In the US, there are growing concerns surrounding tech and its impact on society. Silicon Valley is seeing a big tech backlash that some say could be a make a break moment. Tech giants and their CEOs. have for years enjoyed glowing praise and friendly media coverage that showcased and backed up just how much their products would change the world.
Recently, however, there has been growing scepticism from the same media and academics and politicians. Concerns centre around the role of technology in our daily lives and how our privacy is impacted. The giants of Silicon Valley are now facing more scrutiny and tougher questions than ever before.
Following the financial crisis, it was the banks who became the targets of scorn and public contempt, now the attention is focused squarely on Silicon Valley and big tech.
Jonathan Taplin, director of emeritus at the Annenberg innovation Lab and author of ‘Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy,’ was recently quoted as saying Facebooks is a “living, breathing crime scene. All of this combined to be a perfect storm.”
Even some high-profile voices in Silicon Valley, who started their own companies or were early employees at Facebook and Google, agree — and are doing so vocally. A number of early employees from Facebook and Google launched the ‘Centre for Humane Technology’ earlier this month, with the goal of “reversing the digital attention crisis and realigning technology with humanity’s best interests.”
Many have taken to twitter to voice their concerns;
Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, an influential figure in the tech community, likened Facebook last month to Big Tobacco and said there’s a need for regulation. “We’re the same as any other industry,” Benioff told CNBC. “Financial services, consumer product goods, food — in technology, the government’s going to have to be involved. There is some regulation but there probably will have to be more.”
He tweeted, “When I was a kid I remember cigarette companies providing cigarettes with their logos that were made of bubble gum. You blew out powdered sugar smoke! The idea was to get kids interested in smoking early! Reminds me of questions about when kids should start using social media!”
Jim Carrey, the actor, tweeted, “I’m dumping my Facebook stock and deleting my page because Facebook profited from Russian interference in our elections and they’re still not doing enough to stop it. I encourage all other investors who care about our future to do the same.” – With the hashtag unfriendfacebook.
Facebook already appears to be trying to get in front of any potential regulation in the US. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has pledged to “fix” Facebook this year to focus on “time well spent.’ Facebook said time spent by its users on the platform dropped 50 million hours per day after the company retooled its algorithm to focus more on friends and family and less on brands and publishers.
According to Taplin, big tech may already simply be, well, too big. Facebook ad Google together had 88% of all new online advertising revenue last year and that may be a problem, he said.
“The original idea of the internet was a very decentralized system and a democratic space where everyone could have a place to talk.” He said. “The big three online: Google, Facebook and Amazon, are more and more becoming monopolies, so it is a winner takes all business.”
Big business is also being vocal about the impact of such tech, the multi-billion dollar consumer goods company Unilever, that makes everything from food to cleaning and hygiene products, warned tech giants that it was willing to use its $9 billion advertising budget, much of it spent on Facebook and Google, as leverage to get the tech giants to clean up their acts and Last year, several consumer brands pulled their ads from YouTube after an investigation by the Times of London found their ads were running next to videos of scantily clad children. YouTube vowed to urgently fix the issue. Facebook say they are already taking steps to address those concerns raised by Unilever.
But when Congress called on Twitter, Facebook and Google to testify on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 of 2017, their CEOs were nowhere to be seen. Instead, each company sent their general counsel to be hammered with questions that were met with little substantive answers.
When big tobacco was called to testify in 1994, the companies sent their CEOs. When big tech was called to testify in 2017, none of the CEOs showed up.
While technology companies have largely avoided regulation in the United States, they’re already in the crosshairs of European regulators.
Last year Google got a $2.7 billion fine over charges the company unfairly favoured its Google shopping business over competitors. Another EU ruling last year called on Apple to repay the Irish government $15.4 billion in back taxes, over charges the company benefited from unfair tax loopholes — even though the Irish government doesn’t want the money.
The EU is also about to establish a new rule in May called General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR for short. The GDPR covers how companies store your data, and requires them to alert authorities within 72 hours of a data breach. Even without regulation being passed in the United States, the new rule is expected to have serious impact on American companies, which could be fined 4 percent of their global revenue or 20 million Euros — whichever number is higher – if they don’t comply.
“The interesting thing is, as the Europeans regulate these platforms, much of that regulation applies to the platforms globally,” said Taplin. “The effect of European regulation will be felt here in the United States.”
Tom Warren, senior editor at the Verge based in London tweeted, “we are witnessing the downfall of algorithms. Journalism is being gamed and ruined by Facebook and Google. It’s time that these giant *media* platforms held themselves accountable. Sorry is not enough anymore, and AI won’t save these shoddy algorithms for decades. Time to act.”
Back in the US The first big attempt at regulation, the ‘Honest Ads Act’ was introduced last year. The bill would require technology companies to be more transparent about who is paying for an online ad. It is currently in the Senate and could change the way tech companies, which rely heavily on advertising, conduct business. However, four months after it was introduced, it’s still lingering in the Senate.
“Slowly but surely, they [the big tech companies] are coming around to accept responsibility,” said Taplin. “But they are also trying to avoid having any regulations passed.”
The final tweet to Brianna Wu, candidate for the US House of Representatives, MA, and a software engineer –
“2/ Tech companies want to be treated like it’s still the 90s – and they are dewey-eyed startups.
No. These are massive corporations.
Google and Facebook are 21st century public square. If elected congresswoman, I don’t want to regulate them – but I will if this BS continues.”