If you follow world news you will have noticed that traditional organizations and institutions are facing a decline in public opinion in many countries. There is an obvious trend of political support shifting away from traditional parties, but the trend is actually deeper than a wavering of public opinion and is rooted in societal and epochal changes.
Take for example the notion of Nation State, born out of the American and French revolutions of the late 18th century, that over the past 200 years has been the cornerstone of the World Order and the guardian of the rule of law. On one hand the concept of Nation State seems increasingly popular worldwide with a record number of states existing on the planet, following the collapse of the USSR and Yugoslavia. On the other hand, globalisation and digitisation have created multinational actors whose economic power exceeds the one of small states. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook speaks face-to-face with the political institutions of the United States or the European community. If Google was a country it would rank 70th in GDP (Investopedia 2015). While there are companies that are even wealthier, Google example is particularly relevant. Not only because it was created from scratch only 30 years ago, exposing the speed of change that the digital world can impose on our society, but even more because it runs a business totally digitised and globalized and therefore particularly challenging for traditional nation states to control and regulate. The European Community recently adopted a new set of regulations to protect the data privacy of its citizens : none of its member Nation States would have the economic clout to impose regulation on Google or any of the mighty GAFAs ( Google, Amazon, Facebook, Alibaba).
The political relevance of global tech giants has been formalized by Denmark's decision in 2017 to nominate (“Introducing TechPlomacy - American-Danish Business Council” 2018) a tech ambassador with the mandate “to engage in dialogue and collaboration on a broad range of topics with the tech-industry.”(Office of Denmark’s Tech Ambassador n.d.) and offices in Silicon Valley and Beijing. In the words of the ambassador himself : “In this age, a select number of highly successful multinational tech companies have become extremely influential – to the extent that their economic and political influence match or surpass that of our traditional partners, the nation-states” (Foremski 2019).
One of the most controversial aspects of the TTIP ( Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) negotiations between Europe and the US was the 'corporate court' system that was to allow multinational corporations and other foreign 'investors' to sue governments for enacting regulation which damage their profits.
The TTIP negotiations, started in 2013 and ended inconclusively in 2016, have been declared no longer relevant by a council decision in 2019 (“TTIP - The EU-US Trade Deal” n.d.), but how long will it be before GAFAs officially surge to a political level equivalent to nations?
With political clout added to Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and pervasive gadgets connected to the internet, GAFAs and their successors would have an unchallenged power to shape our societies and it is definitely not too soon for each of us to, as a minimum, start reflecting about the future we would like to have for us and our children.
Foremski, Tom. 2019. “The First Ambassador to Silicon Valley Struggles with ‘TechPlomacy’ | ZDNet.” ZDNet. ZDNet. February 1, 2019. https://www.zdnet.com/article/danish-ambassador-to-silicon-valley-struggles-with-techplomacy/.
“Introducing TechPlomacy - American-Danish Business Council.” 2018. American-Danish Business Council. January 31, 2018. https://www.usadk.org/news/introducing-techplomacy/.
Investopedia. 2015. “Google’s Revenue Beats The GDP Of Several Major Countries.” Investopedia. June 11, 2015. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/061115/googles-revenue-beats-gdp-several-major-countries.asp.
Office of Denmark’s Tech Ambassador. n.d. “Contact.” Office of Denmark’s Tech Ambassador. Office of Denmark’s Tech Ambassador. Accessed April 30, 2019. http://techamb.um.dk/en/contact/.
“TTIP - The EU-US Trade Deal.” n.d. Trade - European Commission. Accessed April 30, 2019. http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/in-focus/ttip/.