THORMANN: Big Tech in the Wrong Hands: How China Can Win Without Ever Firing a Shot

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Wednesday, May 12, 2021


Recently, Chinese tech giants Huawei and Xiaomi removed the Nike and Adidas apps from their app stores after the companies had pledged not to import cotton from the Chinese Xinjiang region.

This begs the question: What if the “Big Tech” of tomorrow is Chinese, not American?

Militarily, China might get ready to take Taiwan or the Spratly Islands, but an all-out war with the West is unimaginable. But to win the coming Cold War, it might not need military force. If China gets the upper hand on tech, it can radically alter our way of life.

Much of our everyday life is dependent on the internet. We get our news from Twitter or Facebook, listen to podcasts on iTunes, watch movies from Netflix, take rides with Uber, and make payments through PayPal. A handful of companies control much of what we do online, and luckily, most of them are located in America. In America, corporations are free to do business as they please, even if we don’t like what they do, but they’re not under the observant purview of the state like those in China.

So assume for a second all of those tech giants start emerging from China. It’s not an unimaginable scenario. Today already, most of our phones are produced in China, and with the rise and controversy of TikTok, there’s already a prominent Chinese social media platform in the West.

In such a scenario, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would potentially have control over much of social media platforms. 

Post a caricature of President Xi? Removed for violating community standards. News about Chinese human rights abuses? Shadow-banned from your followers. Books on “Tiananmen Square?” Those become harder to access. And there’s no need to ban that hawkish politician running in the upcoming election from social media because you’ll never even hear about them. They simply won’t make it into your news feed. 

Forget about Russian interference through a few Facebook ads. A foreign adversary with direct control over the entirety of social media would be able to carry out large-scale, highly-sophisticated election interference. But that’s not the only concern. If the CCP had access to all the data American Big Tech has right now, it would most certainly allow for large-scale surveillance of the global citizenry. 

People today get cancelled for all kinds of things they once said on social media. Imagine Chinese tech companies demanding corporations with whom they do business prohibit their employees from engaging in “Anti-China rhetoric.” Say a bad word about the CCP, and you lose your job. That isn’t far-fetched; recall that NBA fans were removed from games for protesting Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong. With access to those combined amounts of data, the CCP would track what we do, when, where we go, and everything we text or say.

Technology and the online world have a lot of power over our lives. Much of the world of tomorrow will be data-driven. But if the keys to that power suddenly fall into hands of a totalitarian state, it becomes a mere tool for that state to besiege America. China may never literally invade the West, but the premier online services of the future are up for grabs.

If America and the West fall behind in the tech race against China, it could be devastating, dystopian even. That’s why free enterprise in the US tech world is needed more than ever to ensure America stays in front of Chinese innovation.

Sebastian Thormann is studying Information Systems at the University of Passau, Germany. He is interested in US and German politics as well as economics. His other hobbies include coding, skiing, and playing the piano.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Sebastian Thormann

Sebastian Thormann is studying Information Systems at the University of Passau, Germany. He is interested in US and German politics as well as economics. His other hobbies include coding, skiing, and playing the piano.

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