For decades the biggest challenges for Big Tech, from Facebook and Apple to Amazon, Twitter, and Google had been about growing their customer base and launching new hardware and features. In 2018 I predicted that in 2019, Big Tech would face entirely new big challenges; regulatory and societal attitudes. And those issues arose in 2019 and then more in 2020. In 2021, Big Tech faces some very serious challenges.
While the Big Tech companies still face the challenges of audience growth and delivering new hardware and software products, this year will bring in a whole new level of challenges. With the use of social media during the recent insurrection in Washington, D.C. on January 6th, it will accelerate the issues of regulation and governance.
In 2021, once the Biden administration hits its stride, we can expect the baleful eye of political parties focusing on how social media tools are regulated. The issues will be around free speech, censorship, privacy and governance. With Twitter and Facebook indefinitely suspending Donald Trump’s accounts, they are in large part trying to get ahead of regulators. They know they’re likely to be hauled into Senate hearings. They don’t want to and this is one way to get ahead of that. Hearings will happen and legislators in the States will ask questions. Foreign governments such as Canada and the EU and the countries within the EU have little powers of subpoena, so they will address laws directly in their countries.
While social media giants like Facebook and Twitter may not consider countries outside America all that important directly, they do need them as markets, so they will comply with regulatory changes. That will then benefit Americans.
2021 is the year humanity begins to question the roles of technology in our societies and cultures.
America has very poor privacy legislation, especially in a national context. The EU has the GDPR and now countries like Canada are updating their privacy laws. This will force American social media giants to deploy the necessary policies around privacy in America because it is simply more cost efficient to do so. This is good for everyone.
Then there’s the whole issue of anti-trust in America. Google and Facebook are already under review and 2021 will have even more of a focus. Amazon is heading that way as well. The likes of Twitter, Snap and TikTok won’t face anti-trust suits, but they will be hauled into privacy and free speech issues.
For the tech giants, 2021 will be a year of dealing with some fairly big civil society issues. This is just the start. Over the next few years we can look to democratic governments around the world looking to address the issues around robotics and warfare and economics, artificial intelligence for human rights and free agency and the use of personal data by any kind of technology company.