Big Tech’s Plans for New WTO Rules over Data Access and Control Exposed

July 16, 2020: A new paper written by Deborah James of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research and published by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation argues that giant tech corporations are trying to use trade rules to collect more data, exercise more control over people’s lives and over their workers, and amass ever more profit. It examines the potential impacts of these rules on workers, citizens, communities, developing countries, public services, safety and security, and democracy itself, and considers alternatives.

James analyses the efforts of companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft to secure new agreements at the World Trade Organization that would allow them greater access to and ownership of data with minimal restrictions.

“E-commerce” rules being negotiated at the WTO and in bilateral and regional trade include:

  • gaining rights to access markets globally;
  • extracting and controlling personal, social, and business data around the world;
  • locking in deregulation and evading future regulation;
  • accessing an unlimited supply of labor that has been stripped of its rights;
  • expanding power through monopolies;
  • avoiding the payment of taxes.

76 countries have launched talks aimed at a binding agreement on digital trade at the next WTO ministerial conference. Currently, it is unclear when that will be. The planned 12th Ministerial Conference, which would have been held in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan, in June 2020, was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The WTO is hoping to convene the ministerial next year.

“Some of the world’s biggest tech companies are trying to rig the market, via the WTO, to ensure that they have more ‘rights’ than developing countries and consumers all over the world,” James said. “Policymakers should take a close look at this threat to democracy, economic development, and privacy, and act to put the rights of people before mega-corporations”.