The Digital Republic by Jamie Susskind review – why the west was no match for the tech giants

The power of tech corporations is a threat to democracy, yet governments are reluctant to take action. This refreshing book picks apart the ideology that holds them back

As Marx might have put it, a spectre is haunting the world’s democracies: the spectre of tech power. For more than two decades those democracies slept peacefully while a small number of global corporations acquired a stranglehold on the most powerful communications technology since the invention of printing. The political earthquakes of 2016 provided a rough wake-up call as these slumbering giants suddenly realised that “the technological was political”, that unaccountable power was loose in their world, and that if they didn’t rein it in they may wind up as democracies in name only.

The years since that rough awakening have seen a frenzy of legislative and regulatory activity: antitrust suits, draft bills in the US, the EU and the UK (among others), congressional and parliamentary inquiries and so on. Whether any of this leads to effective curbs on tech power remains to be seen, and this reviewer isn’t holding his breath. The question is not whether tech giants can be brought under control: we know that they can because Xi Jinping’s regime has been conducting masterclasses in how to do it. The question for us is: can liberal democracies do it?

The Digital Republic: On Freedom and Democracy in the 21st Century by Jamie Susskind is published by Bloomsbury (£25). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply

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