Who’ll rule the digital world in 2022?

Who’ll rule the digital world in 2022?

Apple this week became the first company ever to surpass $3 trillion in market value — the latest milestone in the growing influence of Big Tech.

This was already happening before the pandemic, but COVID accelerated the trend. More people now buy stuff online, keep in touch on social media, and use apps to serve their daily needs than before the virus upended both the "real" and the digital world.

As Big Tech gains more clout, governments are increasingly struggling to exercise sovereignty over the digital space. Our very own Ian Bremmer argues that a handful of tech firms are now as powerful as nation-states: geopolitical actors with unprecedented influence over the information we get access to — and not — via their algorithms.

But governments don't like playing second fiddle to Big Tech in the "technopolar world," a new global order in which tech companies dominate the online world, but don’t rule it (yet). Eurasia Group, our parent company, considers a rapidly expanding digital space that neither governments nor tech firms can effectively control the #2 top geopolitical risk for 2022.

Throughout 2021, governments have tried hard to get the upper hand. Some were more successful than others.

China grabbed headlines when Xi Jinping cracked down on e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, ride-hailing app Didi, cryptocurrencies, and even online gaming. Depending on who you ask, Xi did so because these firms were enriching themselves at the expense of what Beijing calls “societal harmony,” or rather threatening to become more influential than the ruling CCP. Since then, China’s tech giants have tempered their ambitions and signaled they’ll play ball — to Xi’s delight and their own chagrin.

In the US, meanwhile, an hours-long global outage of Facebook and its sister apps Instagram and WhatsApp — along with bombshell whistleblower revelations about the company putting profits over people — prompted a wave of congressional hearings about how Facebook’s algorithm hurts children and promotes online rage. But the momentum for Facebook to have its “Big Tobacco moment” was soon zapped by partisan gridlock in Washington, which is all but assured to continue this year.

The EU arguably made more progress than the Americans or the Chinese on regulating Big Tech. Brussels recently agreed to pass in 2022 a new law that'll punish anti-competitive practices in the digital realm by companies worth at least $80 billion. Separately, the EU is also working on legislation that would ban targeted ads for minors, as well as force Google and Facebook to open up their algorithms, combat disinformation, and be more transparent with users.

Still, none of this is enough for governments to seriously undercut Big Tech's wealth and influence. Nor to diminish its ability to invest in things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, or quantum computing — all of which will in the near future continue to shift the balance of virtual power in favor of tech companies.

What's more, governments won't rock the boat because their citizens are addicted to tech — more so in pandemic times. For almost two years, billions of people have relied on tech solutions to meet almost all their daily needs amid COVID restrictions. Most Chinese communicate, shop and pretty much do everything online on a single app: WeChat, whose use is so widespread that blocking it to punish its owner Tencent would be a non-starter even for the all-powerful Xi.

Tech firms, for their part, also have skin in the game. Big Tech also needs the digital space to be less a free-for-all because tech firms are now providing essential online infrastructure and other public goods that governments have traditionally been responsible for, such as national defense. Apple, Google, and Microsoft have committed billions to help the US government and American businesses bolster their cybersecurity.

Ineffective governance of the digital space by either governments or Big Tech will hurt both sides. And the fallout will in turn damage business and society in the form of more widespread misinformation, stifled innovation, and a greater risk of potentially dangerous tech getting into the hands of bad actors.

Just think of the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack on steroids.
People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

President Vladimir Putin

No one knows whether Russian President Vladimir Putin plans on invading Ukraine. But the president of the United States sure seems to think this is a real possibility, saying Wednesday that Putin will likely "move in" in the near term. Biden, prone to political gaffes, was then forced to awkwardly walk back comments that Russia would face milder consequences from the West in the event of a "minor incursion."

The timing of this blunder is... not great. It comes just as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepares to meet his Russian counterpart on Friday in hopes of lowering the temperature after recent diplomatic efforts in Geneva were deemed a failure by Moscow.

Indeed, with the Kremlin having amassed at least 100,000 troops surrounding Ukraine on three sides, the growing threat is impossible to ignore. So what would a Russian military offensive into Ukraine actually look like, and how might the West respond?

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Omicron has arrived. It's more contagious, but less severe. Some parts of the world are even looking forward to the pandemic becoming endemic.

Not China. Xi Jinping's zero-COVID strategy has worked wonders until now, but it's unlikely to survive omicron, explains Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

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Chilling at the beach, retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel is so over politics. Or is she?


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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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What We’re Watching: Xinjiang at the Beijing Olympics, Boris in deep(er) trouble, Indonesia’s new capital

Selling Xinjiang. Xi Jinping — a man well known for both his grand vision of China’s future, and for his willingness to get large numbers of people to do things they might not otherwise do — said in 2018 that he wanted 300 million Chinese people to participate in winter sports. The Chinese government announced this week that this goal has been met in honor of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which open in China’s capital on February 4. Multinational companies are consistently impressed by the commercial opportunities created when 300 million people decide to try new things. But it’s an inconvenient truth that most of China’s most abundant snow and best ski slopes are found in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, a place where Western governments and human rights organizations have accused Beijing of imprisoning more than one million minority Uyghurs in re-education camps. In these prisons, critics say inmates have experienced “torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment.” As China’s government opens new profit opportunities in Xinjiang, multinational corporations will face pressure from multiple directions not to invest there.

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Hard Numbers: Tongan emergency fundraising, EU docks Poland pay, new Colombian presidential hopeful, Turkey gets UAE lifeline

345,000: As of Wednesday afternoon ET, Tonga's Olympic flag-bearer has raised more than $345,000 online to help the victims of Saturday's volcanic eruption and tsunami. Pita Taufatofua, a taekwondo fighter and cross-country skier, has not yet heard from his father, governor of the main Tongan island of Haapai.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week, discussing Boris Johnson's tenuous status as UK PM, US Secretary of State Blinken's visit to Ukraine, and the volcano eruption in Tonga:

Will Boris Johnson resign?

It certainly looks that way. He's hanging on by his fingernails. He's losing members of Parliament. He's giving shambolic media interviews. In fact, I think the only people that don't want him to resign at this point is the Labour Party leadership, because they think the longer he holds on, the better it is for the UK opposition. But no, he certainly looks like he's going. The only question is how quickly. Is it within a matter of weeks or is it after local elections in May? But feel pretty confident that the days of Boris Johnson are numbered.

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China vs COVID in 2022

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COVID at the Beijing Winter Olympics

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