They’re Being Evil


A cardboard army of Mark Zuckerbergs at the Capitol, part of a protest by Avaaz, 2018. Photograph by Joe Flood via Flickr (cc)

From The Guardian:

It was under extreme pressure from both press and regulators that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg finally turned over 3,000 Russia-linked adverts to Congress. Google and others were only marginally less evasive. Similar to Wall Street financiers at the time of the US sub-prime crisis, the tech titans have remained, years after the 2016 election, in a largely reactive posture, parting with as few details as possible, attempting to keep the asymmetric information advantages of their business model that, as in the banking industry, help generate outsized profit margins. It is a “deny and deflect” attitude similar to what we saw from financiers in 2008, and has resulted in deservedly terrible PR.

But there are more substantive similarities as well. At a meta level, I see four major likenesses in big finance and big tech: corporate mythology, opacity, complexity and size. In terms of mythology, Wall Street before 2008 sold the idea that what was good for the financial sector was good for the economy. Until quite recently, big tech tried to convince us of the same. But there are two sides to the story, and neither industry is quick to acknowledge or take responsibility for the downsides of “innovation”.

A raft of research shows us that trust in liberal democracy, government, media and nongovernmental organisations declines as social media usage rises. In Myanmar, Facebook has been leveraged to support genocide. In China, Apple and Google have bowed to government demands for censorship. In the US, of course, personal data is being collected, monetised and weaponised in ways that we are only just beginning to understand, and monopolies are squashing job creation and innovation. At this point, it is harder and harder to argue that the benefits of platform technology vastly outweigh the costs.

“How big tech is dragging us towards the next financial crash”, Rana Foroohar, The Guardian