June 6, 2015
PARMINDER JEET SINGH
A new architecture of social power and control is getting built with its core in the U.S. India should work through the BRICS group to develop an alternative to this Internet hegemony
The Internet evokes a deep dilemma of whether ‘to govern or not’. Few things work as well as the Internet does: it’s always on, always obliging, and consists of endless possibilities, routinely conjuring wonders that we have not dreamt of. On the other hand, it is difficult not to be troubled by how the Internet is everywhere, but without any clear means of accountability and political reaction to how much it is changing around us. But without sufficient clarity regarding the nature of the problems and the required solutions, mere general political scepticism cannot hold a candle to the populist governmental-hands-off-the-Internet sentiment. The latter is expectedly strongest among the richer classes, who trust the devices of the market to get the Internet to do their bidding. Other than routine knee-jerk reactions over people freely expressing themselves on the Internet, which could threaten various kinds of power elites, while also sometimes causing genuine security and cultural concerns, there exists no serious political conceptions around the Internet in India today, much less its appropriate governance in public interest.
This state of affairs is quite detrimental to society as the Internet is becoming closely associated with social power and control in almost all areas. It has become like a global neural system running through and transforming all social sectors. Whoever has control over this neural network begins to wield unprecedented power — economic, political, social and cultural. Two elements of this emerging system are the connectivity architecture and the continuous bits of information generated by each and every micro activity of our increasingly digitised existence — what is generally known as Big Data. Even a superficial scan of how the triple phenomenon of digitisation, networking and datafication is occurring in every area will suggest the nature of consolidation of power in the hands of anyone who can control these two elements.Every sector is impacted
Take the agriculture sector for example. Monsanto is now increasingly a Big Data company, as it holds almost field-wise micro information on climate, soil type, neighbourhood agri-patterns, and so on. Such data will form the backbone of even its traditional agri-offerings. It is easy to understand how data control-based lock-ins are going to be even more powerful and monopolistic than the traditional dependencies in this sector. Recently, John Deere, the world’s largest agricultural machinery maker, told the U.S. Copyright Office that farmers don’t own their tractors. Because computer code runs through modern tractors, farmers receive “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle”. There is a pattern of end-to-end informational controls.