Coronavirus has presented challenges that the world had never imagined. There were disaster management plans, and of course, business continuity plans, but none of them stated what to do if the problem persists for an indefinite duration of time. The nations have now started falling apart, to make things worse. The giants of the financial world – the USA and China are far from building cooperation. It is adding fuel to the already growing fire of unemployment and economic crisis. Amid the chaos, technology is still helping humanity to minimize the impact, and sail through the troubled times. The best example is the emergence of big tech in places where it was most needed.
COVID-19 has produced opportunities where many companies can contribute and create a philanthropist image of themselves. Different companies can provide in various forms, depending upon their area of expertise, and help themselves in improving their otherwise sour relationships with society. Manufacturing firms can give up on their regular production plan and focus on creating personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators. Tech companies can focus on spreading awareness and help small businesses lure customers through online mediums, and analytical firms can concentrate on minimizing the fake news and disseminating good practices among the masses through their influential facts and figures. Summarizing, if a company wants to build or improve its image in the society, this might be the time. Big tech has realized this opportunity and started creating a plan to emerge as winners amid the pandemic.
What is Big Tech?
Big tech is one of the several journalism terms that has been around for a decade. It refers to the giant corporates in the technology niche that have used technology to solve modern-day problems, innovate on the products, and uncover the potential of technology for the masses. A few big names include the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Alibaba, Saudi Aramco, and Tencent. It is interesting to note that most of these firms have been under the radar of judicial systems and other federal bodies due to their capitalism and ability. For Instance, Facebook has been under constant pressure from the Judicial authority of the United States ever since President Trump came into power! The reports portray Facebook’s alleged role in helping Donald Trump win the elections. While we are not going to dive into the case, but it is highly unusual to witness how the power of technology can be used to change the course of the world’s most powerful nation.
Nevertheless, coming back to how the role of the Big Tech is changing, or instead evolving during the current crisis! And is this change going to help them?
The Evolution as a Care Taker
Small businesses are unable to generate revenue, people are losing jobs, and fake news is creating confusion and fear that needs to be controlled for the safety of everyone. The big tech has been contributing to all these aspects in some ways.
The Big Tech companies help the economy that own ad networks like Google’s AdWords have awarded small business owners a credit that can be used to run ads, and generate sales. Google has created a budget of a little more than 800 million USD to support small businesses and healthcare researchers in the form of cash grants, advertisement credit, and other investment funds to help NGOs. Google is also planning to make 3 million masks for the CDC Foundation.
Facebook has ramped up to fight fake news and mark poorly-vetted information from its websites and applications. The social media giant has also created a plan to fund fact-checking and support local media in its fight against the spread of rumors. The company has set aside approximately 250 million USD to assist publishers, small businesses, fact-checking organizations, local news channels and publications, healthcare workers, and the United Nation’s efforts to curb the impact of COVID-19 on the world.
With 72 million USD committed to helping the victims of COVID-19, Amazon is planning to help more than 400 small businesses. Amazon has also provided computing power to researchers in the form of AWS resources, which amount to 20 million USD. Amazon is also helping small companies and individuals taking care of delivery services, authors, artists, healthcare workers, and teachers.
Microsoft and Apple have committed $27.5 million and $22 million towards the COVID-19 relief fund. Microsoft’s focus is on funding the research with Gates Foundation pouring in another $100 million and the company allowing its patents to be used freely. Apple has decided to put efforts into the long-term public health recovery plan and towards global response efforts. Apple has also contributed 20 million masks to health workers and is producing 1 million face shields per week.
In Singapore, the E-commerce program has been initiated to tackle the retail SMEs financial woes. Big tech like Amazon Singapore, Lazada Singapore, Qoo10, Shopee are helping the SME Brick & Motor stores to move their business online using their platform, management tools, access the training workshops, content creation, inventory management, and much more. Enterprise Singapore will cover 90% of the cost under this program.
These efforts by the big tech will not just help the needy, but also improve the companies in cleaning their image in the media. But is this enough? Even the big tech knows it is not, and therefore, every company is trying to create programs and applications that can study data and build predictive models. These models will help the governments in predicting the situation, assessing the need, and even run multiple permutations and combinations at once towards developing a vaccine and combat pandemic earliest possible.
Scaling the Services
Big tech has created services and products that are consumed by the world in large quantities. In the time of crisis, the consumption has increased by several folds. For example, Facebook’s Instagram usage has increased, people are spending far more time on YouTube, and thanks to Microsoft’s Skype and Teams, people can work from home. All this would not have been possible if the big tech had not prepared its servers and services to cater to a sudden increase in demand in such a short period. Not just virtually, big tech has also invested in expanding its employee base. For instance, Amazon plans to hire 100,000 extra staff to keep up with the growing number of orders. These services by the big tech have been keeping people indoor, safe, and sane.
But, has it only benefitted the consumers? Think again!
With an increase in the number of employers enabling work from the home framework, the consumption of software and communication application has increased. The big tech is selling licenses like hotcakes, and the expected rise in their stock price supports this. It’s not just the conventional software that has eaten the pie, even other technologies like VPN and cybersecurity has seen a rise in demand. Reports suggest that VPNs have witnessed a growth of more than 100% in the last few days. People are using VPN not just to create a secure environment for their office work but also to access websites that are otherwise blocked in the country. The popularity of VPN is also evident from the fact that Google recently launched its own VPN-like service, called BeyondCorp, which allows the users to connect to the office network without having to worry about intruder attacks. As per Google, BeyondCorp allows faster and seamless access management, which is more straightforward than VPN and promises a similar level of security.
There is another aspect that most people tend to overlook – the availability of data. Since governments are relying heavily on the Big Tech for assistance with research, these companies have access to abundant data that can be machined to find patterns that were never imagined earlier. The Big Tech can form products for the present and the future, using creative techniques. These products will further evolve and help governments, employees, and people in a variety of ways. On the one hand, the idea of having apps of the future is exciting, but on the other, it also makes us vulnerable. But, like the concept of friction, this is the devil that we need. We cannot stop the data from flowing towards the Big Tech. These are the guys that have the money and the power to help save the world from the virus. But of course, should it come at the price of one’s privacy is a tricky question.
The fact that privacy may soon be a faded notion makes the situation frightening. But what is even more alarming is the fact that coronavirus is powerful enough to kill a large part of the population. The future after the pandemic is going to be anything but pleasant. Of course, people will rejoice the end of the epidemic, but it will be a time to reflect upon all the loopholes and vulnerabilities in the systems across the world. Big Tech will have grown stronger. It will have learned all the different ways that people live and spend their time, and it would decorate its fortress with the colors of the victory. It will preach the world the wisdom it would have gained from the pandemic. The impact of the Big Tech will become even more pronounced. It would have found its way into every aspect of our life, right from working at the office to healthcare.
But, will the world be as liberal as it is today? Will the supply chain and healthcare improve with the use of technology? Will small businesses come back to their old charm and glory? Will the concept of online classes, and work from home be the new norm? Finding answers to all these questions and several variables that tag along with them will be a thing to watch as the future unfolds.