Technology for Society's Gain
Technology for Society's Good
Technology for Society's Gain
Technology for Society's Good
The case of Clearview AI, a new technology that allows for nearly 99% accurate facial recognition has come under scrutiny for being worst use technology in the EU. Click image for video
Big Tech is Beleaguered by Public Criticism
Technology companies are under attack. Policymakers, public advocates and the press around the world have become deliberately critical of the business practices of big tech firms, particularly Facebook, Amazon and Google. Perhaps with good reason. As multi-million dollar fines by regulators in Europe and the United States advance the notion that Tech may be the new tobacco, oversight hearings, investigations and stiff enforcement actions are now the norm.
Privacy, Data Security and Political Affairs
Issues surrounding privacy, data management and national security dominate today’s dialogue on technology. Rattled by charges of race and gender discrimination, sinister privacy practices, rapacious competition, political bias and rampant disregard for consumers, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Twitter, Apple and Uber, among others, can no longer credibly claim to be the centerpiece of progress. Breaches in these areas, alone, have indelibly changed commerce and consumer confidence. The sterling reputations and trust most tech companies once took for granted has been eroded.
The European Precedents
While it has taken Washington a very long time to see the forest beyond the trees, European regulators are setting precedent in reining in Big Tech. From the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to the right to be forgotten, the European Union has begun to restrict technology’s reach into the lives of its citizens.
Scathing U.K. Report
In February 2019, the Digital Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the British House of Commons issued a scathing report on the role of tech companies in society, focusing primarily on Facebook. Compiled after a lengthy investigation, the report concluded the following:
“[A]mong the countless innocuous postings of celebrations and holiday
snaps, some malicious forces use Facebook to threaten and harass others, to publish revenge porn, to disseminate hate speech and propaganda of all kinds, and to influence elections and democratic processes—much of which Facebook, and other social media companies, are either unable or unwilling to prevent. We need to apply widely-accepted
democratic principles to ensure their application in the digital age.
“The big tech companies must not be allowed to expand exponentially, without constraint or proper regulatory oversight. But only governments and the law are powerful enough to contain them. The legislative tools already exist. They must now be applied to digital activity, using tools such as privacy laws, data protection legislation, antitrust and
competition law. If companies become monopolies they can be broken up, in whatever sector. Facebook’s handling of personal data, and its use for political campaigns, are prime and legitimate areas for inspection by regulators, and it should not be able to evade all editorial responsibility for the content shared by its users across its platforms.”
It has been a tough battle requiring clear-eyed notions of the public interest and a balancing of commercial versus consumer rights. Clearly, the Europeans lost their infatuation with Silicon Valley over a decade ago.
A recent Washington Post article on Google’s Congressional testimony made the point: “Around the world, policymakers began to see how online platforms can be weaponized to disrupt elections, jeopardize privacy, and foster real-world hatred and violence. As the company pursued even more audacious endeavors — evolving from a search-and-advertising behemoth into an empire that produces self-driving cars and Internet-beaming balloons — questions about its business practices intensified, too.”
Fatigued by the failures of the tech sector, the 116th Congress has set tech oversight at the top of its agenda. Privacy, data security, third-party data usage, national security, discrimination and political bias will be intensively reviewed by the House of Representatives. All of which suggests a major shift among both liberals and conservatives.
Apologies, Lobbying and the Failed Narrative
Bashing Big Tech has become an evolving vocation and cottage industry in Washington. Enterprising individuals are amassing a modicum of fame and fortune by magnifying the misdeeds of individual companies. Ad hoc coalitions have been hastily formed to advocate stricter regulation of tech companies, and a new book by an erstwhile Facebook insider warns us to wake up or face certain ruin. In full disclosure, we have been among their harshest critics, calling for sweeping privacy legislation and tougher regulation of the FAANG companies among other enforcement measures.
The onslaught of outrage has left tech leaders flailing. Beleaguered by the climate of blame, tech companies have been hard pressed to tell their own story without appearing defensive or self-serving. Their failure to communicate has been both sad and surprising. Facebook and Google joined the chorus of corporate contrition in an awkward apologia after lame excuses for bad behavior failed to convince anyone. Desperate, they resorted to the typical Washington tactic of throwing money at the problem. Lobbying expenses ballooned as tech firms sought to stop reputational erosion and convince Congress that regulation really is okay with them. It appears this may have been too little, too late, and could have done more harm than good.
Conflicting Societal Views
Throughout, society’s views and values around the tech industry are also changing. We live in a world of smart phones, smart grids and smart cars, where companies store, collect and share more information than man has ever known. "Big data" has become such a big part of our lives and lexicon that it is no longer ominous. Every time we swipe our credit cards, like our Friends or visit our favorite website, we tacitly add to the big data pile.
Tech's Give and Take
In this new environment, we abide by a simple social contract: companies give us their goods and we give them our data. Online, our barter becomes more complex. Scores of invisible intermediaries access and collate high volumes of data through tools and techniques unseen and unknown to most of us.
Mystical algorithms and analytic technology allow Facebook and Google, among others, to track our searches, scan our e-mail, cross-reference our contacts, and mine our data to deliver ads and make lots of money based on what we do online. The breadth and depth of information amassed by these two companies alone, surpasses everything collected by all retail, financial, media, healthcare, telcos, communications, utility, entertainment and nonprofit firms combined. Oh, and that goes for the U.S. government too.
Facebook and Google offer an opaque suite of free, easy, and consumer friendly apps which are must-have accoutrements of modern communication. From email to social media to mobile music, who can imagine daily life without them? Yet when consumers blithely accept those freebies, we consent to a constructive social contract. Relinquishing personal information as a condition of free and continued use concedes privacy. While the equity of the exchange is debatable, the loss of privacy is not.
But this cozy compact has begun to fray.
Today's digitally conscious consumers expect and demand more control over their own data. They want to determine when, where and how they interact electronically with banks, stores, and advertisers. Even though collected data can inform innovation and improve services, transparency, choice and consent are the consumer mandates of the day. We have seen the global fallout when massive databases are breached and witnessed the standoff between Apple and the FBI over a deadly terrorist's cell phone data. Yet, even as new revelations unfold on data security the rules affecting privacy are lost in the cloud(s).
Such is the state of affairs for the technology sector today, at least when it comes to public policy. In fairness, however, it would be a travesty if the debate on technology was confined to misdeeds, however egregious. For all the negative reports surrounding the technology sector, there are many more positives.
But few of us are asking: “What is right with technology”?
In fact, this is the new issue that regulatory bodies must address if they are to credibly balance the public interest with the promulgation of new policies and rules designed to police, patrol or punish Big Tech.
There are new rules by which companies are expected to abide by -- New Rules of Responsible Technology.
That reality led us to take leadership in this area and drive the dialogue in a different direction.
Business in the Public Interest
This special report, produced by Business in the Public Interest, Inc. highlights how tech companies are adhering to the new rules of responsible technology. It shines a light on the companies and leaders that are creating new and different narratives by their contributions to society.
Responsible Technology is a term we coined to describe:
Established in 2015, Business in the Public Interest is a strategic research and analytics firm headquartered in Washington, DC. We help companies to align their business policies, practices and priorities with the public interest. We provide strategic research, information and analytics on public policy, corporate responsibility and the role of business in society.
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We seek to educate policymakers, the press and the public through incisive thought leadership; research and custom publications; web and social media; short form video and sponsored content designed to inform and enlighten the public debate. Our nonpartisan projects and initiatives seek to bring a credible, independent, and balanced view on key policy issues affecting business, law, society and the public interest. We work cooperatively with corporations, foundations, non-governmental organizations, international institutions, academic institutions, embassies, policymakers and the media in furtherance of these activities.