'Digital colonialism': Has big tech become the new East India Company

New Delhi, IndiaEdited By: Gravitas deskUpdated: Feb 19, 2021, 12:26 PM IST
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The logos of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are seen in a combination photo. Photograph:(Reuters)

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Many lawmakers in recent years have called for laws and regulations to rein in dominant tech companies such as Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc, Alphabet Inc's Google, Inc and Apple Inc

There are only 22 countries in the world the British have not invaded. India too was a British colony between 1858 and 1947.

In 2021, the world is staring at another colonial threat, this time it's from big tech. Many lawmakers in recent years have called for laws and regulations to rein in dominant tech companies such as Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc, Alphabet Inc's Google, Inc and Apple Inc.

The big tech has become the new East India Company as it colonising the world.

The East India Company began establishing trading posts in India in the year 1600.

In 1612, it defeated the Portuguese. Soon it went after local traders and killed their business.

Amazon launched its operations in India in 2013. It began killing brick and mortar businesses due to which some of them moved online but they were quashed by predatory pricing and prefered sellers.

When India announced an investigation into Amazon in January 2020, the company challenged the probe.

Back in the 17th century- the British East India Company had established a monopoly in India. Today, companies like Amazon are doing the same.

Facebook follows the same strategy to kill competitors, establish a monopoly. It has made at least 81 acquisitions since 2005.

When Instagram threatened Facebook's popularity, it was acquired in 2012. Then Facebook started copying Snapchat's features. It did everything to ensure Instagram does not have any major competitor.

Similarly, when WhatsApp posed a challenge, Facebook bought it as well in 2014.

Tech giants regularly acquire start-ups to kill innovation and drain small players by hiring or poaching their talent. Many acquisitions never even make it to the headlines as Google has colonised the online search space.

As per the East India company's playbook, it went after policies after establishing a monopoly.

By the 18th century, the trading company became involved in politics. Its aim was to maintain its trading privilege and expand its wings.

Today, tech giants are doing the same. In the US Amazon is trying to lobby against all its competitors by bidding for billions of dollars worth of government contracts.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has embedded himself in Washington. His $23 million mansion sits not too far from the White House.

In 2019, Amazon spent over $8.1 million on lobbying. This is more than any tech company.

A Bloomberg report claims- amazon has increased its spending on lobbying by over 460 per cent since 2012.

Amazon reportedly paid zero federal tax on its profits in the US In 2018. This was for the second year in a row.

Amazon has been facing increasing scrutiny by Indian regulators, and the latest report provided an inside look at the cat-and-mouse game Amazon has played with India's government, adjusting its corporate structures each time the government imposed new restrictions aimed at protecting small traders.

After the 1757 battle of Plassey- the East India company became very powerful. In 1764, it won the battle of Buxar. Soon it was granted the Diwani of Bengal. 

Facebook wiped out pages from Australian state governments and charities as well as from domestic and international news organisations, three days before the launch of a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination programme.

It's dictating terms and bullying and blackmailing elected lawmakers. The company has blocked news and is controlling the reach of the press. Big tech has become that powerful!

Facebook has a history of abusing legal gaps. It came under limelight for the privacy concerns of WhatsApp policies recently.

The only way to ensure that big tech does not re-inflict the damage done by the East India Company is to legislate.

India must regulate big tech, protect home companies and the country's interests offline.

India must learn from its history and ensure that the country isn't left vulnerable to digital colonisation by big tech as it was to British colonisation- by the East India Company.

If in the 1600s India had the spices and raw materials. Today, India has the world's largest online market outside China.

In the 1600s- the Portuguese and the British East India company were betting on India. Today- it's the silicon valley giants.

India must ensure that this time that it emerges as the only winner.