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Geopolitics of Technology and the Hydrocarbon Status Quo

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The unrest in the Arab world, which has continued for over a year now, implies one important conclusion beyond any ongoing regional struggle for democracy: It is a reflection on the globally important technological, even more about a crucial geopolitical breakthrough – an escape from the logics of the hydrocarbon status quo, which – after Copenhagen 2009 and Durban 2011 – will fail again in Rio (Earth Summit 2012/Rio+20) later this year.

“No one governs innocently” – de Beauvoir noted in her 1947’s The Ethics of Ambiguity. After a lot of hot air, the disillusioning epilogue of the popular McFB revolt is more firearms and less confidence residing in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, as well as a higher (moral and environmental, socio–economic and political, psychological and security) carbon-energy price everywhere else. As if the confrontational nostalgia, perpetuated by intense competition over finite resources, in lieu of a real, far-reaching policy-making has prevailed again. Caught in the middle of its indigenous incapability and the global blind obedience to fossil carbon addiction, and yet enveloped in just another trauma, the Arab world and the wider Middle East theatre remains a hostage of a geopolitical and geo-economic chess-board mega drama. However, all that appears over-determined now was not necessarily pre-determined in the beginning.

A Grand Dilemma and the MENA
The MENA theatre is situated in one of the most fascinating locations of the world. It actually represents the only existing land corridor that connects 3 continents. Contributing some 6% to the total world population, its demographic weight is almost equal to that of the US (4,5%) and Russia (1,5%) combined. While the US and Russia are single countries, the MENA composite is a puzzle of several dozens of fragile pieces where religious, political, ideological, history-cultural, economic, social and territorial cleavages are entrenched, deep, wide and long. However, the MENA territory covers only 3% of the Earth’s land surface (in contrast to the US’ 6,5%, coverage and Russia’s 11,5%). Thus, with its high population density and strong demographic growth, this very young median population (on average 23–27 years old) dominated by juvenile, mainly unemployed or underemployed, but socially mobilized and often politically radicalized (angry) males, competes over finite and scarce resources, be they arable or settlers land, water and other essentials.

Competition in this theatre, that has a lasting history of external domination or interference, is severe, multiple, unpredictable, and therefore it is fluid and unsettled on the existing or alternative socio-economic, ideological, cultural and politico-military models, access, directions and participatory base.

Interestingly enough the recent crisis, pejoratively nicknamed the Facebook Revolution has so far ‘knocked down’ only MENA republics (declaratively egalitarian and secular regimes of formal democracy). For the time being, it has spared the Arab peninsular absolutistic monarchies (highly oppressive theocratic regimes of real autocracy). The modern-day version of  Metternich’s Alliance of the Eastern Conservative Courts – the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) club has so far gained considerably from the calamities: (i) strategically – more durable regimes and ideologies, translated into their political and diplomatic offensive; (ii) institutionally – besides dominating the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Counties (OPEC), the GCC theocracies now practically control the League of Arab States (LAS), sets its agenda, political direction and punitive actions; and (iii) geo-economically – huge petro-dollar revenues: enlarged quotas caused by the delivery disruptions and embargoes in Libya and elsewhere, as well as the general crude price increase due to MENA uncertainties – e.g. the Bahrain’s State Information Agency reports nearly 20% economic growth for 2011. Hence, if there was any Spring in the Arab world, it was the budding of (Wahhabi sectarian) ideological and hydrocarbon exports of the GCC autocracies in 2011.

Nevertheless, the announced reductions of the American physical presence in Afghanistan, its limits in (nearly failed, nuclear state of) Pakistan, massive overextensions suffered on the southwestern flank of the Euro-Asian continent, as well as the recent US Army pullout from Iraq, is felt within the GCC (in France, Israel and Turkey too) as dangerous exposure to neighboring (increasingly anticipated as assertive) Iran, as well as Russia and China behind it.

Right now, Syria pays a (proxy war) prize for it: This multi-religious country may end up entirely combusted, creating a dangerous security vacuum in the heart of MENA. Oil, its suppliers and its consumers are resolute to fortify and eventually diversify and intensify their bitter covert and overt fight in maintaining the status quo course.

Petro-retro Status Quo: Petrodollars and petro-security
The US has a lasting geo-economic interest in the Gulf of a rather extensive agenda, which is inevitably coupled with its overarching global security concerns. As is well known, oil is the most traded commodity in the world– roughly 12% of overall global trade. By far the largest portion of internationally–traded crude originates from the Gulf. Thus, the US imperatives in the Gulf are very demanding: (i) to support the friendly local regimes with their present socio-political and ideological setups; (ii) to get, in return, their continued approval for the massive physical US military presence and their affirmative vote in international fora; (iii) to maintain its decisive force in the region, securing unhindered oil flows from the Gulf; (iv) to remain as the principal security guarantor and tranquilizer, preventing any hostile takeover – be it of one petrol-exporting state by another or of internal, domestic political and tribe/clan workings; (v) to closely monitor the crude-output levels and money flow within the Gulf and to recycle huge petro-dollar revenues, usually through lucrative arms sales and other security deals with the GCC regimes; (vi) will not enhance, but might permit (calls for) gradual change of the domestic socio-economic and politico-ideological frames in the particular Gulf state, as long as it does not compromise the US objectives in the region as stated above, from (i) to (v).

On the other side of Hormuz, Iran is a unique country that connects the Euro-Med/MENA with Central and South, well to the East Asia, so as it solely bridges the two key Euro-Asian energy plateaus: the Gulf and Caspian. This gives Iran an absolutely pivotal geopolitical and geo-economic posture over the larger region – an opportunity but also an exposure! No wonder that the US physical presence in the Gulf represents a double threat to Iran – geopoli- tically and geo-economically. Nearly all US governments since the unexpected 1979 Shah’s fall, with the G.W. Bush administration being most vocal, have formally advocated a regime change in Teheran. On the international oil market, Iran has no room for maneuver, neither on price nor on quotas. Within OPEC, Iran is frequently silenced by cordial GCC voting.

The US hegemony in the Gulf, a combination of monetary control (crude is traded exclusively in US dollars, predominantly via the New York-based NYMEX and London-based IPE) and physical control (the US Navy controls all transoceanic oil transports), is the essential confirmation as well as the crucial spring of the overall US global posture. In exchange for the energy inflow security, the US anchors loyal bandwagoning in many places around the globe. As long as oil remains priced in USD, it will represent the prime foreign reserve currency (some 68% of global reserves is held in USD), as the functional tie between the major currencies’ exchange rates, (economic and politico-military) security and fossil-fuel energy cannot be derailed and delinked.  Finally, this hegemony is not only based on the exclusivity of oil currency, but also on the exceptionality of the very policy of pricing.

Throughout most of oil’s short history, the price for ‘black gold’ was high enough to yield profits (via the 7-Sisters, mostly for Wall Street – besides the US military, another essential pillar of American might), still without pricing it overly high, which would in return encourage sustained and consequential investments in alternative energy sources. Basically, the main problem with Green/Renewable (de-carbonized) energy is not the complexity, expense, or the lengthy time-line for fundamental technological breakthrough; the central issue is that it calls for a major geopolitical breakthrough. Oil and gas are convenient for monopolization (of extraction location and deployed machinery, of intl. flows, of pricing and consumption modes) – it is a physical commodity of specific locality. Any green technology (not necessarily of particular location or currency) sooner or later will be de-monopolized, and thereby made available to most, if not to all. Therefore, the overall geopolitical imperative for the US remains preservation – not change – of the hydrocarbon status quo.

Ergo, oil (and gas) represents far more than energy. Petroleum (be it a finite biogenic mineral or not) is a socio-economic, psychological, cultural, financial, security and politico-military construct, a phenomenon of civilization that architectures the world of controllable horizontalities which is currently known to, possible and permitted, therefore acceptable for us.

In a broader historical, more vertical or philosophical sense, the hydrocarbons and its scarcity phychologization, its monetization (and related weaponization) is serving rather a coercive and restrictive status quo than a developmental incentive. That essentially calls not for an engagement but compliance. It finally reads that the fossil fuels’ consumption (along with the policy of prizing it) does not only trigger one CC – Climate Change (repeated failure in Durban), but it also perpetuates another global CC – planetary Competition and Confrontation (over finite resources) – to which the MENA calamities are only a tip of an iceberg. Therefore, this highly addictive construct logically permits only a (technological) modernization which is defensive, restrictive and reactive. No wonder that democracy is falling short.

Anything terrific between Arctic and Pacific?
“…bold Russian Arctic policy is (yet) another signal that the Federation… will increase its (non territorial leverage and geopolitical) projection as a major energy supplier of the world throughout the 21st century…” – I noted in 2009. To clarify: Neither Russian territorial size and historical passions, nor pride and socio-economic necessity will cause Moscow to sink down to a second-rank power status. How will the Federation meet its strategic imperative? We have already discussed the two important pillars of the US strength (the so-called ‘East Coast twin might’: the Pentagon and Wall Street). Well, there is the ‘Pacific Coast twin might’ too. The post-Soviet Russia has neither the ideology – global soft power appeal of the US entertainment industry and its ravenous (Hollywood), nor has it the vibrant, world-leading and highly lucrative High-Tech and IT sector (Silicon Valley) that the US possesses.

Let us generously assume the quantitative and qualitative parity between the US and Russia’s armed forces. Still, military modernization requires constant cash injections. How to maintain that? Moscow holds a big advantage: the US imports hydrocarbons while the Federation exports it. Nevertheless, Wall Street controls the international (petrodollar) monetary flow – even the post-Soviet republics are not trading oil in Rubles, but in US dollars. Hence, to meet and finance its strategic imperatives, as well as to respond to the growing international energy demands and to the domestic pressures, Moscow has only non-high tech exports – fossil-fuels – at convenient disposal (no Silicon Valley, no Hollywood). Ergo, Russia is more exposed and vulnerable than the US, and therefore it is an even stronger supporter of both current international market conditions and the hydrocarbon status quo.     

On the eastern, ascendant flank of the Eurasian continent, the Chinese vertigo economy is overheated and too-well integrated in the petrodollar system. Beijing, presently, cannot contemplate or afford to allocate any resources in a search for an alternative. The Sino economy is low-wage- and labor intensive-centered one. Chinese revenues are heavily dependent on exports and Chinese reserves are predominantly a mix of the USD and US Treasury bonds. To sustain itself as a single socio-political and formidably performing economic entity, the People’s Republic requires more energy and less external dependency. Domestically, the demographic-migratory pressures are huge, regional demands are high, and expectations are brewing. Considering its best external energy dependency equalizer (and inner cohesion solidifier), China seems to be turning to its military upgrade rather than towards the resolute alternative energy/Green Tech investments – as it has no time, plan or resources to do both at once. Inattentive of a broader picture, Beijing (probably falsely) believes that lasting containment, especially in the South China Sea, is unbearable, and that – at the same time – fossil-fuels are available (e.g., in Africa and the Gulf), and even cheaper with the help of warships.

Opting for either strategic choice will reverberate in the dynamic Asia–Pacific theatre. However, the messages are diametrical: An assertive military – alienates, new technology – attracts neighbors. Finally, armies conquer (and spend) while technology builds (and accumulates)! At this point, any eventual accelerated armament in the Asia-Pacific theatre would only strengthen the hydrocarbon status quo. With its present configuration, it is hard to imagine that anybody can outplay the US in the petro-security, petro-financial and petro-military global playground in the following few decades. Given the planetary petro-financial-tech-military causal constellations, this type of confrontation is so well mastered by and would further only benefit the US and the closest of its allies.               
                                      
To complete the picture, both Russia and China are supporting the hydrocarbon status quo. Other major theaters are all too dependent geo-economically: on a supply end (Central Asian republics, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Norway, Venezuela, etc.) and on a receiving end (India, Australia, South Africa, etc.) – none is geopolitically emancipated enough to seriously consider any significant tilt towards de-carbonization.

EU-genic or Dynamic?
Less explicitly, the EU (as the post-Westphalian concert of 4 Europes – conglomerate of the Atlantic, Central, Eastern and Scandinavian Europe) will turn consensual to the hydrocarbon status quo, too. If taking a closer look at any of the previous and current Brussels’ transportation and energy policy initiatives, it would clearly show us that the notion was primarily driven by the closest common security consideration denominator – as an attempt to decrease the external vulnerabilities, that includes those of an energy dependency (e.g. energy efficiency initiatives: EEP, Europe 2020, EUFORES, etc.).
Hence, the Union was first and still is most of all a peace treaty for the post WWII Europe recovery. Therefore, both settings (ECSC and EuroAtom) served the confidence building purpose, not as energy-related clearing house/s. The energy policy (suppliers for and composition of the primary energy mix, taxation, etc.) as well as the transportation (means and modes) strictly resides in the individual competence of the Block’s Member States (MS). Any change in the present status quo would assume the common platform of the MS via the Council of the EU (and the subsequent formalization of such a position, at least through the EU Parliament’s promulgation). The absence of such a commonly agreed policy means more of the hydrocarbon status quo. Lastly, it is not only that Atlantic Europe and Central Europe manage their respective energy inflow, its composition and external dependences differently (and selectively). The issue of the hydrocarbon status quo is closely related to the very question of the Euro (and the US dollar-alternate/reserve currency: the British Pound).

For the severely exposed Euro-zone (unsettled global financial crisis), it is a bitter choice between a petrol-pampered dollar (as a stability pillar) and the return to gold (meaning to the pre-Nixon Shock times, before the Bretton Woods consensus was renounced). Brussels and the European Central Bank (ECB) believe they can exercise an influence on the American dollar, via the US Federal Reserves, while nowadays gold resides everywhere – least of all in the US or EU reserves or their mines. Simply put, the post-Nixon currency/ies is/are negotiable; gold is a solid, non-corrosive metal. Also, one should never forget that the politically most influential segment of the Union – Atlantic Europe – shares the same ocean with the US, and all that comes with it (including the ‘monetary nationalism/exceptionalism’).   

However, besides Japan, Brussels will remain a main promoter of the “Kyoto II” mechanism. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with its protocol from Kyoto of 1997 placed China and India in the “emissions tolerant” Annex II, so both subsequently ratified the Instrument. The US and Russia were situated in the much less forgiving Annex I. Past the collapse of the Soviet Union and contraction of the post-Soviet economy and demographics, Kremlin knew it could easily meet the pre-1990 emissions target. Still, it was bargaining until the end of 2004. With the 17% pollution allocation, Russia’s ratification was sufficient enough to activate Kyoto, which eventually entered into force shortly after, in 2005.

The EU’s formal support to the Kyoto protocol and “spirit of UNFCCC/IPCC” has several reflex levels. Without ambition to elaborate it all in detail, let us just note that the Union’s reasons are of political (declared principles) and economic (pragmatic) nature. As the conglomerate of states committed to the supranational principle rituality, it is natural for the Block to (at least declaratively) support any multilateral endorsement, which assumes the supranational notion as well as the full horizontality of implementation and monitoring of compliance mechanism.

The Kyoto provisions of the late 1990s were in perfect harmony with the two grand strategy roadmaps of the EU: the Lisbon (2000) and Goteborg (2001) – hence, the EU’s voluntary self-endorsement via the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). This virtue out of necessity was clear: in the globalized competitive world, the Union of modest economical and of no demo-graphic growth has only the option to become a knowledge based economy, re-architectured as the fair and balanced post-industrial society. Both strategies were gradually abandoned, the Block enlarged (to Eastern Europe, mostly the states whose economies also contracted past the breakup of the Warsaw Pact lager countries – meaning, who are able to meet the Kyoto targets), and the Union’s post-industrial Green-tech renewal waits for better days.

How swift is the shift?
Brussels is well-positioned, but it will not be a global frontrunner in any technology shift. For such a (hydrocarbon de-psychologization) turn, it has neither an inner coherence, visionary strength, nor an external posture. The EU’s economic growth is very symbolic, despite all the huge territorial enlargements of the past decade. Actually, the Union’s growth could be portrayed as negative in many categories. It always serves as a good reminder that a Europe of (economic and demographic) growth was a Europe of might. Europe without growth is a Europe of principles (or to say: of administrative frameworks’ colonialism). The Eastern enlargement of the EU was this very virtue out of necessity: a last territorial expansion, exceptionally based not on coercion but on an ‘attraction’ of the EU’s transformative power.  

Within the OECD/IEA grouping, or closely; the G-8 (the states with resources, infrastructure, tradition of and know-how to advance the fundamental technological breakthroughs), it is only Japan that may seriously consider a Green/Renewable-tech U-turn. Tokyo’s external energy dependencies are stark and long-lasting. After the recent nuclear trauma, Japan will need a few years to (psychologically and economically) absorb the shock – but it will learn a lesson. For such an impresive economy and considerable demography, situated on a small landmass, which is repeatedly brutalized by devastating natural catastrophes (and dependent on yet another disruptive external influence – Arab oil), it might be that a decisive shift towards green energy is the only way to survive, revive, and eventually to emancipate.

An important part of the US–Japan security treaty is the US energy supply lines security guaranty given to (the post-WWII demilitarized) Tokyo. After the recent earthquake-tsunami-radiation armageddon, as well as witnessing the current Chinese military/naval noise, Japan will inevitably rethink and revisit its energy policy, as well as the composition of its primary energy mix. That indicates the Far East as a probable zone of the Green-tech excellence and a place of attraction for many Asians in the decade to come.

(Based on the public lecture “Asia – Pacific: The Hydrocarbon Status Quo and Climate Change”, Chulalongkorn University, Mahachulalongkorn/MEA Think-Tank; Thailand, Bangkok 04 OCT 2011)

References:
1.    Muhic, F., (1983), Teorija Drzave i Prava (Theory of States and Law), Svjetlost Sarajevo;
2.    Cleveland, W. L., (2000), A History of the Modern Middle East, WestView Press, Oxford;
3.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2005), Destiny Shared: Our Common Futures – EURO-MED Human Capital beyond 2020, Crans Montana Forum, Monaco;
4.    Maalouf, A., (1984), Les Croisades vues par les Arabes (The Crusades Through Arab Eyes), Schoken Books, NY;
5.    Engdahl, F.W. (2004), A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Pluto Press London
6.    The UN Development Program: Human Development Report 2011 (IHD Index, Poverty and Inequality);
7.    The World Bank – World Poverty Index, (2005 PPP), Statistics: 1990 – 2010;
8.    Wright, L. ( 2006), The Looming Tower, Random House New York
9.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2010), Arctic and Antarctic – Security Structures Surrounding the Two Poles, Geopolitics, History and International Relations 2 (2): 218-219, Addleton Publishers 2010
10.    Diamond, L. (2008), The Spirit of Democracy: the Struggle to Build Free Societies throughout the World  /Thinking of the Hybrid Regimes/, Times Books – Henry Holt Publishers  
11.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2011), The Melting Poles: between challenges and opportunities, Central European Journal of International and Security Studies, CEJISS 1/2011– Special Edition: Arctic and Antarctic Meltdown
12.    IAE, International Energy Agency – World Energy Outlook 2011, IEA Paris 2011;
13.    The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UN FCCC/1992/84, GE.05-62220 (E) 200705 and the Kyoto Protocol to the UN FCCC of 1998, UN Office of Legal Affairs;
14.    The UN Climate Change Conference, Durban 2011, Reports November – December 2011 (COP 17, Bali Action Plan and Cancun Agreements), Secretariat of the UN FCCC, Bonn Germany
15.    Stieglitz, J. (2002), Globalization and Its Discontents, Penguin Books
16.    Krayushin, V.A. (1994), The Exploration of the Northern Flank of the Dnieper-Donets Basin – Key findings (research paper submitted for the VII Intl. Symposium on the Observation of the Continental Crust through Drilling) DOSECC, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1994
17.    Brzezinski, Z. (2004), The Choice, Basic Books (Perseus);
18.    Fukuyama, F. (2004), State Building, NY Cornell University Press;
19.    Mawdsley, E and McCann, G. (2011), India in Africa– Changing Geographies of Power, Pambazuka Press/Fahamu;
20.    Kagan, R. (2003), Of Paradise and Power, Vintage Books New York
21.    Primakov, Y.M. (2004), A World Challenged, Brookings Institution Press/Nixon Center
22.    Kissinger, H. (1999), Years of Renewal, Touchstone- Rockefeller Center;
23.    Ivanov, I.S. (2002), The New Russian Diplomacy, Brookings Institution Press/Nixon Center
24.    Leonard, M. (2005), Why Europe Will Run the 21st century, Fourth Estate London
25.    Ignatius, D. (2008), America and the World – Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft by David Ignatius, Advanced Uncorrected Proof Text, (September 2008) Basic Books Washington
26.    Friedman, G. (2009), The Next 100 Years, Anchor Books/Random House NY;
27.    Future Conflict Studies (2009), Understanding Human Dynamics, Report of the US Defense Science Board Task Force, March 2009;     
28.    Mulgan, G. (2006), Good and Bad Power – The Ideals and Betrayals of Government, Penguin Books
29.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2011), The Hydrocarbon Status Quo – Euro–Asian Imperatives, Geopolitics, History and International Relations 3 (2), Addleton Publishers 2011
30.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2012), Why Kyoto Will Fail Again, Geopolitics of Energy, 34 (1), CERI Canada 2012

Modern Diplomacy Advisory Board, Chairman Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member Professor and Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies contact: anis@bajrektarevic.eu

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Disintegrating Big Tech: What Future Holds for the American Technology Giants’?

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The United States lawmakers in June 2021 introduced five bills pertaining to Antitrust regulations for the purpose of curbing and curtailing the tremendous power in the hands of few big tech companies. The bills after being enacted will specifically deal with antitrust intricacies surrounding big technology giants across the nation. That means this bill is meant only for selected entities which fulfill the criteria of being a dominant technology enterprise. The entity must have a market capitalization of more than USD 600 Billion and it has to serve at least 50 Million U.S users or 1,00,000 U.S business each month. By terms of market capitalization, only 10 companies in the world come under this categorization namely – Apple (USD 2.3 Trillion), Microsoft (USD 2 Trillion), Saudi Aramco (USD 1.9 Trillion), Amazon (USD 1.7 Trillion), Alphabet (USD 1.5 Trillion), Facebook (USD 0.9 Trillion), Tencent Holdings (USD 0.8 Trillion), Tesla (USD 0.7 Trillion), Alibaba Group (0.7 Trillion),  Berkshire Hathaway (USD 0.6 Trillion). The bipartite proposal comes under the motto “A Stronger Online Economy: Opportunity, Innovation, Choice” and was a result of 16-month long investigation conducted by Antitrust sub-committee of House Judiciary Committee under the leadership of Democratic Party Representative for Rhode Island David Cicilline (who also happens to be Antitrust Subcommittee chairman) in collaboration with Republican Ken Buck into some of the biggest tech corporations in the United States such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook. The announcement of the proposed legislation was done by David Cicilline via his official twitter account through which he laid down in short the purpose of this bill. Ken Buck also exhibited his excitement towards the legalization of this bill. Various other legislative members took to twitter to stand up for the bill like representative Joe Neguse expressed his support in favour of the bill. The senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar (famous for her antitrust expertise) also tweeted the passing of the bill by the senate. The investigation concluded that these entities are dominant in their respective relevant markets. For instance, Facebook holds the monopoly status in social media applications while Google is a dominant entity in internet search market and Amazon is the biggest e-commerce platform having stronghold in retail online market. The regulators were of the view that these big corporations hold excessive power and act as a gatekeeper in their respective relevant markets thereby manipulating the market as per their whims and wishes. They charge exorbitant prices, eliminate small enterprises, coerce tough contractual obligations, draw out valuable data and use it for monetary gains. This as a result is causing harm, to small competitors, consumers and the overall market & prevailing economic conditions in general. They are also alleged for breaking laws and taking aggressive steps to maintain their monopoly status.  As a matter of fact the five bills delve into the various antitrust arenas like big data, mergers and anti-competitive behaviour allegedly exhibited by these companies among others. So, let’s get down to each of these bills.

BILLS

1.American Choice and Innovation Online Act – Led by David Cicilline, this act will keep a check on companies which try to manipulate market for their own good or for promoting their own products. Apart from this it will also prevent companies from excluding other products which fall in their line of business, discriminating between similarly placed business users, restricting business users’ access to services and violating any of the provisions stipulated in this act. In case of non-compliance of the provisions of this act, the penalty is stipulated at a fine of upto 15% of the company’s United States revenue for the previous calendar year or 30% of the company’s United States revenue for any line of business affected by the unlawful conduct.

2.Platform Competition and Opportunity Act – Led by Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, this act will stop big dominant entities from merging with smaller competitors or acquiring them. Basically the provisions mentioned therein will proscribe collaboration or alliance of such entities which compete with each other, fall in the same relevant market and the merger/acquisition of which will create a risk of forming a dominant entity in that relevant market. This act will make it tougher for entities to snap up their competitors for the ultimate purpose of killing the competition.

3.Ending Platform Monopolies Act – Led by Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington DC, this can be construed as the most important bill among all the 5 bills. This act will prohibit the company from unfairly favoring its own product over competitors on its platform. For instance, Google gives its own services greatest priority at the top of a search results page — the reason Google Maps and reviews appear first on searches for local businesses and YouTube tops those for music or video. Further, it was observed by the lawmakers that these dominant companies often steer away users to their own products instead of showing the true search results as asked. The provisions contained in this act would prevent this self-preferencing habit of entities to avoid creation of any conflict of interest.

4.The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act – Led by Representative Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania, this act provides a hassle-free option for users and consumers to switch to other platforms or applications. The provisions therein mandate the companies to provide a transparent third-party accessible interface for the purpose of secure data transfer and interoperability with competitor entities. This is done keeping in mind the ease of changing platform in case of modifications in privacy policy or better features by the rival. The act specifically proscribes gathering user data through interoperability interface except for privacy and security reasons.

5.Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act – Led by Representative Joe Neguse of Colorado, this act aims to provide a greater monetary support and resources to the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice so that as to help them efficiently perform the work they are supposed to perform. The fees is stipulated as per the total combined valuation or size of the transaction. If the combined valuation is USD 92 Million to 184 Million, then the fee would be between USD 30,000 to 40,000. If the valuation is between USD 184 Million to 919 Million, then fees would be USD 1,00,000 to 1,25,000. And if the merger value crosses more than USD 919 Million, the fees would be USD 2,50,000 to 2,80,000. Thus it will serve the purpose of greater flexibility, collection of required intel and operational resources by boosting the fund for these two US antitrust enforcers/regulators. 

MAIN OBJECTIVE BEHIND THIS STEP

The main objective behind such initiative is to level the playing field for all the players (whether small or big) and ensure these dominant technology players play by the same rules. The main target of these proposed legislations are those technology enterprises which come under the category of dominant position. It aims at the most profitable ventures of all these tech companies including Amazon’s The lawmakers want to break big tech, split it into various pieces, dismantle their structure and prevent them from unfairly favoring their own products over the competitors on their platforms. Also, by way of this legislation the big technology enterprises will face a huge difficulty in merging or forming alliances with competitors no matter their size.

CONCLUSION

Considering the stringent provisions and ever-increasing scrutiny, these bills hold the power to shake the tech behemoths from deep beneath their structures. The bills are now in preliminary stage and hence will be sent to House Judiciary Committee and after that to both the House i.e Senate (Upper House) and House of Representatives (Lower House). If passed by both these houses, then the President Joe Biden will sign the bill making it a law of the land at United States. The final voting will be held on June 23rd 2021. Post legalization this bill would reshape the governance and operation of tech companies so that there is strict abidance of the prescribed rules and regulations. This move could revolutionize the United States technology industry in a manner never seen before.

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To Protect Democracies, Digital Resiliency Efforts Are Needed Now

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Across the globe, more than three billion people have no internet access. But with the increased availability of smart phones and other projects such as SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet system, that soon will change. To be sure, this unprecedented level of connectivity has the power to be a boon for democratic advancement and economic development. However, without pre-emptive action, it will likely result in the ills we’ve seen with rapid connectivity elsewhere that threaten democratic norms, institutions, and governance. Authoritarians have an answer to these problems: more control. Democracies need an answer too: building pre-emptive digital resilience and preparedness.

Democracies have been consistently caught off guard by rapid digitization. The disruption of information ecosystems has amplified political and economic inequity, leading to various information disorders such as disinformation, declining trust in journalism, increasing social toxicity and dissatisfaction with government, etc. In Myanmar, for example, internet connectivity empowered individuals, but rampant hate speech also facilitated the military’s campaign against the Rohingya. In the Philippines and Brazil, authoritarian populists have used social media to exploit their publics, foment hate, and win elections.

In attempting to manage the consequences of rapid digitization, governments are increasingly eliciting from the authoritarian playbook – implementing haphazard social media and cyber laws, surveillance, and censorship to the detriment of political freedoms. Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2020 report outlined a “dismal year for internet freedom” and showed countries like Brazil, Nigeria, Turkey, and Kyrgyzstan following China’s model of blocking internet services and conducting pervasive monitoring on their people’s virtual activities.

Democracies have not provided clear answers to rapid digitization, despite the fact that successes in countries like Finland and Taiwan demonstrate that the internet can – if combined with a thoughtful, pre-emptive, whole of society approach – actively strengthen social cohesion and democratic governance. The introduction of digital infrastructure must be accompanied by digital literacy campaigns. Governments need to be trained in cybersecurity, online communication, and on key policy issues such as open data and privacy. Civil society, especially those working with local communities and marginalized populations, need to be involved early in national digital coordination plans in order to reach more people and to ensure digital inclusion is a core consideration of these plans. These plans should include mobilization of digital safety campaigns, education initiatives, and digital skills trainings. 

To be sure, taking a pro-active, coordinated approach will require resources and time. Embracing the transparency that comes with digitization and the sheer amount of data available might also seem daunting at the beginning. However, countries and communities soon to come online are in advantageous positions to learn from other countries’ mistakes and better understand the opportunities, risks, and threats that digitization brings. There is no reason for them to experience the same negative effects of rapid digitization that we’ve been observing for years. It is better to invest upfront than be left dealing with the democratic backsliding gripping Myanmar, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and many other countries today.

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Science & Technology

Internet of Behavior (IoB) and its Influence on Human Behavioral Psychology

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Internet of behavior is a connection between technology and human psychology which gives it the power to generate patterns and influence human behavior.

It is still in initial phase, but was able to grab a lot of attention from technology experts with its mention in ”Gartner’s Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2021”. Gartner predicted that “By the end of 2025, over half of the world’s population will be subject to at least one IoB program, whether it be commercial or governmental”

Source: BMC blog on “What Is the Internet of Behaviors? IoB Explained”

Gartner acknowledges IoB as, behavioral science which can be considered under four key aspects: augmentations, decisions, emotions and companionship

From a human psychology perspective, IoB not only understands the data properly but also applies its understanding to innovate, create and promote new products/services

Currently most of the companies understand buying behavior from the information provided by consumers via interaction between them and application linked to the company. Information collected from interaction via smart devices such as smart phones and its interconnection with other smart devices such as cameras and voice assistance has the power to understand consumer’s likes/dislikes, spending, and so on.

It is aiding organizations to optimize their data from sources such as social media, geolocation, facial recognition, and government agencies citizen data. This data is eventually added and utilized to influence consumer buying behavior.

IoB is using data processing to another level, by connecting collected data from human behavior to analytics and behavioral science. This behavioral data will play a fundamental role in planning and developing strategies for organizations particularly in sales and marketing.

It has the ability to analyse data collected from consumers (such as consumers food choices, how they shop, their preferred travel destination, people with whom and how they interact) and use it to advertise products more effectively and improvise a product’s or service’s overall user experience, thus fulfilling their ultimate goal of selling product. With such capabilities, it aims to generate a substantial enhancement in the development of the sales industry. 

For Instance, a health app that can track sleeping patterns, heart rate or blood sugar levels, can alert users before adverse health situations and suggest them with behavior changes for the positive result. Such information could prove significantly important to companies by providing them with deeper insight into how they should be channelizing their marketing efforts.  

As per Gartner, “The same wearables that health insurance companies use to track physical activities to reduce premiums could also be used to monitor grocery purchases; too many unhealthy items could increase premiums.”

GBKSOFT, a software company has helped golfers to improve their playing skills by correcting their existing ball striking technique and learning new techniques with its app and wearable device. The golfers can connect their handheld device and connect it with their mobile phone, every time the golfer hits the ball the app records and analyses its impact. Thus golfer can not only improvise by analyzing their mistake but also track for any trajectory or stroke force.

Tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon are continuously tracking and working on algorithms to configure and anticipate consumer desires and behaviors

Covid has brought a wider acceptance of IoB for human behavioral surveillance. IoB can prove to be an extremely effective method to avoid spread of virus. For instance, computer vision or facial recognition can be used to determine if employees are complying with mask protocols or not. While, electronic devices such as RFID tags and sensors on employee or in the environment can be used to check if they are washing or sanitizing their hands regularly or not. Speakers can be used to warn people violating such protocols.

Test and Trace app on smart devices can be used by government agencies to monitor and curtail people’s location and activities to ensure their chances of contacting virus, while effectively enhancing overall public welfare.

While IoB has a great potential to improve our lives it has some negative aspects as well, cyber security being the prime concern. It can give access to cyber criminals with not just behavioral data such as consumer buying patterns or their likes/dislikes but also give access to their banking code, by which they can create advance scams, and take phishing to another level.

Moreover, data generated from social media platform such as Facebook and Instagram is changing the dynamics of value chain, and companies are using this opportunity to modify human behaviors. This goes well with the saying “If you are not paying for it, you are no longer the customer, you are the product being sold”

Some people might find surveillance of behavior as an Invasion of their privacy. “China’s Social Credit System” a Chinese government based surveillance programme is one such example, which includes all characteristics of judging citizens’ behaviour and trustworthiness. With this system the government is supporting good human behaviour and discouraging bad behavior. This is not going well with people who value their civil rights.

Moreover, laws regarding IoT vary widely, and considering IoB has much more sensitive data, both government and private organizations need to establish robust privacy laws to bring legal consistency.

As per Gartner, “Much of the scope and execution of an IoB will depend on local privacy laws, which may affect how data can be used and in what way”.

Regardless of the apprehensions expressed above, IoB has the ability to make our lives effortless, be it improving business, encouraging us to live a healthy life or ensure our safety during pandemic situations. Any government of private organization who implement IoB needs to make sure of strong cyber security and data protection laws.

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