Its High Time Big Tech is Held Accountable for its Digital Colonialism of the Global South
Digital colonialism of the Global South has always been a dispute that Silicon Valley faces.
It is too well-known that most underdeveloped and developing countries have suffered repressive colonial rule for centuries. But with the passing of time, the countries of what is now known as the Global South have come under a new but highly exclusionary phenomenon of digital colonialism. There is much publicity blitz about the progress of digital civilization but none can deny that it is accompanied by a digital divide. The digital divide is very acute when it comes to the Global North and Global South relations. The key to the innovations of digital technologies not only lies in the Global North but also in the big tech companies that belong to the same portion of the world. Classical colonialism took a long time to be held accountable but in the case of digital colonialism which may have covered much less period so fast in comparison, there is a growing feeling that it is high time to call for its accountability. In this context, big tech, the main agency of digital colonialism, is under critical scanner for obvious reasons.
Several ways are contemplated to encounter digital colonialism but one major way which has gained a good degree of credibility is ‘localization’. It essentially calls for greater and serious attention to the local context and the local factors. There is substantial logic in seeking ‘localization’. For instance, if a digital expert, say a data scientist from any part of the west, is flown to a country in Africa, Asia, or Latin America, how successful the effort to integrate or assimilate the data will be is a question that begs consideration. Imposition from ‘above’, without taking into account the local reality, will only result in a self-defeating venture.
There are some highly commendable instances to confront digital colonialism and one such instance is the Distributed AI Research Institute (DAIR), which claims to be a “space for independent, community-rooted AI research, free from Big Tech’s pervasive influence on the research, development, and deployment of AI.” Set up by Dr. Timnit Gebru, an Ethiopian-born eminent AI ethics researcher, who was suddenly ousted from Google in 2020. Gebru is firm in her belief that the harms caused by mainstream AI are preventable and she wishes to enhance the role of public interest technology that contributes to the creation of a “future that values equality and humanity”. DAIR privileges local communities in order to achieve such aims. There are other initiatives, such as several ones from Greenpeace to integrate high tech with local culture.
On their part, the big tech must also be made aware that a greater number of digitally empowered people in the Global South will also provide a greater market, and if this happens there will be less need to manipulate the revenue systems of these countries to amass illegitimate profit.
Digital colonialism is a force with exceptional power in terms of finance and human resources. Initiatives like DAIR are to be replicated around the Global South (and also in the Global North) in order to let big tech understand that sponsoring technology that leaves a large section of humanity untouched by its benefits will not go unattended and uncontested forever. Then again, in local, be it knowledge or skill or resource, lies the ‘key’.