Facebook and Twitter have been taking drastic action lately in the name of societal health, banning conspiracy theorists and even the former US President. Since then, a new wave of debate has started about the role tech companies play in society. What social responsibilities, if any, do tech companies really have? If their technology is causing harmful effects for people or the planet should they just let them ride, or do they need to take the action that they feel is morally right? These aren’t new questions, but they’ve never felt this urgent.
In fact when Facebook was first launched in 2004, tech had a sense of optimism about it. New possibilities were constantly being found and the idea of connecting people sounded like a flat-out good for the world. The same thing happened with Twitter in 2006, which was founded as a platform for sharing small, more-or-less vapid thoughts. Amazon’s Alexa was launched in 2014 as a futuristic home assistant. Google was founded in 1998 to let people find what they need online.
It’s 2021 now, and the veil of optimism is being replaced with concern. Facebook is the face of massive privacy violations and admitted it had been too slow in curbing enablement of a horrific genocide in Myanmar. Twitter is a hub for fast-spreading conspiracy theories, from QAnon to Covid denial. The home assistant Alexa was (at least at one point) enabled by warehouses full of people listening in to live conversations – as was Apple's Siri. Google has invaded peoples’ privacies en-masse and has been accused by its own staff of supporting censorship in China.
These are just some examples – in fact, they're the tip of the iceberg.
Is it fair to say that many tech companies simply don’t care about whether their contribution to society is positive or negative? It absolutely is, because profit motives are sole drivers for many entrepreneurs, CEOs, and investors. The costs pile up when you’re paying your fair share of taxes, supporting labour unions, making sure you’re following privacy laws, or ensuring your phones aren’t assembled with modern-day slave labour – which is my so many tech companies don't.
Some tech companies, on the other hand, may have the best intentions – even then, it can be difficult and costly to solve issues when they arise and a lot more cost-effective to ignore the societal cost as best as they can.
Luckily, there’s reason for optimism. There’s a new wave of responsible tech and it’s here to stay. That’s not just because entrepreneurs, CEOs, and investors have become more ethically minded – it’s because making ethical tech is becoming more profitable. Sometimes that’s because consumers care about people that aren’t themselves: They’re paying more attention than ever to ethics when they’re choosing which companies to support. Sometimes it’s because ethical practices directly affect them, which is why WhatsApp’s recent privacy violation revelations have caused millions to migrate away from the platform. New tech companies are springing up to fill these ethical gaps that the major players have created, and established tech giants like Apple are changing their practices.
This is all thanks to you, the consumer. By caring about your health, the health of your society, and the health of the world when choosing your tech products, you're helping new, ethical tech companies exist. You're also pressuring existing Big Tech companies: Your message is “change, or risk being left behind.”
At Xayn, we have an ethical mission: to secure your online privacy. Our mission is only made possible by people like you.
So keep supporting ethical tech and keep up the pressure!