Is Big Tech colonising the internet? | All Hail The Algorithm

Is Big Tech colonising the internet? | All Hail The Algorithm



think of some of the biggest companies in the world today there's Google Amazon Microsoft Facebook WeChat all of them big tech with algorithms at their core we're more than just users or customers for these businesses we're generators of data they need us to like them for them to be indispensable because the more that we use them the more data we produce we're in the midst of a great race for data and big tech companies are on the chase [Applause] for the past three years academics Nick corddry and Alyssa's Mejias have been investigating a phenomenon they call data colonialism while the modes scales and contexts may have changed they say colonialism's same underlying functions of empire-building extraction and appropriation remain there's a new land grab going on there's not land that's being grabbed it's us it's human life the acquisition and the construction of data valuable data for corporate use out of the flow of our lives that's the land grab going on and that's why the work hooliganism is the only word that does justice to that let's think for instance of all the end-user license agreements or the terms of use that we read whenever we sign up for a new social media platform if we think about the process of being asked to agree to something that we cannot even understand and signing away certain rights signing away our property in this act I think it's a very interesting parallel we're not for one moment saying the colonialism today with data involves the same horrific level of violence that was involved in the beginnings of colonialism with saying that the core of historical ISM wasn't it forced to involve people in a massive new system and new order a new organization of the world economy at this point in history in terms of data colonialism we have two centers of power we have the United States on one side and China in the other and of course we know the American corporations very well in terms of Google Facebook Amazon maybe we don't know the Chinese corporations very well because their reach is just beginning to expand beyond China the China's biggest private company Huawei Technologies Africa has been a gold mine a source countries like South Africa Nigeria Kenya which is where I am now have delivered some of the biggest most rapidly growing telecom artists ninjalah nimbala has studied the huawei effect here in Kenya they're building products for example that are suited to the African market the cheapest mobile phone that you can get in various African markets is a Chinese phone and they're building relationships with governments they're providing infrastructure so Huawei has provided a lot of infrastructure for surveillance in Kenya and ICT in Kenya we work in every country whether it's developed developing or somewhere in the middle and that's really useful for governments here so we are advising them on their government data sensors on the government services or anything else we can share those experiences from around the world but the other piece of the Chinese influence is that the surreptitious work there's a lot of questions about surreptitious data collection with technology that's coming in from China and in some ways it's the other side of the coin right there's a whole lot of data that's being taken out from African countries and from African citizens to be kept handled used by people who are not necessarily responsible or answerable to African people so quality does not access people's data or cell data so I don't think that we are the kind of company that are benefitting off people's data the only day that we're using is just to improve our products themselves such as using artificial intelligence and our smart phones in our network equipment so that it can improve be faster there are skeptics who would question Adams assertion after all most big tech companies to exploit user data in some way however even if Huawei doesn't do it there are other Chinese operations in Africa that collect and make extensive use of people's data here in Nairobi the dominance of Chinese tech is undeniable from telecommunication lines to satellite networks right down to the phones in people's hands and the apps on those phones Chinese companies have this market and much of the data it produces in its grass transient Holdings for instance sells to over 40% of the mobile market in sub-saharan Africa it's phones sell under the brand names techno I tell and Infinix but its strategy doesn't end with the hardware data driven apps like the music streaming service boom play and digital payment platform pompei add to a growing repository of data on african users and can help boost money-making opportunities for transient when you think about neutral colonialism OData colonialism i think the thing that gets lost is that the primary objective it was about money it was fundamentally about using power using culture using all these kinds of tools to impose one society and another society so that the first society could make money off of that when you define colonialism like that then you really start to see the residences China's been investing in Africa and many parts of Asia for 20 30 years very systematically it's never pretended that it does its doing anything other than expanding its economic interests it has not used civilizing rhetoric because it doesn't need to let's contrast that for the moment with a company like Microsoft which talks about democratizing AI or Facebook that is concerned to give as it were connection connectivity can't just be a privilege for some of the rich and powerful it needs to be something that everyone shares Facebook has made a big push to present itself as a benevolent force to get people online since 2013 the company has been leading a giant project called Internet org a sort of gateway to the World Wide Web for those with poor connectivity the app that serves as the portal to Facebook's version of the Internet is called free basics and it's been launched in at least 60 countries more than half of them in Africa the idea is to provide access to select sites without data charges in effect it's a stripped-down version of the internet that has one very important component guaranteed connection with Facebook and guaranteed possibilities of data extraction which is why despite the company's slick marketing not everyone is convinced that this is an entirely selfless exercise nan Gerasim bully is a leading digital rights advocate I think what's mostly interesting in the what alcohol techno politics is the rush to connect they aren't connected and the rush to retain the connected in very specific platforms a lot of these actors will do anything and everything to make sure at some point or other these users go through their platforms because it's all about the data it's all about how much data can I get about people so that I can sell ads so that you know you can creat predictive things to keep them hooked into what I'm able to offer and therefore the world will keep churning there is no way that a lot of these tech companies would be able to behave in their home countries the way they behave in the developing world there is no way that you would be able to roll out a project as big as free basics without some kind of check or balance with some without some kind of ethical loop there was no efforts to even say this is what this means this is how this will work for you and that is really telling right of what they think that African people want and/or need from the internet beta colonialism is framed in terms of a civilizational mission when people are connected we can accomplish some pretty amazing things just like historical colonialism was framed as well in terms of bringing progress bringing something that is good and beneficial for Humanity we can get closer to the people that we care about we can get access to new jobs and opportunities and ideas our participation is expected and our participation we are told it's for our own good meanwhile all of this extraction and capturing of data is kind of happening in the background without us realizing the true consequences free basics is just one of Facebook's many initiatives across Africa Facebook's latest push here in Kenya is called Express Wi-Fi the company has teamed up with local Internet service providers to install Wi-Fi hotspots like here in the Masai town of Keisha Geller on the outskirts of Nairobi Jerian ambassador is a hairdresser who signed up as a vendor for Facebook's Express Wi-Fi he gets a commission on every data bundle he sells his customers say they love it they choose Facebook because even myself I use it and they find that they abandon ship the cheaper then compared to other networks you get the first bundle 1 100m business for free yeah yes they do they find it cheaper we found it to be available and the nettlestone Express Wi-Fi has been an undeniable success here it has made web access cheaper for people living in underserved locations then there are so many people living around who are connected in the way however for those studying the activities of Facebook and other big tech companies in Kenya it's impossible to ignore the huge potential for data mining last year Facebook was pushed to admit that it had added its own software to the Wi-Fi access points that enabled non Facebook data such as customer names and phone numbers to directly flow to the corporation while facebook says the purpose of the software is to ensure that hotspots are functioning well there's no clarity on just how much additional data is being collected and how that's being used a lot of these companies aren't african they're not even based in Kenya in Africa forget Kenya alone so what is a Kenyan citizen supposed to do when an American company uses their data sells their data market sets you know as a product and without their consent without their ability to intervene to appeal to a court system that's kind of the gray area that we're falling into it a lot of these big you know tech companies Facebook isn't the only big tech company playing the connectivity card here in Kenya last year alphabet the parent company whose most famous brand is Google signed a deal with telecom Kenya to quote connect the unconnected using balloons yep balloons loon is a path-breaking project that's been eight years in the making and the idea is deceptively simple use high-altitude balloons to provide Internet connectivity in remote and hard-to-reach parts of the world Kenya is where loon is making its commercial debut I spoke with Charles marito he doesn't represent loon but it's more well known sister company Google Google's mission from the get-go was to really get a lot of the Africans who are offline online and to make sure that they get online in a more affordable and have better content as well as relevance and the mission around loon is to ensure that we are able to deliver connectivity to the most remote parts of the continent and around the world so I'm proud to say that here in Kenya is the first commercial agreement between loon our sister company and telecom Kenya what remains to be seen is what standards of accountability there will be whether it means that people are restricted to only using Google ESCA sites for instance that remains to be questioned what data will be collected in the process of connecting people I put some of these questions to Charles he made it clear he couldn't say much more about loon after all he doesn't work for that company he did tell me this though about Google's approach to data collection so what we do at Google is we ensure that we have employed I use a trust that is something that's really important and that users understand exactly what we're doing with the data that we have on them we also ensure that they're able to manage and control so transparency ability to manage and control the data that we have on our users is really critical and when it's so transparent people get to enjoy the magic of Google Charles uses a lot of positive PR speak especially when it comes to discussing matters relating to data that doesn't come as a big surprise because data ownership access privacy is an incredibly sensitive legal and political issue across the world governments and regulators have been looking at their data laws more and more seriously but perhaps the most widely publicized is the European Union's general data protection regulation otherwise known as GD P R which set a global benchmark for strengthening individual rights over personal data that's really the discrepancy that we're seeing here is that Western governments Western societies have more space to keep these companies in check and to force them to abide by their local social standards than countries in other parts of the world and that's where the colonialism label really starts to become evident there is not enough space for ordinary African citizens to push their governments on these issues there is not enough space for us to actually demand a different standard of treatment ninjalah has a point just take a look at the state of data regulation around the world and you'll see how stark the imbalances are according to a study by the law firm DLA Piper North America Australia much of Europe and China have what they would classify as heavy or robust regulation for many countries across Africa regulation ranges from moderate to zero the Kenyan government says they're working on it but the speed at which they are developing policies is being outstripped by the speed at which private players are revolutionising telecoms and Internet connectivity I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with private sector actors taking a lead role if especially again they have the resources and the wherewithal to be able to do this the question is where are states in this game to keep them in check because of the narrative around how any and all digital development is positive or net positive asking critical questions is almost seen as being an enemy of progress and therefore the risk is your people in the communities you serve will miss out so because of that new and problematic notion being created very few politicians and by extension government actors want to step up to the plate to play in this game proactively we've come to think of our data as being within us ready to be extracted like oil can be extracted from the earth I certainly used to think of my data that way before I began doing research and interviews for this episode but I've since come to realize that our lives locations family members our preferences our dislikes all of this isn't really data until you create algorithms that can convert every single human being into a collection of bits that money can be made off of so this myth that the somehow the oil or they call it the data exhaust naturally within us which is naturally there to be used by corporations it happens for their profit it's an incredibly important myth to say there's nothing we can do about this this is the way things are but go back 20 30 40 years this was not the way things well we need to hold on to that past to remember it to pass on the memory of that past in order to show that this remains the myth that is at the core of the colonial project we are the bodies producing the data but we are not necessarily the ones who benefit from that so at stake here is people's ideas people's dreams people's hopes people's frustrations being used to sell of things back to them where do we actually get our money back we're not saying no tech in Africa we're not saying you know jump over Africa as you're thinking about an internet the instant has done a lot of really good things in Africa it's made a lot of connect shins possible that were not possible even in 5-10 years ago the question is how do you mitigate the harm how do you make sure that you protect the good and you Corral the bad the model that we have now isn't doing that I think we should be bold enough and brave enough to go back to the drawing board and challenge ourselves to think differently about this model is there a better way of doing this thing is there a more humane way of doing this connectivity thing that we're trying to do through all of these corporations thanks so much for watching episode 2 of all healthy algorithm this is a five part series and we're going to be covering loads of different topics everything from their use in social services to biometrics and next week we're going to be looking at online manipulation so I hope you check out the rest of the series as well a new episode will be uploaded every single Wednesday in July or you can follow the hash tag all held the algorithm to stay up to date you

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