In a first post, we discussed the ways in which meta-platforms have managed to position themselves against nation states, thanks to their ability to emancipate from geographical space and from the constraints inherent to traditional economic activities. In this second post, we try to demonstrate that these companies are also able to better understand citizens through their use of data. Could platforms, instead of states, be able to address issues related to the common good? Gilles Babinet shares his take on the matter.
In the beginning was a libertarian culture
In September 2018, Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, personally made a charitable donation worth $2 billion to fix a failing education system, just a few months after he had launched a huge private healthcare system, shared between Amazon and the companies of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet's holding company.
The message this sends is representative of the one generally conveyed by platforms: "We, entrepreneurs, who know how to develop successful projects, on a scale such that they now serve billions of consumers around the world, will solve this or that problem. We will do so because we understand technology better than anyone else, we know users’ real needs and we are aware of the power of digital technologies, which is too often unsuspected."
Meta-platforms: acting for the common good?
The firmness of these intentions can be questioned insofar as these companies seem ready to make worrying compromises as soon their commercial interests are at stake. For example, Apple removed VPN (Virtual Private Network) applications, which secure personal data, from its iStore or App Store in China, and Google is working on a Chinese search engine - DragonFly - in which politically sensitive topics and links are inaccessible. Edward Snowden, former NSA analyst, warned against the unhealthy relationship that seemed to exist between American intelligence and these companies - a claim he kept repeating over and over again, despite the strong and recurrent denials of those involved. These observations are not meant to excessively stigmatize these actors, but rather to emphasize that the very structure of these companies is based on the sustainability of a valiant stock market price (in order to continue to attract funding, and especially talent, via stock options). It would thus be naive to believe them when they claim to ultimately work for the common good, and fail to mention the structural interest they have for their shareholders.