The Tech Cold War

It’s easy to make judgement on the way technology has unravelled, not just this year but from past decades. Ultimately, 2020 has been a ground-breaking experience, from the impact of COVID-19 around the world to the recent explosion that left Beirut and the spirit of Lebanon in ruins. 

Having completed a competition just days ago that focused on finding a technological solution for the aftermath of COVID-19, I realised just how much lives all over the globe had changed in a few short months. While people have been positively challenging the boundaries of the most recent trends in technology, it’s been difficult to forget the negative connotations surrounding certain advances and how, in a world that was shut down, mob mentality has popularised conspiracy theories.

5G

One of the first conspiracy theories that took the world by storm this year was when unconfirmed reports began to circulate that the new 5G technology was connected to the COVID-19 virus. This even prompted people to set 5G towers alight due to beliefs that the 5G frequencies either caused the virus or damaged immune systems, thus impacting susceptibility to the virus. Not only have towers been vandalised but even engineers have been orally and physically abused for working on the infrastructure.

Cyberattacks

As society shifted to an online world in recent years, cyberattacks have gained international coverage; specifically, when regarding large companies, governments and even hacktivists. Over the past few months, as people have had to adjust to working remotely, the amount of cyberattacks has increased because many personal devices do not have the industry grade security most businesses employ. Ironically, one of the biggest hacks this year was of high-profile Twitter accounts, targeted by a Florida teenager. This was the result of a simple phone call to a Twitter employee after months of digital reconnaissance. 

The Political Climate of Social Media

With the upcoming Presidential election, social media has once again been inflamed by the fires of Kanye West’s chaotic rally, K-pop fans allegedly sabotaging Trump’s rally, the historical Black Lives Matter movement and the takeover of TikTok. Amidst a backdrop of social unrest, this pandemic has limited our social spheres, with most taking to the online world to communicate with one another. Admittedly, without the technology we have today, many people would have struggled a lot more during this pandemic; however, that being said, the anonymity an online profile provides allows for polarising opinions to be published and bullying to take place. 

 “History Repeating Itself”

Throughout the past decade, we have witnessed the rise of many economies, but China’s has grown at an astronomical rate, competing with dominating Western powers such as the US. There are certain parallels to be drawn between the first Cold War and the present, such as the beliefs against communism and how they have been translated from the opinions about Soviets to opinions about China. Technology has become a crucial element to this new Cold War Era that we have entered, with the consistent cyberattacks against both nations and governments spearheaded by politicians with ideologies that severely mutate the definitions of democracy and human rights. With tensions high between the US and China, it’s hard not to confront the harsh reality that, given the right motivation, this digital war could force a physical attack against a landscape of political hostility, human rights movements and next generation activists.

Where do the Tech Giants stand?

The Tech Giants are in the thick of this Cold War – most recently with Donald Trump declaring that TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance must give up US operations to an American tech company or risk having TikTok banned in the US.

Enter Microsoft, who have taken charge of the negotiations to acquire the US operations of TikTok, which has set a huge precedent for future American-Chinese relations and how national security will be affected by the likes of apps and services. Just recently, Google has been in talks to pledge more than 4 billion dollars towards an Indian billionaire’s technology venture, causing cataclysmic reactions across the industry. Many Americans have scolded Google and CEO, Sundar Pichai, for thinking of investing in India’s economy during a pandemic where the American economy has taken a huge plunge. However, others have recognised it as a clever business strategy whereby Google, with the likes of Facebook, can rival its competitor, Microsoft, who has invested in Reliance – one of India’s largest companies – and take the lead in an economy that is growing at a rate similar to China’s.

How does this affect personal technology users?

Throughout this pandemic, security for devices has become of the utmost importance, especially since remote working has become the new normal and will probably stay that way for quite some time. Screen time has hugely increased due to the need for communication outside of the regular lockdown induced social bubble. Unfortunately, personal technology users have not been exempted and have been at the forefront of this new Tech Cold War; from posting daily information about activist movements and human rights issues, to engaging in public outcry when Donald Trump grossly abused his power by imposing a ban upon TikTok. Social media has become so ingrained in this post COVID-19 society that it’s become necessary to be educated on issues that are affecting the world as well as looking at entertaining posts and videos. Investing in security has become vital, with many personal tech users realising that just having the firewall turned on is not enough against the legion of hackers out in the digital world. Overall, this pandemic has changed a lot of mindsets and introduced us to a whole new world full of users, who must realise that their personal lives are not immune from the impulsive decisions made by politicians and governments competing for power. Ultimately, in this war with no borders, there might actually end up being no winners. 

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