Wednesday 22 May 2019

Google’s Huawei ban is good news: Tech giants shouldn’t always get their way

Big tech has gone unchallenged for too long. Donald Trump’s decision to blacklist the Chinese company is changing that

The post-digital revolution starts here. Thank you, Donald Trump. The US president’s decision to blacklist Huawei, which has led to Google ending collaborating with the company, may have the worst of motives. It could have the best of consequences.

So far, global government has proved impotent in forcing the grand monopolies of the digital age to adhere to any regulation. They have gone where they like, gobbled up competitors as they choose and paid taxes (or none) as the whim takes them. The only rivalry has been in physical products such as smartphones, but they are just shells for conveying monopoly power round the world.

Trump’s objections to Huawei are largely based on ignorance. He does not like China, with some reason, and calls it a “foreign adversary”, with precious little reason. No one knows how devious or dangerous Huawei may be, but it is the second-largest supplier of phones to the world – ahead of Apple – and opinion differs on how far this gives it a potential weapon of economic or even military aggression. Huawei’s eagerness to dominate the 5G networks clearly places the agent of a mass surveillance state in an alarming position worldwide.

 ‘Trump’s objections to Huawei are largely based on ignorance.’ Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images
When anyone has such power, the precautionary principle rightly applies. Britain’s Theresa May disagrees with Trump about Huawei, dividing her cabinet on the issue. But her only reason appears a bad one, not to endanger Britain’s “kowtow” diplomacy, initiated under David Cameron when he was desperate for Chinese money for vanity projects. May’s was a decision of weakness, not strength.

When the world wide web was invented in the 1990s it was widely seen as heralding a new era of global co-operation and mutual understanding. Autocracy and deceit would fall before the sheer weight of numbers. The “end of history” would dawn in a new liberal consensus, fed by an open exchange of information.

The prospectus was naive and flawed. The best in human nature has been in contention against the worst, a stage army of fanatics, liars, pornographers, criminals and trolls. The new capitalists behaved like old ones. Left to their own devices, they exploited markets and grew voraciously. Their size, profits and power were so great that no one dared confront them. Some even doubted if confrontation was practicable.

The last weapon against them may be the most cynical: national security, a stock excuse for bogus authoritarianism. But any reason is better than nothing. Both Huawei and Google will find their wings clipped. Alternatives will spring up. Domestic legislators will be emboldened to tax and regulate. This is an industry in its infancy. But the break-up of the giants of the information age – as of any age – is in the interests of openness and freedom. Trump could yet prove an accidental revolutionary.

(Source: The Guardian)

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