As tech giants face financial collapse, some new players focus on people rather than profits

The tech industry has been rocked by the recent economic crisis. Once thought to be close to recession proof, companies from Netflix to Meta are suddenly facing serious financial setbacks. As the Washington Post reported last week: “Big tech is threatening recession and other industries. Meta (the company that owns Facebook) has seen its stock price drop more than 50% this year, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg “visibly upset” during a recent company Q&A with employees.

There are a variety of reasons for this decline, including a worrisome decline in consumer spending and fears about the future. The tech-focused Nasdaq index is down 24% this year alone since January, when a slowdown in the industry is evident — some reports count more than 60,000 tech reshuffles globally this year.

In addition to cutting employees, technology companies are passing these problems on to consumers. People are already facing higher prices for some streaming services, and more increases are expected. Netflix has increased prices for users including the United Kingdom and the United States. Also, people from different families are trying to stop sharing passwords. Amazon has recently been criticized for raising subscription fees for its prime delivery and streaming services.

Users have been canceling subscriptions to cut costs. Many of these services are deeply embedded in our lives, but in recent years new technologies have fundamentally changed the way people interact, communicate, work and entertain themselves.

But in a time of belt-tightening, there are growing concerns about the way these companies operate, apart from their profit margins and cost burdens. Many users are frustrated by how these technologies are developed and used because they are still relatively underpowered. Technology corporations often set prices and conditions for both users and employees.

While many consumers accept this state of affairs, others are trying to challenge the tech giants with platforms that empower consumers, creators and workers alike. This idea is also being extended to the use of data. Even before the recession, people were raising serious concerns about the use of algorithms to shape what we hear and watch, for example, questioning business models based on consumer data.

New technological options

New tech startups like browser vendor Gener8 are looking to target this consumer dissatisfaction. With tens of thousands of users, this platform allows users to choose their level of privacy and pay for data collected from their search activity. You can also use these funds to directly support ethical projects of your choice.

Across sectors, platform cooperatives seek to transform industries including transportation and delivery by providing workers with fairer wages and better conditions. Consumers are given more say with the ability to co-own, design and operate these platforms as per their needs. Such initiatives are just beginning to make inroads against their more aggressive for-profit corporate competitors.

This movement is also affecting the entertainment industry in an attempt to challenge for-profit streaming services. Mean TV was created by media producers Naomi Burton and Nick Hayes – famous for the viral campaign ad for New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocassia-Cortez. It bills itself as “the world’s first worker-owned, anti-capitalist streaming service”, with a democratic, collaborative structure where all decisions are made by its employees, contractors and content creators. Members pay a monthly fee of $10 (£8.18), but there are also discounted options for those who can’t afford that amount.

One full-time employee told the Guardian that what makes Men’s TV unique is that the platform allows people to make TV and other media for less money. Its subscription fees and donations directly fund the artists, so there is no pressure on advertising or corporate profits.

New technology business models aim to change how workers and creators are paid, as well as give consumers more choice and control in areas such as data.
Metamorworks / Shutterstock

Collaborative music streaming service Resonate applies a similar concept to the music industry, which is owned by “artists, listeners and employees.” While less overtly political than Means TV, Resonate still aims to offer users a new level of power and control.

Under the slogan “play fair, pay fair”, the platform offers monthly credits for users to spend when they listen to music, and after streaming the same track nine times, it is added to their library. It advertises itself as ad and bot-free, and doesn’t sell user data. Resonate’s payment system is also designed to pay artists fairly and more per listen. In the year By 2021, the service had about 1,400 users and could host another 2 million users, according to its creators.

These are just a few examples of options that give people more power over the technology they use, beyond comparing offerings from popular tech giants. And while these ethical options are still relatively small, they may signal the dawn of a new era of consumer power for the tech sector.

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