Are governments going after big tech?

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Are governments going after big tech?

Why our faith matters as citizens and consumers

April 9, 2024 -

File - Apple CEO Tim Cook waves at an announcement of new products on Sept. 12, 2023, in Cupertino, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

File - Apple CEO Tim Cook waves at an announcement of new products on Sept. 12, 2023, in Cupertino, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

File - Apple CEO Tim Cook waves at an announcement of new products on Sept. 12, 2023, in Cupertino, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

In March, giants within the tech industry came under the scrutiny of global governments.

The US Department of Justice has recently filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple in a New Jersey federal court for what they deem to be increasingly monopolistic behavior in the smartphone market.

The crux of their case lies in the argument that the iPhone’s software has grown ever more insulated and internalized, hampering users’ ability to interact with third-party apps and messaging. For example, Apple has imposed restrictions on what are considered “super apps,” that is, apps that offer services like food delivery and e-commerce outside of Apple’s ecosystem.

This was not the first of Apple’s legal trouble with governmental agencies, nor was it the last.

The EU is investigating Apple, Meta, and Alphabet

This past week, the European Union launched an investigation against not just Apple but also the parent companies of Facebook and Google, i.e., Meta and Alphabet.

The investigation centers around the concern that these companies have violated an act placed into effect by the EU in 2022 titled the Digital Markets Act. The DMA calls for large digital platforms (considered “gatekeepers”) to keep in step with certain obligations that empower third-party vendors to use gatekeeper platforms as their selling place without the unfair imposition of said gatekeepers.

Examples of unfair impositions include “[treating] services and products offered by the gatekeeper itself more favourably in ranking than similar services or products offered by third parties on the gatekeeper’s platform” and “[preventing] consumers from linking up to businesses outside their platforms.”

The EU claims that Apple, Meta, and Alphabet have violated these standards on their digital platforms. If investigations verify these claims, then each of these tech giants is at risk of paying fines of up to 10 percent of their annual turnover.

Additionally, both cases orbit the recent decision of the House of Representatives to force TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to sell TikTok to an American company or face a ban within the country. These instances show clear signs of increased governmental efforts to keep the rising social and economic power of tech giants in check.

For the sake of the consumers?

In both instances, the legal action is claimed to be in the interests of the consumers.

In the DOJ’s lawsuit, the concern is that Apple’s insulative tech forces consumers and their circles of contact to exclusively utilize Apple products for an optimal experience at the exclusion of any potential start-ups or other third-party tools.

In the EU’s investigation, the concern stems from the fact that gatekeepers can call the shots for their digital marketplaces, working their system in such a way that the activity of vendors and consumers must ultimately yield to the platform’s own interests.

Monopolizing within an industry is a true source for potential harm. It is right for governments to exercise their jurisdiction to keep such powers from running rampant.

And yet, it is not too cynical to consider the possibility that the latest efforts of each government institution consist of a mixture of both noble and ignoble intentions.

In its reporting, the BBC notes that European Parliament elections are to be held in June. Is the implication that the DMA, which is “designed for quick results,” may be used to reinforce the staying power of the Parliament in the months before a potential shift of power?

Similarly, the DOJ’s lawsuit against Apple has met its own share of criticism. In an official statement, Apple’s spokesman said that the lawsuit would “set a dangerous precedent, empowering government to take a heavy hand in designing people’s technology.” This possibility, when considered, leaves a chilling vision in the mind of technological progress furthered by the authority of a governmental state.

In the power struggle between the larger-than-life forces of government and big business, it is precisely in the position of the consumer and the ordinary citizen that we can consider a profound insight that bears eternal weight.

Under a new authority

From the perspective of the consumer-citizen, it is easy for our attitudes toward governments and big businesses to seem futile. Sure, we can vote to elect people into office who will represent us—and we can opt to avoid purchasing a good or service from a company whose practices do not align with our principles. But these decisions often feel minute in the wake of the greater sociopolitical currents we exist within.

But a truth remains despite such feelings, no matter how immediate they feel: God has established his kingdom on earth through the advent of his Son. He has liberated us from all principalities, and acts as the first and final authority, as he brings all of his creation under his rightful reign.

The second psalm is a beautiful image of this reality: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lᴏʀᴅ and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart, and cast away their cords from us’” (Psalm 2:2–3). In spite of this, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill’” (vv. 4–6).

The psalmist goes on to describe how God has granted all rule and dominion to his son: “The Lᴏʀᴅ said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (vv. 7–8).

If the kingdom of God is here, and we are also his children through Christ, then not only are we empowered to see the dynamic between ruling forces in a new light.

Our entire identity as a consumer-citizen gets turned on its head.

We become citizens of God’s kingdom. Our appetites as consumers are submitted to the desires of God and what he deems as good for our hearts, minds, and bodies.

If, with these new identities, God is to accomplish his purposes through us, then the way that we engage with governments and economies does hold spiritual significance and immediate relevance. Our votes, our purchases, and our use of goods and services all become opportunities to allow God to engage in his redemptive work across his creation.

These lawsuits and investigations may be issues concerning power.

But we serve the greater power.

Will you claim his authority over you today?

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