It has become clear that fewer corporations control larger shares of the market for both goods and services. This is obvious in industries such as banking, agriculture, entertainment, news, and pharmaceutical. The specialization of many corporations ensures that they will not face accusations of monopoly or collusion and therefore can legally dominate their market. With this fact in mind it becomes clear that people should ask: what are a corporations responsibilities to citizens and stakeholders? Are there new types of regulations that the government needs to put in place?
Before we can try to answer these questions it useful to look at the roll of the new dominant form of value-creation in the modern world: information. It is the most valuable thing on the planet, and probably only the second most vital piece of modern economies besides sources of energy. Data is gathered on individuals in order to better sell them products, to identify trends, to advertise more efficiently, to design more suitable products, and to fill their various desires and needs. Data is gathered from the natural world, from systems, and from markets in order to decide economic policy, where to drill for oil, when to send shipping, and how to organize ports and airports.
The digitization of information, vast quantities of information, is useless without a way to sift through them to pull out patterns and specific pieces of datum relevant to various topics. For consumers, the algorithms of Google (now a subsidiary of Alphabet) are the perfect example of a corporation brilliantly capitalizing on the mass information contained on the internet. Without Google the internet becomes a featureless ocean impossible to navigate. But the information flows go both ways, Google collects information on its users as it finds the information they seek. This gives Google enormous power and social influence.
Should people rely on Google’s internal conception of ethics and responsibility in safeguarding their data and influence? Google has touted its approach as “being profitable without being evil.” However, when conflicts between ethics and revenue arose, revenue won, this was the case with Google’s experience in China. Google complies with local restrictions on its products and searches in exchange for access. This clearly demonstrates that profit triumphs over the free flow of information.
Companies have a responsibility to place reasonable safeguards on users’ data but they do not have many restrictions on how they can use that data. In an information-rich world health care corporations, internet service providers, and companies that offer services like Google should be subject to regulation that protects the selling and use of their data, beyond the boilerplate agreements that consumers regularly and immediately sign for access to products.
The right to privacy is often considered sacred in Western societies and is enshrined in constitutions and declarations of rights. But privacy rights have not kept up with technology. More than government intrusion into privacy, corporate invasions of privacy have gone unchecked and largely unquestioned. Profit and the desire to advance a consumer-driven economic model have led corporations to horde and exploit data in almost unseemly way. It is time for governments to protect consumers from signing over the details of their lives to corporations whose services are impractical NOT to use.