Aware of the unwanted effects that social networks can bring, Silicon Valley technologists, who were early employees of Google and Facebook, unite to challenge the companies they once partook.
The experts formed a union, the Center for Humane Technology, which collaborated with a non-profit group media group, Common Sense Media, to fight against tech addiction using advocacies and an ad campaign revealed at 55,000 public schools across the US.
The two organizations, Common Sense and Center for Humane Technology will fund the ad campaign named, The Truth About Tech, with $7 million. Additional media and airtime donation worth $50 million will also come from the partners of Common Sense including Comcast and DirecTV. The gathered funds will be used to educate students, parents and teachers about the harmful effects of technology such as depression.
“We were on the inside,” according to Tristan Harris, a former in-house ethicist at Google who is heading the new group. “We know what the companies measure. We know how they talk, and we know how the engineering works.”
Recent controversies discuss the effects of technology in the minds of the younger generation. Last January, two known Wall Street investors questioned Apple regarding the impact of its products to young users. The investors asked the company to re-evaluate the effects of iPhones and iPads, and if they can restrict the children’s use of these products. Mental health experts and pediatrics also confronted Facebook to remove the free messaging service the company introduced to users under 6 years old. Many parents are also concerned about YouTube Kids, and some of the disturbing content they offer to children.
“The largest supercomputers in the world are inside of two companies — Google and Facebook — and where are we pointing them?” Mr. Harris said. “We’re pointing them at people’s brains, at children.”
For years, Silicon Valley executives claim that their companies are family oriented, and they rarely talk against each other – but times have changed. A venture capitalist and a former employee at Facebook, Chamath Palihapitiya, said social network was “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”
The Center for Humane Technology is comprised of former employees from some of the biggest names in the tech industry today. A few of those technologists include previous Facebook operations manager, Sandy Parakilas; previous Apple and Google communications executive, Lynn Fox; previous Facebook executive, Dave Morin; the man behind Facebook’s Like button and a co-founder of Asan, Justin Rosenstein; early investor in Facebook, Roger McNamee; and bot technologist, Renée DiResta.
The organization is expected to grow even bigger in the coming years. One of their initial projects is the launch of Ledger of Harms, a website that aims to guide rank-and-file engineers who are concerned about what they are being asked to create. The website will feature the effects of technology to health, and what the experts can do to make better products.
According to the chief executive and founder of Common Sense, Jim Steyer, the Truth About Tech campaign focuses on how vulnerable children are. Steyer believes it can convince chief executives towards change – looks like, he’s right. Just recently, Apple’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, told The Guardian that he would not allow his nephew to be on social media. Facebook investor Sean Parker shared a similar insight when he said, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Steyer added, “You see a degree of hypocrisy with all these guys in Silicon Valley.”
The union of technologists also plans to persuade lawmakers to reduce the power of the biggest tech companies. The step towards the goal will start by focusing on two legislations: Democrat of Massachusetts, Senator Edward J. Markey’s bill that will authorize the research about the impact of tech-use on children’s health, and State Senator Bob Hertzberg’s bill in California that forbids the use of non-identified bots.
According to Mr. McNamee, he joined the Center for Humane Technology because as an early Facebook investor, he was terrified of what he had helped to create.
“Facebook appeals to your lizard brain — primarily fear and anger,” he said. “And with smartphones, they’ve got you for every waking moment.”
Mr. McNamee added that people who participated in creating these products can still help prevent any more damages from happening.
“This is an opportunity for me to correct a wrong,” Mr. McNamee said.
Check out this video that sums things up nicely: