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Who really benefits from digital development?

| Feb. 07, 2022

While digital development practitioners promise to reduce poverty, their efforts often enrich tech companies who exploit those in poverty.

Like almost every sector, international development has attracted the attention of technologists who believe they can code away problems — and development practitioners have encouraged them. From USAID to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Nations, digital development programs are proliferating. While some initiatives are quite useful, there are reasons to think they are not as effective as the hype would have us believe; in some cases, they are actively harmful.

Digital development holds some promise: Providing poor people with digital products and services will undoubtedly lift some out of poverty. But while digital development is often portrayed as an unmitigated good, its costs are often ignored. Data is now the world’s most valuable commodity, and the largest sources of untapped data are the 3 billion people who are not yet connected to the internet. When Western development actors connect them with digital services, they are also putting their privacy and data at the mercy of tech companies eager to monetize them. The contradiction at the heart of digital development is that initiatives that ostensibly aim to reduce poverty also enrich tech companies and enable them to generate profits from marginalized populations’ data.

Some might consider this an acceptable tradeoff for lifting people out of poverty. But generating data from every aspect of their lives may reduce the effectiveness of development initiatives and lock others into poverty by creating data-based justifications for discrimination and by helping Big Tech undercut local businesses.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Klyman, Kevin.“Who really benefits from digital development?.” TechCrunch, February 7, 2022.

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