The rise of the digital landscape continues to have a profound impact on our contemporary world. However, it’s vital to note that this is no longer a simple case of making aspects of life more convenient through technology. Hardware and software are integral to almost every aspect of business, political, and private activities. We rely on these tools and the businesses that provide them. This means that there is increasing recognition and wariness about how much influence big technology corporations have.
That said, there are some parties suggesting that this influence is akin to the political power of governments and key international agencies, such as the United Nations (UN). Certainly, these companies provide significant benefits to the world. To the extent that there are calls to provide big tech companies with greater roles in the geopolitical landscape. But could the advantages of this be outweighed by the risks?
We’re going to look at this issue a little closer. Let’s discuss whether or not big tech companies should have a seat at the geopolitical table.
The Current Influence of Tech
It’s difficult to argue against the idea that technology companies already exert a significant amount of influence over the geopolitical landscape. While they don’t have an officially elected mandate from the public, their products are an integral part of everyday life for many people. This affects the way they’re informed about the world and engage with the global marketplace. Indeed, 86% of Americans access news through a digital device, which is higher than those consuming television, radio, or print media.
We are also seeing technology’s continued influence in the world of work. A combination of greater connectivity tools and the pandemic resulted in greater adoption of hybrid working practices. More employees are demanding permanent remote options and companies are starting to show greater willingness to engage here. One of the results of this is companies are increasingly embracing truly globalized workforces. Part of the consideration here is that this means technology is already giving corporations the power to exert influence beyond traditional geographic borders. It’s important to recognize, then, that how people are represented in political circles needs to be more sophisticated than it currently is.
But is inviting big tech companies to the geopolitical table part of the solution here? In one respect it may help corporations to better grasp the impact of their influence. Social media platforms continue to be a polarizing force among their users. Can involving parent companies more closely with global politics encourage their representatives to better recognize and respond to the weight of their responsibilities?
The Potential for Transparency
One of the problems with the state of big tech’s influence at the moment is there is very little accountability. They are bound to an extent by the laws and regulations of the companies they operate within. However, they aren’t held to the same standards for ethics as governments and other agencies that currently have direct ties with official geopolitical circles. This means that these businesses’ actions are often heavily shrouded under the guise of protecting their business interests.
This in itself may seem a reason to continue excluding big tech companies from geopolitical platforms. After all, the last thing we need is a greater number of ethically and behaviorally opaque influencers in the corridors of power. Nevertheless, invitations to officially participate in democratic agencies like the UN may provide opportunities to demand greater transparency from large tech corporations.
Membership could be given on the proviso that companies are held to similar accountability standards as their government counterparts. They may be expected to be open to freedom of information (FoI) requests, which are a benchmark for accountability and transparency for organizations like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). If corporations expect to be afforded the privileges of geopolitical influence, they must also be open to stronger regulations than those businesses are usually held to.
The Safety and Security Issue
One of the key areas to consider with regard to big tech’s relationship to the geopolitical landscape is safety and security. In some ways, technology presents some of the most profound forms of hazard in our contemporary society. Cybercrime and cyberwarfare have the potential to affect both the lives of individuals and the infrastructure of nations. Criminals are developing and utilizing ever more sophisticated methods, including the utilization of artificial intelligence (AI) tools.
As such, having big tech companies at the geopolitical table may help to provide a more secure system. Governments and key international agencies can gain from the insights of those with both advanced expertise and significant technological resources. This can help not only ensure protections for global citizens but also contribute to a more agile international threat forecasting and detection protocol.
However, it is also important to consider how such tech companies may increase the risks to governments and their citizens. Some of the most common hazards corporations face aren’t from outside their organizations. Insider cybersecurity threats can do a significant amount of damage both to businesses and those connected to them. These may take the form of intentional breaches by unethical employees or simply the accidental result of negligence. In either case, insider threats to corporations with key geopolitical roles may develop into serious national security risks.
Big tech companies are already asserting a significant amount of influence over society. Inviting companies to take a more central role in the geopolitical landscape could be as risky as it is beneficial. There may be scope for greater accountability for these companies, but only if they are subjected to the same standards and rights as government agencies. Tech experts can provide greater infrastructural protection from cybercrime, but they may also increase internal threats. As with so many things, finding a balance between the benefits and risks is likely to be vital. However, it’s important to have these discussions and explore solutions now before circumstances force the hands of unprepared global governments.
[Photo by August de Richelieu / Pexels]
*Ainsley Lawrence is a freelance writer who lives in the Northwest region of the United States. She has a particular interest in covering topics related to politics, social justice, and workplace issues.