires socialist revolution. Coincidentally that is also required to solve many other key problems capitalist governments & corporations are incapable of solving/are the cause of, like global warming.

    1. GramSci

      And Firefox was and is subsidized by Google. I take this to be Google’s “philanthropy” with the ulterior motive of avoiding anti-trust indictments. I continue to use Firefox, but I’m afraid my protest is only symbolic.

      «Within a few quick hours of laying off those employees, Mozilla signed a new search deal with Google to the tune of $400-$450 million per year from now until 2023 to ensure that Google is the default search engine in Firefox.»

  3. Savita

    Thankyou. I thought chrome stopped ad-blocking ability eons ago.
    Thanks for comments about Wise
    Perhaps their business software suite may include issues. They offer a full platform including trimmings like extra debit cards for travelling employees.
    However I’ve parsed their T&C’s and just on the factual commerce side their fees or rates are indeed very low and their forex is @ mid-market rates which for consumers is unheard of. Significantly better again for business customers.
    In reading the Terms, looking for unfair advantage, I noted their refusal to honour chargebacks except in the most limited capacity possible. Unlike the ‘buyer protection’ companies like VISA provide as a given. So if you use Wise be careful what you actually choose to pay for :-)

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