By Justin Sanders
A new year, a new Congress … and the sixth installment in our series featuring brilliant commentary by others about the endlessly burning dumpster fire that is Big Tech!
2018 ended with yet another Facebook face palm, with new reports showing that the company gave corporate clients intrusive access to user data and, naturally, failed to tell ANYONE.
Meanwhile, despite Google CEO Sundar Pichai successively deflecting questions at his December House Judiciary Committee hearing, the company has continued pissing off employees and shareholders alike.
Will Zuckerberg’s House of Lies change its ways in 2019? Will Google stop paying off high-level sexual harassers and preventing victims from doing something about it? Will Big Tech companies be thwarted from their villainous plans to sell facial recognition technology to the government?
Here’s another question: Will pigs fly?
Call us suspicious, but we’ve got a lot of company. And, with a new wave of lawmakers in Washington, maybe we will finally see a serious push for #PlatformAccountability.
Until then, here are 15 more reasons why we need it – from across the spectrum of political, cultural, and sociological discourse:
1.) Because it’s not just the way we use these platforms – they’re actually built to harm society.
“Facebook has built an advertising system that inevitably results in fair housing violations. Airbnb’s user interface still requires guests to include their names, which predictably results in housing discrimination… Platforms should not enjoy immunity from liability for their architectural choices that violate anti-discrimination laws.”
– Danielle Keats Citron, Morton & Sophia Macht Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law
2.) Because Facebook straight up allowed its corporate clients to read your private messages.
“For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.”
– The New York Times
3.) Because this ongoing abuse of our data is like an oil spill, only worse.
“Facebook’s seemingly unrestrained sharing of user data is the privacy equivalent of the BP oil spill… Ongoing, uncontained & toxic. We will be paying the price for decades.”
– Senator Richard Blumenthal
4.) Because Google is cushioning sexual harassers in its midst with big payouts.
“Defendants knowingly failed to take meaningful steps to address a pervasive culture of harassment and discrimination at Alphabet. An October 25, 2018 article in the NYT revealed the depths of this failure, reporting that, instead of taking sexual harassment seriously, the Board repeatedly chose to reward and protect powerful male executives with wasteful and excessive compensation packages even after the Company’s own investigation determined that serious sexual harassment allegations against these men were credible. These actions have caused—and will continue to cause—the Company substantial harm.”
– January 9, 2019 shareholders’ lawsuit filed against Google for breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, and corporate waste
5.) Because forced arbitration is denying civil rights to the victims of such harassment.
“Just as Google wants to convince the public that it can handle consumer privacy matters behind closed doors — it tells the same to its employees by forcing arbitration, requiring them to waive their right to sue or participate in a class action lawsuit in all cases of discrimination. And just as it [tries] to convince Congress that it has the public’s best interest in mind in company decisions, it has neglected to fully engage with its workforce’s broader demands for a more equitable workplace.”
– Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration
6.) Because Google employees can’t even organize in response to such harassment.
“Google leadership is not operating in good faith… They can have a town hall and try to say soothing words and get people to not want to quit, but then in the background they’re not just rejecting carrying out most of the demands of the walkout, but also trying to tamp down our ability to even coordinate and talk to each other about these issues… that’s extremely concerning.”
– Colin McMillen, Google employee activist
7.) Because Big Tech algorithms manipulate our lives in profound ways… and yet we know next to nothing about them.
“Requiring that all algorithms driven by public data be open and transparent is a variant on the age-old theme – sunlight is the best disinfectant. Sunshine laws do just that for most processes where the public has a vested interest. It only stands to reason that we the public should be given the same sort of transparency for the algorithms that are manipulating, controlling, and misdirecting our lives to an alarming degree.”
– Maria Schneider, Grammy® Award-winning composer and jazz orchestra leader
8.) Because these unknowable algorithms are making us paranoid.
“We can guess, but can’t know, why we were shown a friend’s Facebook post about a divorce, instead of another’s about a child’s birth. We can theorize, but won’t be told, why YouTube thinks we want to see a right-wing polemic about Islam in Europe after watching a video about travel destinations in France. Everything that takes place within the platform kingdoms is enabled by systems we’re told must be kept private in order to function. We’re living in worlds governed by trade secrets. No wonder they’re making us all paranoid.”
– John Herrman, technology reporter for The New York Times
9.) Because if ever an algorithm needed more transparency, it’s one that literally aims to predict suicide.
“Facebook is losing the trust of consumers and governments around the world, and if it mismanages suicide predictions, that trend could spiral out of control. Perhaps its predictions are accurate and effective. In that case, it has no reason to hide the algorithms from the medical community, which is also working hard to accurately predict suicide. Yes, the companies have a financial interest in protecting their intellectual property. But in a case as sensitive as suicide prediction, protecting your IP should not outweigh the public good that could be gained through transparency.”
– Mason Marks, visiting fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project
10.) Because it’s not enough for Big Tech to take our images, our data, our medical records, and God knows what else – now they want our faces, too.
“History has clearly taught us that the government will exploit technologies like face surveillance to target communities of color, religious minorities, and immigrants. We are at a crossroads with face surveillance, and the choices made by [Big Tech] companies now will determine whether the next generation will have to fear being tracked by the government for attending a protest, going to their place of worship, or simply living their lives.”
– Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties director for the ACLU of California
11.) Because big may not be necessarily bad, but Big Tech makes the newly nominated Attorney General a little wary.
“I’d like to have the antitrust [officials] support that effort to get more involved in reviewing the situation from a competition standpoint… I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder [how] these big behemoths have taken shape in Silicon Valley.”
– William Barr, Attorney General nominee
12.) Because Big Tech’s biggest forces are spending millions trying to shape policy in their favor.
“We’ve come a long way from the days when the high-tech sector said, ‘Just leave us alone, we would like to have as little to do with government as possible, and just let us innovate.”
– Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee
13.) Because Facebook is not the only internet giant trying to manipulate Apple to manipulate us.
“Apple on Thursday took action against Google for violating terms of its developer agreement, and has rescinded the search giant’s enterprise development certificate like it did when Facebook was caught doing much the same… Now, both companies can no longer run or execute internal apps on iOS devices, in this case designed for inside Google’s walls.”
– Mike Wuerthele, AppleInsider
14.) Because Big Tech is starting to look a lot like Big Tobacco.
“Facebook is the new cigarettes… it’s addictive. It’s not good for you. There are people trying to get you to use it that even you don’t understand what’s going on. The government needs to step in. The government needs to really regulate what’s happening.”
– David Benioff, Salesforce CEO
15.) Because some of the loudest Big Tech critics of all are… Big Tech insiders.
“The people at Facebook live in their own bubble… They cannot imagine that the recent problems could be in any way linked to their designs or business decisions. It would never occur to them to listen to critics – How many billion people have the critics connected? – much less to reconsider the way they do business. As a result, when confronted with evidence that disinformation and fake news had spread over Facebook and may have influenced a British referendum or an election in the U.S., Facebook followed a playbook it had run since its founding: deny, delay, deflect, dissemble.”