Since 2003, I have written regular articles on information technology for Connect, which used to be a separate trade union and in 2010 became a section of the larger union Prospect and in 2016 joined with BECTU to become a sector of Prospect. Since 2017, my articles have been published in the sector magazine "Stage, Screen & Radio". The text of all these articles, with relevant hyperlinks, are filed on my web site and this page brings together all those from 2018. If you would like to comment on any of them e-mail me.
Spring 2018 What Has Caused This Growing Tech-Lash?
Much of the early excitement around new online services has waned as worries have grown about the impact of these services on everything from our brains to our democracy, writes ROGER DARLINGTON.
WHAT HAS CAUSED THIS GROWING TECH-LASH?
In the excellent film “The Social Network” [my review here], brilliantly written by Aaron Sorkin of “The West Wing” fame, there is a dramatic scene when Facebook acquires its one millionth user. Today it has over two billion – and growing.
So Facebook, Google and Amazon and their services are becoming ever more popular, right? Well, no. There is a growing backlash against the tech giants that has been dubbed “tech-lash”.
Governments are concerned that they are not paying their fair share of taxes in the countries where they generate the most revenues; regulators are worried that they are stifling competition and crushing smaller players; politicians fear the impact of fake news and filter bubbles; parents and teachers are anxious that children are becoming addicted to the small screen.
There is an expression in the business world that companies should be willing “to eat their own breakfast” – that is, use their own products and services. Yet, astonishingly a growing number of tech entrepreneurs are revealing that they do not use many of these services themselves and, even more seriously, do not want their children to do so,
So, for instance, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has declared: “I don’t have a kid, but I have a nephew that I put some boundaries on. There are some things that I won’t allow; I don’t want them on a social network.”
Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, has written: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” If you have a child or grandchild, you will know the problem.
Here in the Britain, according to the regulator Ofcom, 83% of 12- to 15-year-olds have a smartphone, and half of all children have a social media profile by age 12.
But these concerns are not new. In 2008, the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, asked the child psychologist Professor Tanya Byron to investigate the impact the Internet was having on children. Her report made 38 recommendations for making the online world safe for children, including a call for voluntary regulation of websites.
A decade later, the government’s Internet safety strategy is only now in the process of developing a code of practice for social networks and, according to a recent report from the NSPCC [click here], fewer than half of Byron’s recommendations have been fully implemented. Byron has insisted: “The Internet is absolutely ubiquitous in children’s lives today, and it is much too late for a voluntary code for social networks. The Internet strategy must absolutely create a legally enforceable safety code to force social networks to keep children safe.”
Although children’s use of the Net is of particular concern, we are all at risk if the tech giants do not address the growing concerns about their services or governments and regulators do not force them to do so.
In the USA, the 2016 presidential election was influenced by Russian posters who created 80,000 Facebook posts that over a two-year period reached 126 million people.
In the UK, data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica is alleged to have helped the Leave.EU campaign win the Brexit referendum by reportedly harvesting data from UK voters’ Facebook profiles to help decide how to target them with tailored Brexit campaign messages.
We need to address these problems urgently but, if we do not, then a vision of what awaits us can be found in the best-selling novel titled “The Circle” by Dave Eggers [my review here].
In the course of the book, a tech company called the Circle develops one service after another that increasingly links and exposes information in all its forms, always presenting its innovations as offering a social good while step by step stripping away personal freedom and political accountability.
We have been warned.