Some new players are focusing on people over profit.

Once recession-proof, companies from Netflix to Meta are suddenly experiencing severe financial downturns. Last week, the Washington Post reported, “Big tech is bracing for a possible recession, spooking other industries.” Meta (the company that owns Facebook) has seen its share prices drop by more than 50% this year, with its iconoclastic CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, “visibly frustrated” at recent company Q&As with employees.

Reasons for these financial downturns include a troubling mix of reduced consumer spending and fears of an uncertain future. The tech-focused Nasdaq index has dropped 24% since January this year alone. Additionally, layoff announcements across the industry remain constant. Some reports count more than 60,000 tech redundancies globally so far this year.

In addition to cutting staff, technology companies are passing on these problems to consumers. People are already facing higher prices for some streaming services. Netflix has raised prices for consumers in countries including the UK and the US. They are also trying to stop people from different households from sharing passwords. Amazon users also face higher subscription fees, causing users to cancel subscriptions to cut costs.

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There are growing concerns about the way these companies operate. Aside from the cost burden, users resent having relatively little power over the development and consumption of these technologies. Tech corporations set the prices and conditions for both users and workers.

While some consumers accept this state of affairs, others turn to platforms that give consumers, creators, and workers more power. This idea is advancing into data use as well. Even before financial downturns, people were raising serious concerns. These concerns include the use of algorithms to shape what we consume, as well as business models profiting from user data.

Emerging tech alternatives

New tech startups such as browser provider Gener8 are targeting this consumer dissatisfaction. Gener8 allows users to choose their privacy levels and get paid for the data from their search activity.

Across a range of other sectors, platform cooperatives want to revolutionize industries, including transport and delivery, by providing workers with fair wages and better conditions. Consumers are also given more say with the ability own, design, and run these platforms according to their needs. Such initiatives are just starting to make inroads against their much more powerful for-profit corporate competitors.

Ethical Entertainment

This movement is impacting the entertainment industry by attempting to challenge for-profit streaming services. Means TV, created by the media producers Naomi Burton and Nick Hayes, is a perfect example of ethical entertainment. At Means Tv, employees, cooperative contractors, and content creators assist in decision-making. Members pay a US$10 (£8.18) monthly fee, but there are also rate options for those who cannot afford this amount.

One full-time employee told the Guardian that what makes Means TV so special is that the platform enables people to make TV and other media content with a small amount of money. Its subscription charges and donations directly fund artists, with no pressures relating to advertising or corporate overheads.

New tech business models aim to change the payment structure of workers and creators. These models also provide more choices and control in areas such as data. The cooperative music streaming service, Resonate, applies the same concept to the music industry. Resonate is owned by artists, listeners, and workers. While less explicitly political than Means TV, Resonate still aims to provide a new level of power and control.

Under the logo “play fair, pay fair,” the platform gives users monthly credits to spend as 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 was designed to pay artists fairly and more with each listen. By 2021, the service had almost 1,400 monthly users and could potentially handle another 2 million users, according to its creators. These are just a few examples of alternatives that, more than simply rivaling popular tech giants’ offerings, provide people with greater power over the technology they consume. And while these ethical alternatives are still relatively small, they could signal the beginning of an important new era of consumer power for the tech sector.


Author: Peter Bloom, Professor of Management, University of Essex
Disclosure statement: Peter Bloom does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Essex provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.
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