US companies exploiting coronavirus crisis to erase past scandals

unsplash-logoTedward Quinn

US companies appear to be, yet again, exploiting a crisis to bury past scandals and improve their image, through non-negligible donations and contributions to the fight against the current coronavirus pandemic.

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Over the past few days, the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has reached American shores, with, so far, devastating results, with over 400K infected and 12K deaths, overtaking both Italy and Spain in total cases. As the situation worsens and the country gets ready for the worst, various US-based companies have come forward, announcing non-negligible donations to research and development of a vaccine against the coronavirus, with, for instance, Google pledging 800 million USD [~740 million euros], mostly in free advertisement, or Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, pledging one billion USD [~920 million euros]. For Google, this is not the first “contribution” to this fight, with the company having automatically added a card on YouTube videos talking, or just mentioning, the coronavirus, with this card linking to official information, in an effort to reduce misinformation and conspiracy theories. Furthermore, the ad-giant has also created an extremely basic website regrouping the most important information and resources about the coronavirus, website that we’ve slammed for its poor design and simplicity, if compared with what China’s Tencent has put in place.

Another well-known company, Apple, the manufacturer of overpriced and often faulty smartphones and other technology products, has also recently announced their own contribution to the global fight against the coronavirus, with the donation of 20 million face masks worldwide, sourced from their supply chain, as well as the development of a “simple” face shield for medical workers, which we could name the “iShield” and, if it actually retailed, would likely cost anywhere between 499 and 999€, just because of the Apple logo on it. The brand proudly announced they would be manufacturing and supplying a million of these face shields weekly, made, of course, in China.

The reality is much different than what Apple is trying to tell us. They might have donated 20 million face masks worldwide, but it isn’t immediately clear where these face masks went, with no clear indication from the company or any clarification in the dozens of articles published by US media, which all appear to be parroting the same exact message. Furthermore, the company had also given its employees in China “care packages”, which included some food, face masks and an iPad, with this move giving Apple a lot of positive PR. However, in Europe, the company did not do anything, with the face masks donation claim only being made after the coronavirus reached American shores, after thousands of European citizens had died. With this, it is clear Apple is not in Europe to contribute to our society and our common good, but instead is only here to plunder our financial resources and destroy our welfare systems by avoiding tax payments. If anything, for the brand, we are just walking wallets, ready to be milked, and nothing else.

Companies are supposed to contribute to the overall common good, together with citizens, resulting in a society that properly works. However, as we’ve been able to see many times in the past, these large companies, and most US-based companies in general, form part of this “late-stage capitalism” or “last-stage capitalism”, stage in which the corporations do not care about either the consumers or the workers, with their sole end goal being making as much money as possible, regardless of the consequences. This can be observed on Apple’s end, with badly designed products and planned obsolescence, with each generation of products having their own defects, or Google and its constant tracking of users across the web, to such an extent that it’s undeniable there’s no privacy with them at all.

Since companies are expected to contribute to the overall common good, why do they need to make these grand announcements about their contributions, as if they have done something praiseworthy? After all, it is their duty to do so. If anything, citizens should be questioning why these companies are only starting to take action now, at the end of March/beginning of April, instead of doing so in late January or February, when it was clear how grim the situation was in China and how the situation started to worsen in Europe. As we’ve already mentioned, when the situation started worsening in Europe, these companies did not say or do anything, with Apple just worrying about whether they would be able to sell to their customers more smartphones or not. Now that this crisis has reached American shores, these companies are finally taking action, although, even here, it is debatable whether they are doing so from their own initiative or because they’ve been incited or even forced by their government to do so.

And here comes the next point: multiple Chinese companies have donated material to Europe when the situation started worsening, with giants such as Alibaba, Huawei and others sending millions of face masks and other protective equipment, being mostly surplus or leftover stock they initially intended to use to protect their employees at home, in China. Not only that, but China went as far as sending medical teams to various European nations, helping overseeing the response of various governments, such as in Italy, while the US was busy banning air travel between both continents, attempting to pin the blame on Europeans, abandoning once again their “allies” and “friends” during a time of need. So far, nothing unsurprising.

A more precise example of a company fulfilling their role regardless of the circumstances, working for the overall common good without any publicity or recognition, is the engineers and workers from the telecom branch of Huawei, having, for example, delivered 600 tons of material for general maintenance work on the French telecom network, ensuring customers, in other words, French citizens, can work from home, communicate with their friends and family, or reach emergency services in case of need. But, as we’ve just mentioned and as covered in a previous article, the company did not widely publicize this, with this information remaining mostly under the radar – as it should be. After all, and as we’ve mentioned multiple times already, it is their duty to contribute to the overall common good.

If we now come back to these American companies, while on one hand we could congratulate them for their contributions and their response… in the United States, this will not erase all their past mistakes and scandals, for which they will have to be judged accordingly. For instance, Apple evaded taxes in the European Union for years, culminating at the end of 2018, when they finally paid back the 14 billion euros they owed the Irish government. Of course, this is ignoring the fact the Irish government is still fighting against the European Commission, trying to overturn the ruling, with the case now having reached European courts and having costed the Irish taxpayer over 7 million euros. Meanwhile, Google and Facebook have been facing numerous outcries over their data handling policies, with both companies collecting and using more personal data than they should. These numerous outcries have also resulted in an increased scrutiny from regulators, with various government officials planning or proposing new legislation to better regulate these large tech companies that have reshaped the European technological landscape. Lastly, if we look at Microsoft, not only are they sending telemetry data about all their users to servers outside of the European Union, undermining EU’s GDPR, but the company also backed the US Cloud Act. This law enables the US administration to access data stored on servers of any US-based company, regardless of the location of said servers, and regardless of the privacy rules in the region where the servers are located. Knowing this, it is rather surprising European authorities are not taking stricter measures against these US companies, limiting their reach in our lives and eventually restricting their activities on our continent.

For us Europeans, the late reaction of these companies, largely present on our continent and with which we interact on a nearly-daily basis, as well as their clear lack of interest in European matters, as long as they do not go against their interests, should be interpreted as a “wake-up” call for us to reconsider our relationship with the United States, and start planning and working on our own independence – in general, whether be it military, technological, financial, political or even emotional… if this one even exists.

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