The Fluid Society

Digital Utilities

There has been a long-standing discussion about the position of the Tech Giants, the social media they have brought to the market, the Apps and what it all entails. On the one hand, many governments in particular are of the opinion that the power of these companies is gradually becoming too great. So there is talk of limiting their power. Should the companies perhaps be split ? But for which problem is this really the solution ? How should we tackle these companies fiscally, which make huge profits, but don’t pay taxes in the countries where the turnover is made ? And then the misery with fake news: more and more people believe a lot of well-designed fake messages more than official messages from governments or classic media.

On the other hand, we cannot deny that these companies bring a lot of new developments to the market that are highly appreciated by both consumers and companies. Virtually every citizen, whether living in a poor or rich country, makes exuberant use of the many possibilities offered by the Tech Giants. Meanwhile, Tech Giants are increasingly moving into areas previously run by stately, national companies: payment systems, banking, education, Apps for accounting and administration, for health, for buying and selling orders, for running a shop or business, for information about agriculture or growing crops. In many developed countries, many do not know whether information and knowledge on almost all subjects originated from Tech Giants and not from the government or other institutions.

Because “the fluid society” does not have any form of control from the classic nation-states and institutions, the Tech Giants occupy more and more a position in the digital world. They have imperceptibly conquered a position in the digital world of the future that can no longer be ignored or trivialized. And as long as the classical governments and institutions do not take the digital world seriously, this process will continue.

The Tech Giants can therefore unreservedly be regarded as the Digital Utilities of the digital society. After all, who can still surround their services ? And even better: who wants to get around their mostly well-organized services ? Almost every consumer, as well as millions of companies, use the services of these companies and, in many cases, can no longer do without them. And as long as they continue to provide services that make most people and companies happy, there is no fundamental reason to cut them off.

But there are a few comments to be made. The world is quite troubled by problems with fake news. Sometimes inspired by governments, sometimes by angry citizens and in another case by criminals. But it is clear that this must come to an end. As far as social media is concerned, these companies are caught between classic telecom companies, which do not bear responsibility for the content of messages, and classic media companies such as newspapers, which do bear responsibility for the content of their media. Social media should therefore be seen as a new category of communication that needs its own regulations. Another point, as mentioned, is the exorbitant profits that these companies make, while they pay little or no tax in the countries where the turnover is made. It is clear that the classic tax systems will have to be renewed on this point.

So there are a few things that should be arranged. But haven’t we settled these matters with the classic utilities? Whether it concerns the banks, energy companies, telecom companies, education, health care, or airlines: all have a certain freedom of action, but have to comply with certain regulations imposed by governments.

That’s how it should be with these Tech Giants. We have to consider them as the utilities of the digital society: “digitilities” and will have to impose certain rules on them, just as we do with traditional utilities, insofar as they are active in the public domain. However, there is one problem that cannot be solved yet. These companies all operate in the digital world, which is organised internationally and does not operate on a national basis. Governments will therefore have to jump over their shadows and provide international legal frameworks for these companies. This will be a challenge in the coming years for governments that can’t or don’t want to think any further than their nation state.

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