While the deathtoll for Covid-19 remains to be seen, over 100k people have died of the flu-like Coronavirus in the US only a few months after official testing started, and there have been over 27k deaths in Spain. The real deathtoll is likely much higher, as not everyone who is infected with the virus is tested, especially in the US, where healthcare remains private and is unable to accommodate the influx of patients.
As would be expected, billionaires and their respective corporations are using the pandemic as a profit opportunity. Leaving aside Amazon and major chains like Walmart that will benefit from the closure of small businesses that can´t withstand the shock or compete, here´s a shortlist of how tech billionaires are profiting.
We can start with Bill Gates, who is funding vaccine research, and not out of the kindness of his heart. Whatever venture he is investing in is private, not public, and any resulting vaccine that gains FDA approval will be sold to millions, potentially yielding billions in profit. What´s more, he will be working with NY state to develop a smart education system. Say hello to surveillance in the classroom, or as Gates likes to call it ¨Surveillance for kids!¨
Elsewhere in NY, Mike Bloomberg has been advocating for a contact tracing app, and it was just announced that he will lead New York´s contact tracing program. As mayor of NYC, the billionaire instituted a massive surveillance program with AI-augmented cameras throughout the City, supplemented by drones. A Covid app that can track symptoms such as how often you cough will also be able to track how often you laugh, your mood and your reactions to different stimuli. An app that can track locations and contacts also knows your habits and who influences you. The app will provide behavioral insights relevant to Bloomberg´s news agency as well as for third parties in both the marketing and surveillance industries.
New York is leading the way in Coronavirus response… or, err, in letting billionaires lead its Coronavirus response. As Naomi Klein wrote for The Intercept, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt will lead New York´s post-Covid advisory committee. And the post-Covid future is forecast to include further digitization of, well, everything. Edtech as well as telehealth are on the immediate radar, as well as, no doubt even more Orwellian opportunities for employee surveillance tech, ¨solutions¨ that Google will almost certainly have a hand in.
On the defense industry front (which is married to America´s surveillance state), the discovery of the virus in China has set the stage for a new Cold War with the country, which will legitimize even more military budgets. The war has been gearing up for some time, with Steve Bannon, Trump´s former strategist who works with and funds far-right groups across the globe, advocating for a trade war with the nation in 2017, and busy comparing China to Nazi Germany back in 2018.
Lastly, aside from providing pretext for the further digitization (and by extension, surveillance) in our daily lives, the pandemic represents an unprecedented opportunity to use technology to gauge our individual and collective responses to crisis. Our personal data will reveal how obedient we are, how we react to invasive or restrictive laws, how we conform to social pressures, as well monitoring our inner, internalized cop (for whatever reason, such as not wanting to get sick or infect others), where we get our news, what influences our behavior, etc. Such information will be useful in crises to follow, whether it be the climate crisis or the mass unemployment caused by the automation and financialization of the economy.