IN ''The Anarchy'', William Dalrymple describes how one of the world's greatest empires fell prey to a cruel and greedy corporation.

The idea that 'the British' conquered India obscures the fact that it was private for-profit company,  dangerously unregulated and highly militarized, that seized the subcontinent.

Dalrymple believes ''no contemporary corporation could get away with duplicating the violence and sheer might of the East India Company.

Dalrymple's point that ''neither Facebook nor Shell possess regiments of infantry'' is undeniable, but technology corporation now possess a different kind of power : The ability to control narratives, manipulate information, influence and alter people people's thoughts and behaviours.   

Fueled by rise of digital technologies, corporations have become more powerful, more dangerous than ever before. These platforms enable ever more efficient and scalable physical and psychological violence. This is the new military digital complex.

Some typical examples : a corporation uses millions of its users' photos without their consent to develop facial recognition technology to sell to police departments and state agencies; the world's largest search engine agrees to censor its search results to appease an authoritarian regime -

A political consultancy uses a large technology platform to illegally mine data and manipulate election result; a social media company sends cryptic warnings to journalists and activists for posting content that may offend an 'unauthorised entity'.

The Internet has a geography, the origin, location and ownership of infrastructure, data, servers and  information matter.

Who owns and controls infrastructure and computing power; who controls information and sets the agenda for what may or may not be discussed; who is allowed to access and participate in digital spaces - these questions are essential to any democracy.

Equitable access to free and safe online spaces is a basic requirement for a functioning democracy  but is under attack the world over.

The concentration of digital space in the hands of a few large corporations allows for more effective censorship, surveillance and psychological operations.

In the Developing World, say Pakistan, increased digital literacy and access to smartphones and the  Internet has coincided with increasing surveillance of online spaces.

Social media platforms are heavily monitored, the regulatory authorities block access to websites and contents, and laws such as the infamous Prevention of Electronic crimes Act, 2016, allow unprecedented surveillance and ownership.

It is only getting worse. Coda revealed that Pakistan has acquired the services of a Canadian company to build a nationwide ''web monitoring system'' - to monitor communications, measure and record traffic and call data''.

More recently, Freedom House  revealed Pakistan's abysmal ranking in Internet freedom has only worsened, and Facebook revealed Pakistan to be a global leader in censorship requests.

The honor and serving of the latest operational research on Tech, Freedom and Opinions, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Anum Malkani, a development and technology policy consultant.


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