An ‘all app’ concentrates power and weakens democracy


Monopoly, the board game, is often presented as a demonstration of capitalism, teaching us how business works. In fact, it does more than that. While it is true that the goal of a budding capitalist is to grab as large a market share as possible, the game shows that allowing one player to do so is bad for society as a whole. . Now, there is nothing wrong with a businessman looking for a monopoly. It is up to society, through its political institutions, to protect its broader interests and check monopolistic tendencies through public policies.

It’s no surprise that tech entrepreneurs dream of an “all-app,” a smartphone app that will deliver everything to everyone. Elon Musk has become the latest investor to declare ambition to build such a super-app, saying his shotgun acquisition of Twitter “is an accelerator for the creation of X, the universal app”. There are others who want to emulate the success of WeChat, a Chinese super-app that elevated its developer Tencent to the top of China’s tech ecosystem.

Much of the immediate reaction to Musk’s statement focused on the difficulty of building an app while outside of China today. Yes, it is true that the timing of WeChat has been important in its success, payment integration is tricky as financial regulations are strict and vary by jurisdiction and user behavior in China may differ from that in other countries. But those are Musk’s problems.

Of greater concern to free societies around the world is the fact that “multipurpose application” poses enormous risks to personal, economic, and political freedom. app” anyone can quote her, and she comes from China, an authoritarian regime. In practice, the concept only really makes sense there. It does not benefit users that WeChat dominates all aspects of the digital life, but benefits the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party. (And investors in Tencent, the Chinese government-controlled parent company of WeChat.)”

It is practically impossible for a person in China to opt out of WeChat. The user is socially locked into a “private” enterprise for the exercise of one or all of the socio-economic functions. Tencent and the Chinese Communist Party therefore have massive power and influence over hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens. The company behind a multipurpose app will have a greater grip on the minds, choices, and actions of citizens than religious, social, and political leaders ever have. No sovereign state, let alone a liberal democracy, should accept such an outcome.

It doesn’t matter if all the apps are foreign or native. To the extent that they dominate markets and have influence, they pose a threat to individual freedom and state sovereignty. Instead of waiting until it’s too late, public policy must prevent apps from gaining socio-economic dominance in the first place.

This can be done in two ways. The first is to ensure that the market for applications, operating systems and platforms is competitive. In addition to enforcing consumer protection and competition laws, India needs stronger privacy and data protection laws under the Digital India Act that the government of the Union is considering. Already in-house developed apps that started out as ride-sharing, food delivery and apartment entry services are becoming super apps. Legislation should inject regulatory hurdles, frictions and legal firewalls to prevent entrepreneurs from gaining dominance in multiple markets.

The second path is for the state to promote an open public digital infrastructure and to require interoperability. The Unified Payment Interface (UPI) and the new Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) are examples. Even these should be pushed in the direction of greater openness, sustainable business models and greater competition.

At a deeper level, Musk’s desire to emulate the Chinese model alerts us to a danger that lies ahead: the interests of Big Tech diverge from those of liberal democracies. That their ad-based business models are problematic is well known and under public scrutiny. Less recognized is how national interests can be undermined by the reckless adoption of technological business models that willy-nilly lead us into a dystopia of unfreedom. Engineers and managers who generally lack a general education in civics, humanities and ethics are ill-equipped to make socially responsible choices. Entrepreneurs who take inspiration from Chinese apps and business models should worry us. Investors, founders, and educational institutions must make an effort to educate tech professionals on social issues. Preserving our freedoms is indeed perhaps their most important corporate social responsibility. India’s interests would be better served if tech companies used their CSR funds to invest in the liberal education of their workforce rather than social welfare.

Cordier: Elizabeth Magie patented The Landord’s Game in 1904 “to demonstrate that an economy which rewards individuals is better than one where monopolies hold all the wealth” and can be played with either monopolistic or anti-monopoly rules. Ironically, the former proved to be more popular and have been the basis of the Monopoly board game since 1935. The board game market, however, is fragmented and competitive.

Nitin Pai is co-founder and director of The Takshashila Institution, an independent center for public policy research and education

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