About the 2022 edition

From a trickle of an idea, the ‘techlash’ first began percolating in social consciousness around 2019 and has today morphed into a widespread phenomenon. Trust in tech companies globally has fallen from 77% in 2012 to 68% in 2021. From the corridors of power, within policy circles, in mainstream media discussions, to a wider social conversation, it would seem that Big Tech has become a ubiquitous talking point of our times.

But, as the old adage goes, talk is cheap. Platitudes about the doings of big bad corporations, even with the advantage of high social currency can do precious little to dent the structural power and reach they command. Which is why, in 2022, Big Tech’s fall from grace is not and should not be merely empty rhetoric. A substantive beating on the stock markets has tarnished their infallible aura. World over, various jurisdictions, particularly in the Global North, where there has been a historical reticence to regulate tech, are moving forward on regulation with actual teeth. We were witness to the passage of key legislations such as the European Union’s Digital Services and the Digital Market Act this year, which address the disproportionate power of large platforms in particular. In July 2022, the US House of Congress passed legislations that cede authorities greater resources to scrutinize anti-competitive mergers, even as it attempts to move forward on more ambitious laws. Even California, the original home of Big Tech, has been turning the screws on the tech industry, passing laws on gig workers’ rights and more recently on childrens’ privacy on platforms and tech services. Countries like India and South Africa, outliers in the developing world, are also taking on the titans with antitrust reform and action. India notably has been modeling digital public good initiatives in areas of finance, health and agriculture.

But while governments make all the right noises in favor of strengthening regulation and laws, and televising hearings that seemingly make tech moguls squirm and sweat, they are still balancing a tightrope on the policy front. Proposed laws across jurisdictions continue to be insufficient in curbing predatory and exploitative practices— a hallmark of the unequal platform economy. Albeit marking a departure from historical action paralysis, they do not come close to dismantling the control and influence of the Big Tech ecosystem, which has been able to capitalize on a decades long regulatory vacuum and convert its first-mover advantage into near totalizing market control.
Without real and viable exit pathways to opt-out in meaningful ways, most of the world remains resigned to a “can’t live with them, can’t live without them” approach to the omniscient presence of Big Tech. Evidently, despite the diagnosis about Big Tech needing a makeover, the political-economic status quo at play makes it an uphill path towards global digital justice.

In this context, the State of Big Tech is an endeavor by IT for Change to map the maneuvers and machinations of Big Tech, take stock of the adequacy and appropriateness of institutional-political responses to rein in its excess, assess the agenda and strategies of peoples’ mobilizations against Big Tech power and provide clear and bold perspectives on course corrections to move the needle towards democratic governance of the digital economy.

We invited activists and scholars alike to take up the mantle of unpacking the misdeeds of tech behemoths, chronicle their role in the political economy of development, and formulate a clear and strong vision for the future towards global digital justice. Under the theme of ‘Dismantling Digital Enclosures’, the essays in our debut edition pack a powerful punch. In a penetrating state of play, our essays and interviews break down various phenomenon such as the creeping onslaught of edtech into public education, the digital capture of food systems; Big Tech’s attempts to monopolize research and corner innovation networks, to their trojan-horse proposals for instituting their power in multilateral spaces, to the questions raised by Web 3.0. But going beyond detailing the problem statement, our contributors also capture attempts at popular mobilization, and bold visions for alternative digital futures that attempt to break out of the privatized status-quoist enclosures.