This week, the world – or at least predominantly that of the British Press and Public – are waking up to the realisation that companies are avoiding tax. Corporations such as Amazon, Google and Starbucks are not only avoiding tax, but avoiding it within the framework of the law, and at an unprecedented scale.
Rather than try and judge the morality of taxation, an issue that is being written about endlessly by real journalists, I want to explore this subject using the contribution of the internet in this debate. What very few are mentioning is the fact that these problems are not local. They exist everywhere and can be explained through a different problem – the problem of the digital globe, and the bizarre notion of nations.
In the case of Amazon and Google, these companies are clearly based online. Although they have a very real presence in the world – especially substantial is Amazon’s incredible network of distribution centres globally, but google’s own data centres are as equally “present” despite making their money through immaterial production – they are vast conglomerates with a very international, digital footprint. Seen in this way, it makes sense then to include Starbucks in this debate – even though their web presence is that much more limited than Google or Amazon, they have a similar sense of international dominance and scale that enter into our debate. In order to move towards some sort of understanding here, we must begin to unveil what – the erosion of national boundaries through an international medium.
What I would like to argue here is simple – our use of the internet is in some sense international and as we do more and more online the ramifications of this will emerge, and in fact are already emerging, in what we do in real life. Whether this would have taken place without the internet through globalization, a tricky term which I will facetiously reduce by which we all eat the same burgers and spend money at virtually the same shops on similar looking high streets, is not particularly important as it is a world we cannot know. However, I would like to argue that the way this process of globalization has taken place online makes it’s appearance far less visible, and it is through this that we have slipped into a globalized world, while elsewhere we still hold onto modernist notions of nations and states.
This makes sense if we look at what we do at a very simple level. Our mundane use of the internet – in the sense of the usual and the everyday things we do, as opposed to simply being “boring” in any sense – is seeing us stumble into international quagmires on an almost daily basis, but we very rarely realise it. Through the internet, physical limitations of geography are being undermined, and in many ways the process is visible – most noticeable in our ability to converse with friends in other cities with more ease and convenience than was possible pre-internet. Skyping someone or chatting with a friend you wouldn’t otherwise see, is an act that barely deserves recognition – and our participation in markets and commerce are becoming this way too. If we are becoming internationalised, the most profound of these movements are taking place without us noticing – by virtue of simple, and unwitting actions as opposed to any progressive or constructive liberal sense towards active cohesion – and as such we must begin to consider our emergence world through an international legal framework. But just how international is the internet?
Understanding that the internet you and I read is very much slanted towards a particular notion of universality is easily exposed when you consider typical use of the internet for people in the UK. For example, one might stumble through links to see unattainable items on amazon.com that aren’t available on amazon.co.uk – and in the case of dvds even if they can be bought, they are locked to a particular region that you have to circumvent if you want access. There are other limitations that prevent access – not having an american bank account will be problematic in shopping abroad, and even if you can use your own services, a certain amount of conversion takes place behind the scenes. In this moment, the barriers of nationality become overt, but are rarely treated as rational. These limitations are entirely artificial, and present inconceivable barriers to transactions which would otherwise be simple. In a basic sense then, we can see that there are parts of the internet that are privileged by certain factors.
But what if you were intentionally looking for something outside of your world? For example will tend to see the part of the internet that writes in your language, forgetting the diverse networks of material available in other languages. One could access google.fr if you wanted to, and explore a world which is built towards searching French websites, or francophone sources. Interestingly here, one is not defining the international through nationality, but through classification by language. The French part of the internet is as much Canadian and Algerian as it does belong to the digital world of France.
Despite this, some notions of nationality still exist, particularly in nation-specific domains that are controlled by specific jurisdictions. The .fr domain is one such example, as too is .co.uk. In Chris Morris’ brilliant British comedy Nathan Barley, registering a domain in the Cook Islands allowed one to register the crass “Trashbat.co.ck” in a practice now commonly echoed in a number of start-ups hoping to make, quite literally, a name for themselves – especially in URL shortening services who try to use .ly (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya) and .io (British Indian Ocean Territory) that have become trendy. The fact that many of these fall under the jurisdiction of these states – and as such must abide by whichever arbitrary rules the states desire – are ignored and often foolishly, with the popular domains of unstable states in danger of succumbing to the whims of geo-politics. In this sense, we can see once more notions of geography and national specificity thrown aside in small, and simple acts that are motivated by notoriety and commerce far more than they are by national allegiance in the new digital world.
But through this it is worth trying to understanding more coherently how the internet works technically for cutting through simple appearances of a global network. Borrowing from a ELI5 thread on reddit, the internet can be understood as a series of rooms, in which people can communicate if those rooms are connected. Now, to communicate with certain rooms, you need special messages, and importantly you don’t need to know where the room is, but simply know where to hand over the messages to get it to another room. In each room there is a book in which builds a knowledge of how to – and messages can be exchanged with other rooms to get
Basically, servers across the world host the websites you view, and the jurisdiction of each country relates to the physical geography of that server. When you make an attempt to access any website, a request is sent to that server to access the information. Between you and that server however is an ISP (Internet Service Provider) who themselves. hosts their own; and . A good example Google#s attempts to enter the chinese market caused much – the fact that they were asked to . Although accessing international .
It’s because of this that we see odd things happen that are tied to specific nations. For example Syria just this week plunged themselves into an internet blackout, a rather precarious and scar moment.
In much the same way that in an emergency, you’ll notice the mobile networks go down, the same can be said the infrastructure that upholds the internet. As much as simply unplugging the entire thing, at a national network level, or traffic can be prevented, surveilled or
Tor is an interesting project.
Control in this ; the region locking system is an interesting one
One arguement made on Radio 4 tired to eliminate the need for corporate tax at all – tax, they claimed, could not be paid by an entity like a – but in this same arguement he tried to claim that tax could only be paid by, defeating the sense of impossibility at all – his idea was a complex way of saying the people. The real problem however is that – stockholders and higher end employees have far more access to less physical geography. Someone who buys a coffee can only do so where they are, and similarly . The company itself is a diverse and complex network of arrangements, as too are the invested parties . In this sense, money permits a different kind of mobility that is presented in some ways to the consumer through the internet.