This has been a week of celebration for big tech companies. In an exercise in exhibitionism in the face of investors, GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) have coordinated to announce first quarter earnings. We knew that the pandemic was the perfect storm for mandatory and accelerated digitisation, but they continue to exceed expectations. Despite the fact that, in finance, the devil is in the detail, the bonanza doesn't stop and they are cashing in big time.
Let's have a look at Google's data: between January and March 2021 its revenue has grown by 34%. It is worth remembering that it was the company that started the data economy at the beginning of the century when the dotcom bubble burst. Twenty years later it is still leading the way and offering solutions for all sectors. The most prosperous line of business is the "cloud": in months they have managed to accelerate adoption that would have taken 5 years, both in the public and private sector, with a strong emphasis on education systems. Approximately one third of the global north lives hanging from the cloud.
In their framework, to innovate is to anticipate basic needs among the vast amounts of data they work with and to arrive before anyone else at a solution that is eye-catching, cheap and easy to use. At every stage of the pandemic they have rushed to offer solutions for diagnosis, prevention and now logistics to support the distribution of vaccines and manage vaccination campaigns in many countries. And it is not the first time: more than a decade ago they were already experimenting with the Google Flu Trends project, in which they used symptom searches to predict the behaviour of influenza and influenza A viruses. They stopped the project due to lack of accuracy and continued to improve the algorithms. The latest tests claim that in the US they can predict covid outbreaks a week in advance.
Convenience is precisely the argument that is making the public sector cave in. People with key positions and the key to budgets are now the target of technological metaphors. They end up buying them under the effects of seduction and the pressure of short-termism, instead of defining the purposes and conditions of innovation, aligned with fundamental challenges.
Opting for greedy and unbridled monopolies is a problem of the market but above all of rights and freedoms. There are alternatives to big tech but they are difficult to find if you don't put in the effort and desire. A good part of them are emerging in France and Germany and the continental route responds to a strategy of digital sovereignty that allows us to emancipate ourselves from the foreign clouds and at the same time create a market of real alternatives. One of such promising projects is GaiaX, currently in the testing phase. This cloud platform will host various services and digital infrastructures in which competition will be encouraged. If we are going to live hanging from a cloud, we might at least choose from which one. And while we are asking, if it is cooperative, even better.
Liliana Arroyo Moliner has a PhD in sociology and is an expert in digital transformation and social impact at Esade