Big Tech - The 'weapon' of the West when confronting Russia and China

Large American technology corporations are ensuring data security for Ukraine and curbing the influence of Russia and China globally.

In February, Ukraine passed a law allowing private cloud service providers to store government data abroad. They then contract with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft, Oracle, and Google.

Towards the end of the month, Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine. A missile destroyed a data center in Kiev. "All backups have been shipped to other European countries and no damage has been done," said Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine's minister of digital transformation.

Big tech companies (Big Tech) are facing growing criticism at home for their influence in the market. But at the same time, Big Tech's role in Ukraine shows that it is increasingly important in the West's competition with Russia and China.

Ukraine's Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo: Press Pool

Ukraine is quite friendly with major Western technology firms. They even awarded Google for helping its computer systems resist cyber attacks and for cutting off part of its business ties with Russia. Later, they also gave similar awards to AWS and Microsoft.

In an interview in Davos (Switzerland) last May, Mr. Fedorov said that the world is divided into two streams of thought when it comes to technology. There are places that view data as the property of the citizens themselves. Others see them as state property. He said Ukraine is pursuing the first model.

Technology is often seen as apolitical. For example, semiconductor manufacturers operate the same way in the US and China, even though the two economies have different political characteristics. However, the way technology companies - especially in services like social media and cloud computing - operate abroad can reflect the values ​​and laws of that market.

For example, Google's YouTube, Meta's Facebook and Twitter are regularly forced to take down certain content. However, the US government rarely issues this request. When operating abroad, if the host government wants it, they often refuse.

Last year, the Indian government asked Twitter to remove posts protesting the country's agricultural policies, but the company refused. So India responded by encouraging users to switch to Koo, a local microblogging platform. Google was fined by Russia for not removing content that mentioned the war in Ukraine.

In fact, the US also has a data problem. The disclosure of former CIA employee Edward Snowden has accused the US government of sometimes accessing information of foreigners through US companies. It is also one reason why China has developed its own cloud industry.

However, Chinese companies have made little headway outside of the domestic market. For example, giant Alibaba controls 34% of the cloud market in its home country but only 4% in the rest of the world, according to Synergy Research.

In Ukraine, after hostilities broke out, AWS used several suitcase-sized storage devices called "snowballs" to quickly download and back up Ukrainian government data, from land registries to taxes profile. Then they take them to a safe place and upload them to the cloud.

Amazon Web Services Showroom in Las Vegas Fall 2021. Photo: AWS

AWS protects customer data from outsiders - including Amazon employees - through encryption and microchips. The functions used by AWS and customers are physically separate.

However, one of AWS' biggest competitive advantages is not technology, but the US regulation and regulatory framework for data management. This exposes US policymakers to conflicting pressures. It is both curbing Big Tech, which is often accused of abusing competition and censoring content at home, but also recognizing them as a bulwark against Russian and Chinese influence abroad.

A group of former Trump administration officials recently alerted the US Congress to a proposal to force Big Tech to open its app store and platform to outsiders. "Our adversaries - especially China - will welcome any government action that could reduce the power of the US tech industry," the group said.

Adam Segal, the author of a report by the American Council on Foreign Relations on cyberspace, said that if the US were allied with other countries that shared the same view on how "data is collected, used, analyzed". , the country's Big Tech should participate in realizing that process.

These priorities have been incorporated into US trade policy. Since the Trump era, the country has negotiated the free flow of data across borders in trade deals with Mexico, Canada and Japan. The Biden administration is also looking for the same in the "Indo-Pacific Economic Framework" (IPEF) with 13 Asian countries.

Cost, features and reliability will be the key determinants of which country's technology wins the global competition for influence. However, having a shared view of values ​​will also play a part.

Huawei Technologies (China) has supplied many telecommunications equipment to Ukraine. However, Fedorov said that Ukraine is also in discussions with Sweden's Ericsson and Finland's Nokia about building a 5G network.

Sweden and Finland supported Ukraine in the war. "We are working with companies and countries with the same values," said Fedorov.

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