“I feel like an idiot; of course it was the location filter.” For 8 years, I rarely spoke of my banned book experience. Wild Swans, is banned in China. It was on my e-reader when I left the US and it disappeared off my device when I went to China. In my mind, I was in the country less than 8 hours, government software detected the book on my devices and I was under government surveillance and on a watch list. I repeat, in my mind. Halloween night, I think I’m telling this scary story and a friend chuckled and she said to me, “You know, the kindle app probably has a location filter. As soon as you went off airplane mode your location was detected and the settings for the book blocked you.” Of course she’s right.
When the pandemic started, suddenly many were working from home and often commented, it’s weird, my company wants some of the IT people in the office. I’d respond, “you don’t want people to be able to access your system remotely; that leads to hacking and major security risks.” Everyone reacted with “ahhh, makes sense, of course.” Much like I did with my “banned book/surveillance scenario,” when you don’t know, what you don’t know, you create a false narratives. Social media has expanded this exponentially. Search platforms and social sites are algorithmically designed to take you to like minded posts, not factual dissertations. You end up in an echo chamber.
New whistleblower claims Facebook allowed hate, illegal activity to go unchecked. Now there are congressional testimonies, outraged lawmakers with attempts to tackle what is the responsibilities and liabilities of tech companies and social media in terms of privacy and spread of disinformation,hate and violence. I work in IT, I do application requirements and missed the obvious with China. My various friends who made the remote IT comments are brilliant minds in their fields and as soon as I gave them the rationale, they were in agreement.
What about big tech? Are they trying to address issues or appease public outcry? Tech Ethicists is a role that sounds great. But in the context of the issues of technology, does theTech Ethicist have the scope and power to correct current aberrations and minimize the ill effect of future programs? In 2009, Amazon was called out for removing the digital copies of George Orwell’s1984 from Kindle Readers1 along with copies of some of Ayn Rands books and Harry Potter. All of this was kind of sort solved.2 under the guise of, the publisher sued so we removed and refunded the cost of the publication. However, it raised other issues about digital right management. What’s really yours? Digital and physical are not interchangeable. You buy a book, no one can come take it away. The same with physical forms of music like vinyl, tapes and CDs. Digitally it’s different music and publication can have restricted access or be removed.
Lawmakers are concerned and should be. Tech companies are concerned and should be. The problem is neither of these groups is equipped to problem solve. They are both in their own echo chambers with a cavernous gap between them. Tech thinks they are the smartest and Lawmakers think they are the most powerful. The thing is, Lawmakers, this is not your area of expertise, you don’t know the questions to ask, the assumption to challenge and the hypothesis to make. Tech companies, you are for profit organizations, your business model to make money created this.
What about big tech? Are they trying to address issues or appease public outcry? It’s a standstill. No doubt both sides think they are making progress. There was a package of bills and a hearing. But, there is a thing tech loves, constraints. Once the rules of engagement are laid out we can work around it. We have our ground rules and scope. That’s how we end up with MetaVerse.
There is an outrage about an event and a reaction from a group perceived to have power. With tech companies and social platforms, the battle is for the protection of privacy, the prevention of misinformation and stopping the spread of violence and hate. Both sides will have actions such as laws & regulations or policy declarations & transparency of key performance indicators. One side sets a penalty and the other side avoids penalty. The issue is, no one solves the problem and we are mired in self promotion and finger pointing. We tend to let things fade from memory and assume that the result of outcry and outrage is a solution. A few months from now, who will be checking for Facebook? This week, consider how often there is the comfort of an assumed solutions that don’t address the problem.