I read recently about the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law which is seen as the radical shake-up of data privacy regulations. This comes as the world has been jolted into awareness (because it had long been happening) that a monster is on the loose. Funny that it had to take a presidential election in the United States to rivet global attention to the possibility that illegal or unethical use of private data can swing elections, even of American presidents. Facebook was on deck in that case with its founder called to attend congressional hearings in the US and invited (but invitation was not accommodated) to attend hearings in the British Parliament.
The world’s biggest tech names, such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp are the primary targets of regulations. These tech companies and others like them had taken the world by storm, not just by their size and wealth, by especially by their advanced and superior technologies. They just could not be regulated because no government really understood the nature and details of their work in the beginning. Maybe except for the government of China who applied restraints that no company could defy.
Late last year, there was a visiting Frenchman who discussed a dream of his to build the equivalent of Google for France, a version that, however, would be controlled by its users rather than its corporate owners. He was explaining that the power of the giant tech companies who gathered and used private data of billions of people was unimaginable and could easily be abused. He was actually expressing an emerging fear that broke out in a big way with the alleged Russian attempt to manipulate the US elections in 2016. The British, too, suspected that a similar attempt was applied to the Brexit vote, and thus, the invitation for Mark Zuckerberg to attend hearings in the Parliament.
It is ironic, but actually an established pattern, that the insatiable need for information had driven the world towards transparency more than any other ethical effort. From the dark ages when knowledge was so limited for ordinary human beings, the pendulum did swing, and still does, and the demand for knowledge, information and transparency is fast becoming a major force in societal living. The power of that demand for data drove the pendulum all the way back and, in some parts of the world, has already caused its own consequences as a runaway train. It is understandable that what China started (I am not sure about Russia) when it put stricter boundaries on the use of global tech platforms) will be copied -albeit for slightly different reasons. China wanted to protect the dominance of the state while the new regulations will try to protect the primacy of user and netizens over their own private data.
The giant telco companies will not be easily restrained because superior technology propels them and the demand for data with ultra speed and huge volume is served by them. It also happens that their monetary resources are simply awesome, driving a large chunk of major economies plus employs hundreds of thousands. But when anyone gets too big, there is a natural resistance that it faces among today’s younger generations. It used to be that the past was much more accommodating to business empires that sustained themselves as dynasties. That pattern is being challenged in all progressive countries, starting with anti-trust laws. But its biggest challenge will come from the younger generations who appear to rebel against unchecked power.
I think that the monetary system is far more powerful and lasting than giant corporations, past and present. Ever since trade demanded the use of notes and currencies beyond the traditional items of gold and silver, the world has become more entrapped and controlled by those who dictate the financial systems of the world. In short, this system is represented by banks and investment firms, from local institutions to global agencies like the World Bank. The financial transactions today (and the past decades) often have nothing to do directly with the exchange of goods and services. They are financial transactions on financial transactions. Yet, greater amounts of money are involved.
How does one get out of a global system that revolves around money and those who control the funds? One doesn’t. Until now, one doesn’t. Its control is total. But it seems not forever, not even close to forever. The younger generations do not seem poised to allow a superstructure dictating on how they will live. It is evolution versus the most powerful giant out there.
Evolution has no fixed timetable, but always favors the youth and change. The financial superstructure represents societal values that have had a non-stop growth for millennia. It simply grew more sophisticated in form to what it is today. If, however, the younger generations and the ones who will soon follow will also continue their growing unease about these values and the superstructure these have created, then a fundamental shift is in the offing.
The birth of cryptocurrencies seems to be a form of rebellion against control and dominance in the eyes of the young. That may be why cryptocurrencies have appeared too far out and criticized by financial giants yet more cryptocurrencies are born. In fact, the financial superstructure is threatened enough to begin a tentative experimentation and adoption. Whether the established financial system knows it or not, the ending of its form is already starting to happen and the younger values and creations have begun their march to new eras.
In the political world, too, giants should be forewarned. A new dawn is emerging. It is from this that I source endless optimism.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.