Tech giants face US Congress hearings on competition

Just came across this article on the US Congress hearings of the giant Tech companies Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple. What called my attention was the approach from the executives (you know, corporate diplomats) in stating that they face competition and are not monopolies – which, let’s be honest, is not quite accurate.

I believe that the issue with governmental affairs professionals in private organizations is the short-sighted vision on matters of public interest. This is the core scope of their work and yet, governmental affairs specialists bring this fierce attitute of business strategy to the public debate – definitely not a win-win approach. This approach will only continue to get the exact conter-productive reaction they got from congressman David Cicilline, as reported by Wired:

“I don’t think there’s any question that we cannot expect them to regulate themselves. We’ve seen the total absence of any ability to regulate themselves, so I think it will absolutely require some action by congress.”

Would it be reasonable to say that the new data economy revolves around data as the raw material of its production systems? Does this mean that these tech companies are extracting data as a commodity?

They are arguing that they extract these commudities to serve their consumers. But, aren’t their consumers the people who they also extract the raw material from?

And what do the consumers/suppliers get in exchange? Not much except an overwhelming load of personalized advertising (is this a benefit, anyway?) and access to content creation and sharing platforms – which is the over-the-top (OTT) infrastructure of the production system.

Well, I believe that it basically comes down to the fact that the emerging production mode (knowledge production systems) does not close the economic feedback loop. In the industrial mode of production, in which raw material is in fact extracted from space territory, there is a feedback loop – concessions pay taxes and royalties to the States that have sovereignty over territory and wages to workers who provide labor to extract the material. However, in the emerging information age, the story is completely different. And my argument is that people – the data subjects from which raw material is extracted, hence data providers – are shut outside of the economic loop. This has something to do with the flawed assumption that all individuals performing economic agency (i.e. as both end consumers and data providers) are conscious homo economicus.

But anyway, this is a long academic argument which I will try to elaborate on further in my next article. Until then, I offer a couple of links to the respective US Congress hearings that made headlines this week.

[Podcast] The historical context of Corporate Diplomacy as an emerging practice

In this first podcast, I will be speaking about the historical context of Corporate Diplomacy as an emerging practice. This historical context is important because it will tell us how Corporate Diplomacy came to emerge as a practice in private organizations.

I am going to give you a few dates within a time frame so that you can be situated historically, which were taken from the United Nations` website. So, in 1865 and 1874 is when we saw the first international organizations to take form. But up until the Cold War approximately, we say in International Relations that we were living in an era of Realism, because we had a “realistic” international system: Nation States were the ony actors – the most powerful actors – who were able to negotiate their individual interests within the international system.

So, if that is pretty much how it was until the Cold War, so why is it exactly that I want to speak about international organizations? Because with the emergence of international organizations this scenario starts to shift a little. So, very lightly, in the beginning – 1865 and 1874 – with the first international organizations, which were the International Telecommunications Union and then the Universal Postal Union, we see these international movements where individual members started to get together to negotiate over particular subjects. Then we had the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 that became the League of Nations trying to establish peace right after the I World War (they weren’t very successful because we had the II World War, so they interrupted their activities). Within the Treaty of Versailles the International Labour Organization also took form. Then we had the II World War, and after we were done with that mess, in 1945 the institution United Nations was officially formed. And then in 1948, the GATT – the General Agreement on Tarifs and Trade – which later became the World Trade Organization – the WTO to establish some sort of negotiation in the international trading system.

These  international organizations started coming into the international scene and becoming more relevant, so they had more relevance in the negotiations – not only Nation States now had to negotiate these multilateral agreements and negotiations, but we also had the international organizations interested in the public good, of course.

But when we reache the 1980s and 1990s, we start seeing these internationalizations movements – the internationalization processes of corporations. You know, majorly American, European and Japanese private organizations that started to establish offices and branches overseas in other territories, and they became these networked private international organizations. These transnational organizations – transnational corporations – they started growing to the extent where some of them can actually be more powerful than some of the Nations States nowadays, and this is where we say that they became powerful enough where they have a lot of influence and a lot of power to come into the negotiation table in the international system. And this is where I say that we see the birth of Corporate Diplomacy, because these institutions are very powerful.

So, just to recap, we had the Nation States, they were the main actors, the most powerful actors, they would do all the negotiations. Then we started seeing the emergence of international organizations into the system and that is the beginning of the diffusion of power in the negotiations, and then more towards the 80s and 90s we see these private organizations – these transnational corporations – also taking form and becoming more powerful and starting to influence decision-making within the public environment.

To add a little more of a theoretical perspective, within International Relations we have a few authors who really theorize this movement and explain what is going on with these dynamics. Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye have partnered in a couple of publications, but I mostly like this publication by Joseph Nye called The Future of Power, and also Susan Strange in her publication called The Retreat of the State: The Diffusion of Power in the World Economy. They both talk about how technology is not put at the center of this transformation, but gains a very significant aspect on why this transition happens. So, information and communication technologies were very influential in the transition of power and the diffusion of power. These two authors, Joseph Nye and Susan Strange in these two books, will explain this in a very concise and a very clear way.

So, with these private organizations having more significance and having more space to negotiate and promote their individual private interests, you have the employees who go out and relate to governments and other institutions and then negotiate their interest. But the thing is that we need to create the mindset in these professionals that they are actual diplomats from these organizations because of how powerful these private institutions are becoming, so they need to be trained as corporate diplomats. It`s a little complex to train these profesisonals, but they have to become more aware of their political influence in the external environment – outside of the organizations of course.

So this was the first podcast, and in the next podcast I will talk about the structure of the corporate diplomacy foreign policy. As much as public diplomacy has its foreign policy as a structured strategy for the State, we need to think of the Corporation as a state, as na institution that has a structured strategy to deal with the external environment.

Stick around, there is a lot more to come!