FT: Big Tech should hit the reset button

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In case you missed it, there is a good piece on FT.com on how tech companies are mis-managing the rising discontent with their power written by Rana Faroohar. Some highlights:

The Fangs — Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google — are having a crisis that encompasses the cognitive, the political and the economic. Activists, regulators and even some tech executives themselves are calling for an investigation into the addictive nature of smartphones and social media. Just last week, Congress once again grilled Facebook, Google and Twitter about their management of extremist content. The bottom line? They have no clear answers about how they are going to prevent their platforms from being used for things such as Russian election meddling, or by governments in places such as Myanmar to prepare their populations for death squads and genocide. Indeed, there is evidence linking the rise of platform technologies with declining trust in liberal democracy itself. Fully 65 per cent of the population gets its news from platforms and aggregator sites, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer survey of 28 countries.

That is one reason it is so odd to me that the latest attempt by Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to “fix” the company’s problems involves pushing people away from news sites and towards friends and family. Unfortunately, the people we are closest to are the very ones who create our filter bubbles. The bubbles are quite profitable for the platforms, which can use them to funnel opaque political and corporate advertising to individuals, messaging that usually plays to their own prejudices.

Rather, what you are seeing is a classic corporate PR playbook of deflection and delay. Facebook is making announcements around things such as workforce training in Europe, which is certainly a worthy project, but it does not address any of the big picture issues with their toxic business model. A real shift would be opening up their algorithmic black boxes and creating a site where the public can see and search the kinds of advertising that goes out to users. It might also create clearer opt-out clauses on data tracking and have a statute of limitations on data usage. None of this is happening. At Davos, tech executives will continue trying to humanise artificial intelligence, talk about their efforts around education and retraining and generally push business as usual. But it is already clear that politicians on both sides of the aisle are starting to shape an economic agenda that includes, quite rightly, a focus on the monopoly power of the largest companies, most notably the Fangs.

 

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