- On January 23, 2020
- Facebook, France's Gafa Tax, Google, Tech Companies, The Guardian, Twitter, US Government
This post represents my contribution to an informal, doctoral class discussion inspired by a January 12, 2020 article published by The Guardian referencing a decision made in France to tax tech giants such as Google and Facebook. In fact, the tax — known as the Gafa tax — is strongly supported by Cédric O, France’s digital affairs minister, who believes the tax move is “politically symbolic and democratically important.”
France’s forthcoming Gafa tax on big tech is a long time coming for tech companies as they just can’t continue operating as they’ve been (paying low, if any, taxes … no regulations … monopolizations, and so on).
Regarding my usage of quotes around the phrase “tech companies,” I place the term in quotes because these companies have severely outgrown their tech company origins status and are far more media or publishing focused. Arguably, even the so-called tech companies don’t describe themselves as tech companies:
In a January 2, 2020 press release, Facebook describes itself an organization that “gives people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
Twitter’s About statement from its corporate news releases for investors says, “Twitter, Inc. (NYSE: TWTR) is the best and fastest place to see what’s happening and what people are talking about all around the world. From breaking news and entertainment to sports and politics, from big events to everyday interests.”
Google’s corporate homepage has a HUGE font/phrase before you scroll or see anything else that says: “Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
The above inspires a few comments and questions:
- I realize technology is needed to power much of these aspirational missions but what exactly constitutes “a tech company?”
- Don’t most organizations today heavily rely on technology to produce and distribute their goods and services?
- Is there a ratio of some kind that delineates how much technology must be deployed to classify a company as a “tech company?” For example, if you’re mostly an online service, does that by default classify you as “a tech company?”
I pose such questions because I think, in my view, the term “a tech company” is rather dated and not as applicable as it once was.
Yes, I understand technology is a huge component of social networks, but technology is a huge component of many brands and businesses. So to say social networks (or a search engine) = “a tech company” is, I believe, too dated of a term or definition to be relevant or meaningful.
But because most of these services have advertising-centric models, wouldn’t that make them more advertising companies rather than technology companies? Most of their revenue, if not all, comes from ad revenue. Then would that fact not make them more media or as publishers rather than technology companies?
Food for thought, especially in light of having read ‘Our minds can be hijacked‘ (Lewis, 2017), which clearly outlines the tremendous challenges posed to individual users, communities, and even governments (elections, economies, etc.) when said tech companies rely exclusively on advertising models to operate.
Over the past few years, Facebook itself — as an example — has indicated it is unable to fully address the challenges of hate speech, inciting of violence, etc. from its platform and have been asking governments for help in regulation:
- March 31, 2019
Mark Zuckerberg wants you — and your government — to help him run Facebook (“In a Washington Post op-ed, the Facebook CEO is calling on “governments and regulators” around the world to help rein in the internet and his own company.”)
- January 9, 2020
Mark Zuckerberg’s Message To The U.S. Government In Annual Note: Regulate Us, Just Don’t Break Us Up (“As long as our governments are seen as legitimate, rules established through a democratic process could add more legitimacy and trust than rules defined by companies alone. There are a number of areas where I believe governments establishing clearer rules would be helpful, including around elections, harmful content, privacy, and data portability. I’ve called for new regulation in these areas and over the next decade I hope we get clearer rules for the internet.”)
I don’t know what the answers are or could/should be but regulation of some kind, in the USA and beyond, seems critical and beyond necessary at this point.
And about free speech in the US
While I agree that the ability to express one’s political views (should they choose to express them on their social channels) is important and ideally, folks choosing to go this route would not threaten others and/or incite violence.
Television and radio are already heavily regulated and they also mass communicate, mass inform, mass connect. I don’t see why then tech companies should remain unregulated as they, too, mass communicate, mass inform, and mass connect.
Just my .02 cents.
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Mayra Ruiz-McPherson, MA, MFA
Media Psychologist & Strategist
Au-Yeung, A. (2020, January 10). Mark Zuckerberg’s message to the U.S. government in annual note: regulate us, just don’t break us up. Forbes.
Chrisafis, A. (2020, January 12). France’s digital minister says tax on big tech is just the start. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/12/frances-digital-minister-tax-on-tech-giants-just-the-start-cedric-o-gafa.
Kafka, P. (2019, March 31). Mark Zuckerberg wants you — and your government — to help him run Facebook. Vox. https://www.vox.com/2019/3/31/18289375/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-regulation-washington-post-op-ed.
Lewis, P. (2017, December 12). ‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia. the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/oct/05/smartphone-addiction-silicon-valley-dystopia.