Futuribles Journal n° 444

Économie, emploi - Institutions - Recherche, sciences, techniques

The Internet Giants vis-à-vis Nation-States

The first wave of Covid-19 and the strict lockdowns that accompanied it in spring 2020 revealed the crucial role played by IT, the Internet, digital platforms and all the other related tools in the conduct of everyday activities. Paradoxically, while large swathes of national economies were collapsing, digital businesses saw an explosive rise in activity — and profits. In that sector, the cake is largely divided up between a handful of — mainly US and Chinese — tech colossi. Their power increases daily and the Internet giants have become essential to most users/consumers of goods and services — and also to an increasing number of public-sector bodies.

In this context, many questions arise about the consequences of that exponential power and the tentacular expansion of these giant corporations: how is user data to be protected? How can states preserve their independence and their sovereignty in certain fields where these tech giants have a massive presence? What forms of regulation can be envisaged to counter their growing influence against a background of increased rivalry between the USA and China, with Europe lagging behind?

In this article, Jean-François Soupizet provides a number of pointers for understanding this rise of the Internet giants and how they have become enmeshed in our everyday lives; he shows how states on the different continents are trying as best they can to regulate their activities in a globalized economy. Lastly, he sketches out three possible scenarios for how the balance of power may evolve between these tech giants and nation-states, and the outcomes that might ensue.

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