Digital disruption or crisis capitalism? Technology, power and the pandemic

Joan Lopez Solano, Aaron Martin, Franklyn Ohai, Siddharth de Souza, Linnet Taylor

Research output: Book/ReportReport

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This report explores how technology firms used the pandemic to expand their reach, change their business strategies and capture new public functions and market positions in Europe. While some of the fundamental shifts we identify predate the start of the public health emergency, the crisis context has amplified the encroachment of tech firms across a range of different sectors and enabled a rapid expansion of commercial technological power in areas where public service provision and private-sector business models are not aligned, and in ways that current regulatory frameworks are ill-equipped to deal with. We argue, using the concept of ‘sector transgressions’ - the involvement of commercial actors in spaces where their business models, practices and ethics are misaligned with established actors in those spaces - that we need to understand and contest the far-reaching ramifications of the increased presence and power of tech firms in all areas of public and private life. We document how tech firms have strategised to move into the health, education, security, transportation, payments and identity sectors during the pandemic. We identify both a supply-side problem of opportunistic moves and a demand-side problem where the emergency has made possible new forms of privatisation and the delegation of key public functions. In response to these changes, we call for a more holistic perspective on the problems of technological power, and propose ways for civil society organisations and their funders to tackle them. We offer a framework of naming, blaming and claiming to show how civil society has confronted — and can continue to reckon with — transgressions by tech firms. We offer tools for identifying sector transgressions; analysing and attributing responsibility to those causing them; and finally establishing claims through strategic litigation, documentation and campaigns to raise public awareness and to ensure accountability of tech firms.
Original languageEnglish
Commissioning bodyEuropean Artificial Intelligence Fund
Number of pages55
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


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