Tim Cook wants companies to take responsibility for their “chaos factories” on the internet.
Apple CEO Tim Cook warned Silicon Valley companies in a speech at Stanford on Sunday.
He said that data breaches and privacy violations threatened freedom. An increasing chorus of Silicon Valley personalities are speaking up against the pervasive misinformation and toxic climate of social media in the last few years.
Cook, while speaking with Stanford graduates touched on several issues plaguing the tech industry, including privacy violations, data leaks and hacks along with the spread of fake news and hate speech.
How Will Tech Companies Take Responsibility?
While he of course never mentions any company by name, but alluded to problems that businesses such as Facebook, YouTube and now-defunct firm Theranos have previously dealt with. The internet has changed a lot in the last decade and its trajectory is worrying some executives and tech pundits.
When major leaders of BigTech companies speak up, you sort of have to listen. He basically said that “we see it every day now, with every data breach, every privacy violation, every blind eye turned to hate speech. Fake news poisoning our national conversation. Too many seem to think that good intentions excuse away harmful outcomes.”
However with Mark Zuckerberg seeming to prefer regulation to come from outside, it’s not clear how much companies like Google and Facebook are willing to spend to moderate and remove harmful content from their ecosystems. It seems like a minimal amount for the maximum PR gain, while their platforms remain in a continual state of being half-broken products with no regard for their social impact on the state of the internet.
YouTube, WhatsApp and Facebook are like Chaos Factories
He continued: “It feels a bit crazy that anyone should have to say this, but if you built a chaos factory, you can’t dodge responsibility for the chaos.”
While YouTube and Facebook are globally popular platforms, they scaled so big they became nearly impossible to regulate, especially since the AI required to monitor them properly is realistically a few years away.
When algorithms can be weaponized by foreign agents and cybersecurity professionals to sow unrest and political influence, you have to wonder if Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram contribute as much to the social good as they potentially cause havoc, misinformation and collective chaos. Advertising isn’t a neutral battleground, it’s a pay-to-play mechanism where Facebook can actually profit from chaos.
If you know anything about how WhatsApp is used in places like India, you know the meaning of online chaos. Facebook has lost trust but not that many users, so it seems “taking responsibility” is an expense that’s not always worth it. There’s no legal liability for CEOs in the actions of their companies, so capitalism is pretty flawed when it comes to moral or ethical accountability or the collective damages of your platform.
It’s the latest in a series of speeches from Cook in which he has has discussed his views on data security while criticizing Google, Facebook, and other technology companies for their approach to user data and privacy, usually without naming those companies. While Apple sides on the rule of law, they aren’t exactly global leaders in privacy compliance with how they have contributed to surveillance with beacon technology and an app store full of offenders.
While the DOJ takes probing BigTech more seriously again and regulating BigTech has become a topic among shareholders on Wall Street, it’s interesting to see personalities in Silicon Valley speaking up about corporate social responsibility and stopping the chaos factories.
Cook told the new Stanford graduates that digital surveillance threatened innovation and would have “stopped Silicon Valley before it got started.” However duopolies in advertising and the cloud mean Silicon Valley startups mostly have a fresh crop of IPOs in 2019 to cheer about, while actual innovation has looked rather dismal in recent years.
Monopolies Stunt Innovation
A climate of monopolies in apps and emerging tech means more innovation globally is now likely to come out of Asia and places like Israel than Silicon Valley.
- Google and Facebook are a duopoly in advertising.
- Facebook has a monopoly on social media apps and chat.
- Google with YouTube has a monopoly in vlogs and user-generated-content video.
- AWS and Microsoft have a duopoly on the cloud.
The reality is it’s not just chaos machines but a lack of free competition in a duopolistic like atmosphere that is decaying American innovation. Apple’s own track record in innovation in the last decade can be argued to be rather poor.
Still Tim Cook brings up an important message to young people.
Stanford graduates are pretty likely to end up at companies like Facebook or LinkedIn. However Facebook has been having more trouble landing talent in recent times. Graduates think twice about Facebook’s sketchy reputation and suspect leadership.
“If we accept as normal and unavoidable that everything in our lives can be aggregated, sold and even leaked in the event of a hack, then we lose so much more than data. We lose the freedom to be human,” Cook said in the commencement speech.
The rules have been changed by a more toxic internet, an internet where privacy invasion and data breaches have become the norm, rather than the exception. Congress, Governments, regulators and legislation do not seem to be able to keep up with how quickly the internet changes.
This bodes poorly for how the world will be able to regulate artificial intelligence and its impact as a whole. When we live in a world without accountability and with poor leadership in technology, we are all prone to living on a more dangerous and exploitative internet.
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