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May 1, 201810:54 AMInside Wisconsin

with Tom Still

Big Tech has met the enemy — and it may be us

(page 1 of 2)

At the close of her speech to the Wisconsin Women in Government gala in Madison, former United Nations ambassador Samantha Power was asked about America’s deep political and cultural divides.

Power offered several reasons, not the least of which is that many people consume only the news with which they agree. Her observation morphed into a broader lament about the role of Big Tech in society.

Power, who served during President Obama’s administration and now teaches at Harvard University, said tech giants such as Facebook bear no small responsibility for breeding a social isolation that encourages distrust, cynicism, and erosion of civic values.

Let’s leave aside that many people didn’t care when their Facebook data was used to peddle them pro-Obama messages, and are now shocked to learn it’s been used to pinpoint people with pro-Trump tendencies. Also, let’s forgive those naïve users who didn’t realize they’re paying for their “free” Facebook by forking over much of their personal data for advertising and other purposes.

Power’s point is still well-taken: The startling rise of social media in less than 15 years has changed how people live, work, and play — largely for the better, but also in ways that have corrosive effects.

Facebook wasn’t a company until 2004. About a decade ago the young company allowed outside firms to mine its data for many secondary purposes. Just four years later Facebook took another turn and reined in the outside data-mining so it could better monetize that information itself.

Somewhere along the way, data on roughly 87 million Facebook users was improperly passed along to Cambridge Analytics, now at the center of a privacy storm that has extended to Russian trolls and foreign governments. It’s why Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has issued apologies to the public and Congress, and pledged to do better.

Meanwhile, other Big Tech companies are coming under scrutiny from anti-trust regulators, editorial writers, stock markets, and other watchdogs as the industry reaches an accountability threshold not previously acknowledged or even recognized.

Before the digital pitchforks are hoisted too high, it’s worth considering the good that has come from innovation that was only a bold idea at the start of the 21st century.

(Continued)

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About This Blog

Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

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