One year on: reviewing the impact of COVID-19 on the tech industry
by Garrick Long on 17 May 2021
As the leading political consultancy dedicated to advancing the policy priorities of the tech community, Inline works with some of the world’s most innovative and disruptive companies.
We all depend on their services and products, and they have transformed the way we work, forcing us all to become more resilient and agile. In a more sinister way, Covid-19 is also a disrupter, and it has fundamentally changed the DNA of how we work. As with any disrupter, it has also forced us to become more resilient and agile. Undoubtedly, future generations will look at this time as a pivotal moment in the digital transformation of our societies.
In addition to wreaking havoc on our healthcare systems and economies, COVID has forced us to come to terms with the omnipresent role that technology now plays in our lives. The nature and scope of “work” has dramatically evolved, and our governing institutions have been slow to catch up, often resulting in laborious, antiquated and overly prescriptive laws.
With the increasing ubiquity of food-delivery services, COVID has shown us the indispensable role that the gig economy plays in our daily lives. Our growing reliance on food-delivery services has also revealed to policymakers and labour advocates alike the precarious conditions which gig workers endure, oftentimes with little social protections and unpredictable wages. While American and European regulators grapple with the challenges of integrating gig workers into contemporary employee structures, some companies have pre-empted sclerotic regulation by entering into direct negotiations with regulators and unions to find ways of transitioning gig workers away from the gig economy and into more conventional working relationships.
The gig economy isn’t the only sector that has been impacted by COVID. The way in which we move throughout our cities has drastically changed. While some people have reverted to using less environmentally-friendly ways of transportation such as personal cars and ride-hailing services, others have sought more innovative ways to safely move around town. Social acceptance of shared mobility vehicles has provided us with a safe and eco-friendly alternative to get around our cities. Municipalities have taken note and begun building shared mobility infrastructure such as charging stations and bike lanes. Long after the COVID pandemic subsides, the shared mobility infrastructure and mentality will likely remain and forever change the way we travel in cities.
As people continue to work and travel over the course of the pandemic, national governments continue look for effective ways to track citizens’ movements in an effort to curtail spreading of the virus. Some governments turned to technology to help them test, track and isolate infected populations. However, such strategies, which rely on access to personal data collected through phone apps, present serious ethical and legal questions. While governments have found workarounds that allow the temporary collection of personal data, global tech giants have emerged as the defenders of their users’ data privacy. Indeed, several tech companies have refused to provide governments with access to features that would allow them to more easily collect a user’s data out of fear that governments could eventually misuse the feature for illicit surveillance or unethical purposes.
For the foreseeable future, COVID as well as the methods that we employ to avert another global pandemic will continue to be inextricably linked to innovations in technology. Finding the right balance between reasserting basic civil rights and social norms while protecting the most vulnerable amongst us and those who care for them is certainly no easy task. Inline will continue to provide analysis on these vexing challenges and generate solutions that enable our perseverance as societies.
Written by Garrick Long
Garrick is an experienced political strategist at Inline Brussels. He helps pioneering tech clients navigate complex regulatory systems by crafting innovative public policy and public relations solutions that reflect the priorities and culture of the tech community.