A light structure at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore.

Critical Future Tech

May 2021

Photo by Joe Shields on Unsplash

Issue #7

May 2021




No month is equal for the tech giants. And yet everyone seems identical to the previous: the same lack of regard for users, the antitrust hearings, the lawsuits.. As if we're stuck in a loop, unable to rebalance our relation with Big Tech.

For this issue we're joined by Alice Thwaite, tech ethicist and founder of Hattusia and the Echo Chamber Club where we discuss what is a tech ethicist, what do they do, how to integrate ethics when developing products and using new data metaphors to foster innovation.

- Lawrence

What Happened in April


Amazon


Amazon has avoided the unionization effort in Alabama after warehouse rejecting the historic organizing bid. The company didn't waste any time and launched another union-busting campaign at a Staten Island warehouse's TV screens.

Following the failed union drive, the company said it would raise the pay of 500,000 workers, which is the least to do considering a new report stating the company makes $300k revenue per employee.

Besides findings that the company illegally fired activist workers, a class-action suit alleges that Amazon colluded with publishers to fix book prices. Cool stuff.

Facebook


Facebook is keeping its lead as the most sordid of all tech companies (possibly related to it spending $24m per year to keep its CEO safe?).

533m users got their personal information leaked and the company didn't want to notify the affected users, even going so far as to gaslighting users as if it was their fault. This last approach is in line with internal emails that revealed the company wants to normalize the idea of large scale scraping of user data from social media like its own.
News of the data leak has attracted criticism from Italy and Ireland which will look into the incident.

New research showed Facebook's ad algorithm perpetuates gender bias, in line with a report that found the company did not hire Black employees because they were not a "culture fit".

To put the company's ethos into perspective, we're talking about an organization that stopped employees from reading an internal report on Facebook's role in the U.S. Capitol Insurrection.

Google, Apple & Antitrust


Google is being challenged all around.

In Europe, the Austrian privacy organization Noyb has filed a complaint against Google in France alleging that the U.S. tech giant is illegally tracking users on Android phones without their consent. In the U.S. Google is facing a $4b Supreme Court case over claims it secretly tracked iPhone users' internet activity by using a workaround in the iPhone Safari browser. Google tracking users at all cost? Shocking.

Still in the U.S. a new antitrust case claims Google gamed its ad auction system to favor its own ads, generating $213m. An Australian court is seeking penalties after having found that Google misled consumers about the collection and use of location data when these created new accounts.

On a positive note, Google announced that it achieved four consecutive years of 100% renewable energy and will start linking bosses' pay to environment and diversity goals.

But back to antitrust, both Google and Apple were back to testify against the U.S. Senate in regards to their monopoly in their respective app stores while the E.U. also accused Apple of antitrust violations which follows a Spotify complaint from years ago, facing fines of up to $27b.

Governments & Tech


U.K.'s Digital Markets Unit is looking to create new codes of conduct for tech companies while Europe eyes for stricter A.I. rules.

Others around the world are clamping down on freedom of speech, like Pakistan that cut Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Telegram for multiple hours to prevent the circulation of anti-Islam content. India ordered Twitter to block more than 50 tweets that criticized how the government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

Florida on the other hand is planning to fine social media for banning politicians.

Fairness and Accountability


More than 500 Alphabet employees demanded Google to stop protecting harassers in an open letter.

TikTok is facing billions in a U.K. child privacy lawsuit and Spain is set to approve a new law that would force delivery app companies to open up their algorithmic black boxes to explain to their riders what variables they are using to determine their in-app scores.

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Conversation with
Alice Thwaite

Tech Ethicist, Founder of Hattusia & the Echo Chamber Club

This conversation was recorded on May 5th 2021 and has been edited for length and clarity.



You can connect with Alice on Twitter or through her website.
Make sure to also check Hattusia and Echo Chamber Club.

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