Data Colonialism: Afraka's Digital Dilemma


Emerging technology has caused for private technology and telecommunication companies to own and control more data than governments. Nation states and corporations are engaging in espionage on national and foreign citizens and this trend will increase as they obtain cheaper technologies. The public and private sector surveillance are infringing upon the rights of citizens as they take advantage of groups engaging in digital services to connect and gain information. The power of surveillance and data extraction by public and private mechanisms is leading to the rapid erosion of democracy, federalism, and sovereignty. Information communication technologies (ICT), artificial intelligence (AI) innovation and abilities to deploy infrastructure swiftly in emerging markers, are concentrated in few countries, however, now private corporations are rushing to expand into Afraka. We will discuss in this article why this can be dangerous for the continent, its inhabitants and even worldwide.


The situation of digital domination has led to corporations having power over the entire world, as digital technologies permits present monitoring and the prediction of future behaviors of entire populations. The public and private sectors are merging in joint ventures in a quest for the new age of digital colonialism or global domination (i.e. new world order), infiltrating every citizens resistance movement and governments by collecting personal data through digital devices. These corporations impact policies that shape global standards to serve communities by increased methods of data collection, monitoring, and pattern identification. A case study of this is found in the legal suit filed by the District of Columbia's Office of the Attorney General, regarding the following facts:

  1. That Google retained and used consumer's location information even when disabled;

  2. That Google retained and used consumers’ location information through the Web & App Activity setting, which was defaulted “on” at set up;

  3. That consumers could not prevent Google from retaining and using consumers’ location information by adjusting Google Account settings;

  4. That consumers could not prevent Google from using consumers’ location to target advertisements by disabling the Google Ad Personalization setting;

  5. That Google continues to collect and use consumers’ location information even when the consumer’s “master” device location setting is disabled;

  6. That Google apps obtains a consumer’s location information from other sources available to Google, even when consumers deny those apps permission to access location data; and

  7. That Google products and services, including products and services pre-installed on Android devices (such as Google Now, Google Assistant, and Google Maps), could function properly without Location History and/or Web and App Activity enabled.

The District of Columbia, Office of the Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Google LLC for the company's "use of deceptive and unfair practices to obtain valuable consumer location data," in violation of the District's Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA), D.C. Code § 28-3901, et seq. Google is attributed with a technology company that provides a range of consumer products such as web-based services, applications (Google Search engine, Google maps, Gmail) and hardware (Pixel and Nexus digital devices). Google gains a majority of its revenues from digital advertising by accumulating consumer's personal data to sell. Location data has been harvested by this company and is used to gain sensitive information related to health status, political affiliations, sexual orientation, income, interests groups, etc. This information is then used to monitor consumers' daily activities due to the pervasiveness of Google products in consumer's hands, pockets, homes, and virtually anywhere the consumer goes. Yet, it is vital to recall that often times governments support and fund big tech companies to facilitate this social control on citizens. Hence, it is likely that this law suit is a performative measure as technology advances to penetrate core activities of every branch of government, bureaucracies and communities. Several governments depend on communications infrastructure that are distinctly located in the cloud (i.e., in foreign data centers under foreign-applicable laws). This causes the government to be ineffective and too vulnerable to protect the natural rights of citizens.


If 'developed' countries are having trouble controlling big tech companies by imposing civil penalties for infringing upon the rights of citizens, then, imagine the struggle of 'developing' countries to do the same, while simultaneously grasping concepts of data rights, data sovereignty, and technology autonomous- where corruption runs ramped within and outside the borders Afrakan countries. The 3rd South Atlantic Telephone (SAT3) and West Afrakan Submarine Cable (WASC) is a 14,350km undersea fibre-optic cable running along the western coast of Afraka to the southern part of the continent. The South Africa – Far East (SAFE) submarine cable combines with the SAT3 and WASC to form a larger single network connecting Europe to Asia via western and subsaharan Afraka. "The SAT3/WASC portion has a design capacity of 120Gbps (or approximately 6 million simultaneous telephone calls) and the SAFE portion has a design capacity of 130Gbps." The WASC begins at Sesimbra, Portugal and passes through nine African countries that ends at Melkbosstrand, South Africa. The "Afraka section" of SAT3/WASC (see Figure 2) has the following landing points:

[1] Dakar, Senegal [2] Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire [3] Accra, Ghana [4] Cotonou, Benin [5] Lagos, Nigeria [6] Douala, Cameroon [7] Libreville, Gabon [8] Cacuaco, Angola [9] Melkbosstrand, South Africa. Figure 2: Landing points of the Afraka section of SAT3/WASC

The SAT-3/WASC was commissioned in 1999 and entered commercial service in April 2002. Information about the submarine cable is strenuous to attain and verify as the agreement governing its development, operation and management is deemed "commercially confidential". The sale of SAT3/WASC capacity in each country with a landing station is administered by the investment party from that country. "An analysis of the 1999 shareholder’s agreement states that SAT3/WASC is run by a Management Committee that makes all decisions except for those reserved for the Purchasing Committee" Hence, the proliferation of emerging technologies over the past few decades has bolstered nation-states and corporations handbook for repression, social engineering, and control, deepening existent inequities. Digital technologies are high tech-based solutions and tools that have become integrated in daily activities and life, thus, becoming a fundamental freedom. New technologies are subject to constant enhancement and new technological applications, they may include, but are not limited to:

  • Internet-based platforms and tools

  • telecommunication and video surveillance technologies (e.g. CCTV cameras)

  • online databases and data pooling tools

  • Artificial Intelligence (‘AI’) based technologies

  • biometric technologies (e.g. facial recognition or finger/hand-scans)

  • location technologies (e.g. Global Positioning System (GPS) or Geographical Information Systems (GISs)

  • big data analytics and advanced algorithms

  • multi-level customer interaction and customer profiling

The issue is that technologies are used as a means of repression and social control. In Human Rights and Technology: The Impact of Intrusion and Surveillance Systems on Human Rights in Third World Countries by European Resolution states the impact of intrusion and surveillance systems on human rights in third world countries are:


 (1)  the expansion of widespread biometric surveillance and algorithmic decision-making; 
(2)  the emergence of public health surveillance systems; 
(3)  digital tools of information control; 
(4)  the next generation repression toolkit; 
(5)  transnational dimensions of digital repressions.

Digital rights has a broad definition allowing it to be incorporated as a human right in the digital sphere, sequentially, securing the virtually constructed spaces, infrastructure, intellectual property and other digital content. A concept of algorithmic governance has been developed, which applies to the usage of algorithms and AI-based technologies for governance purposes. The augmentation of algorithms in public policy aids the creation of frequently updated large data sets, which 'are increasingly being used to nudge, bias, guide, provoke, control, manipulate and constrain human behavior'. This raises issues of how big tech and other corporations are abusing emerging technologies to suppress indigenous communities worldwide in various ways. For instance, hyper surveillance systems has controversy regarding ethics, privacy, ownership, data collection and data based decision making. This emerges the concept of digital authoritarianism, a concept that can be understood as 'censorship online', which may include application of digital technologies to 'control, repress, and manipulate domestic and foreign populations for the purpose of power consolidation'. This promotes organized and structured surveillance-based societies. In fact, the response to COVID-19 brought a never seen before upscaling of emerging technologies that support digital surveillance.

Technology can be used to nations or corporations geopolitical advantage as Professor Shoshana Zuboff states in Dark Google:

Google, Facebook, and others shifted to an advertising model that required the covert capture of user data as the currency for ad sales. Profits rapidly materialized and motivated ever more ruthless and determined data collection. The new science of data mining exploded, driven in part by Google’s spectacular success.

The competition to control Afraka's digital market is dominated by western big tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook. The digital world is influencing Afrakan nations and governments, as countries like Ghana, mandate a required registration of identity information to activate a mobile subscriber identity module (SIM) card- this has become common in Afraka, with negligible public challenge on the wider social or political effects. With respect to the monopoly position of SAT3/WASC in the sub-Saharan region the nationwide terrestrial (fibre) backbone infrastructure is geo-strategically positioned to further power disparities within the social contract we (the people) assign ourselves world wide.


Data colonialism is operated by the control of data as an agent to expeditiously control people in this new era of change. To counter data colonialism, Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, and South Africa have become proponents of data collected on all their citizens and in their countries to be kept in their local communities. There has even been developments of a pan-Afrakan approach to cross-border data flows by comprehending data used as a commodity that can connect, protect and serve nationally and regionally. However, the imposition of data colonialism further derails development and innovation in Afrakan countries. This is done by relegating Afrakan nations to be consumers of foreign big tech companies that develop their business model on trickery. Ultimately, causing the consumer to unethically pay for their own data, in reality, this is becoming a universal issue. Furthermore, this occurrence that is taking place in the virtual space is an extension of the ongoing colonial practices of seizing raw materials using child or adult slavery from the Afrakan continent, to refine and manufacture them into the west to sell product goods back to the same nation they robbed. This in turn has created a cycle of consumers on the continent and within the diaspora to be disadvantaged economically.


Solutions

It is necessary that global leaders seeking social justice become cognizant of the dangers of digital commodification for the unprotected global masses and its impact on dignity, unalienable rights, liberties, and privacy. To address digital inequities the people must take in account the essence of digital autonomy, data ownership, and data privacy, thus, technological and social innovation must be invigorated and incorporated into a system at the citizen level to guarantee its scalability and permanence. Data or digital autonomy is achieved by individuals and communities embedding their principles in the way they choose to interact with technology and telecommunication corporations; hence-by, putting the power (data) back into the hands of its rightful owners. Autonomous and linguistic communities need to be motivated to produce their own digital technologies and content to cultivate, disseminate and preserve their cultures to the digital environment.


Afrakan people must demand restitutions be paid by corporations that continuously choose to rob and exploit the countries and its inhabitants. Afrakan countries must develop necessary capital resources, ownership and control of cables, servers, data, intellectual resources, technician trainings, and research institutions. Afrakans must prepare to influence international legal architecture with the intentions of having the Afrakan interests apprehended and respected. Another element is creating readily available funding opportunities that are supported by the resources available on the Afrakan continent in public and private sectors. We must build a comprehensive policy that guarantees technology sovereignty over its communications. Together we must put an end to deceptive and inequitable practices in the digital space. The people need to be compelled to develop public policies that guarantee the adoption of emerging technologies at a massive scale are inhibited to further existent inequities, exclusion, or imposition of values, societal behaviors, dynamics and practices that are alien to the host communities. In other words, prioritizing local knowledge will destroy digital colonialism.


For most of the world’s peoples, whether profitable growth for capital may be renewed, and by whom, are far less important than the consequences of digital commodification for employment and exploitation and inequality; for the prospect of democratic self-government; for the ravaged environment; and for the character and quality of cultural services needed to sustain meaningful lives. The shocks of digital commodification are writing a new chapter in capitalism’s long history of violent dislocation. This makes discussion of strategies for social alternatives essential, indeed, urgent.
Dan Schiller

The Maori indigenous peoples took into account the priority for them to develop their own Information Communications Technology (ICT) policy stating:

“…the deliberate replacement of local technologies with Eurocentric values-laden, profit-driven technologies has been part of the colonizing agenda for many centuries”.

THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED BUT IT WILL COME BY STORM AS THE GREAT FLOOD.
ASÉ.


References

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  2. Bruce Upbin, “Debunking the Narrative of Silicon Valley’s Innovation Might.” Forbes, June 13, 2013, accessed January 18, 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/bruceupbin/2013/06/13/debunking-the-narrative-of-silicon-valleys-innovation-might.

  3. "Computing and Online Knowledge" Higher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa [website], http://www.arp.harvard.edu/AfricaHigherEducation/index.html. Accessed 04 Dec. 2007

  4. Christopher Williams, “Google Charged with Monopoly Abuse.” The Telegraph, April 15, 2015, accessed June 20, 2018, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/digital-media/11537546/Google-charged-with-monopoly-abuse.html

  5. Danaher, J., et al., ‘Algorithmic governance: Developing a research agenda through the power of collective intelligence’, Big Data & Society, 4(2), 2017, pp. 1-2.

  6. European Parliament resolution of 8 September 2015 on ‘Human rights and technology: the impact of intrusion and surveillance systems on human rights in third countries’ (2014/2232(INI)).

  7. Gritsenko, D. and Wood, M., ‘Algorithmic governance: A modes of governance approach’, Regulation & Governance, 2020.

  8. van Dijk, M. (2005). The Deepening Divide: Inequality in the Information Society. California, Sage Publications, Inc.

  9. Fong, R. K. T. (2004). "Global submarine cable systems - sustainable growth or stagnation." In International Engineering Management Conference 2004. Proceedings. 2004 IEEE International 2: 803-806.

  10. Goldstein, H. (2004). "Surf Africa [telecommunications and Internet infrastructure]." Spectrum, IEEE 41(2): 48-54.

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  13. Jensen, M. (2006). "Open Access: lowering the costs of international bandwidth in Africa" APC Issue Papers Series 2006. Krugman, P. (1994). "Competitiveness: a dangerous obsession." Foreign Affairs 73(2): 28- 44.

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  18. Polyakova, A. and Meserole, C., ‘Exporting digital authoritarianism: The Russian and Chinese models’, Policy Brief, Democracy and Disorder Series, 2019, p. 2.

  19. Tiberiu, D. and Lupu, Y., ‘Digital Authoritarianism and the Future of Human Rights’, International Organisation, October 2020, pp. 10, 12.

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  21. Ragnedda, M., ‘Social control and surveillance in the society of consumers’, International Journal of Sociology and Anthropology, 3(6), 2011, pp. 180-81.

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