What does it mean when former employees of the biggest tech companies in the world launch a campaign to fight tech addiction?
Apple investors recently wrote a letter appealing for the tech giant to take a greater level of responsibility in preventing excessive use of digital devices amongst children, and news has recently come out that “reformed techies” have now come together to put pressure on technology companies to make their products less addictive and manipulative.
Headed by former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris and former Facebook investor and adviser Roger McNamee, “Truth About Tech” is the advocacy group for the Center for Humane Technology. The group is funded by Common Sense, a not-for-profit that promotes safe technology and media for children and is ironically made up of former Facebook and Google employees who have committed themselves to “reversing the digital attention crisis and realigning technology with humanity’s best interests”.
The campaign is set to educate the public about the potential harm that digital platforms can have on wellbeing (research has found that the frequent use of smart phones and screen time exposure is negatively impacting the happiness levels and is contributing to higher risks of depression and suicide amongst young people today). As further research now finds that teenagers consume an average of nine hours of media per day (while younger users consume up to six hours daily), the campaign will be offering techniques to counteract the potential harm of this excessive exposure (e.g. switching off notifications and applying a greyscale to mobile and computer screens).
The group also plan to lobby for policymakers to regulate tech companies and restrict their manipulative practices. It pledges to help develop “standards of ethical design” to discourage digital addiction and –very worryingly – stated “when parents learn how these companies can take advantage of our kids, they will join us in demanding the industry change its ways and improve certain practices.”
And if you’re not freaked out enough already, when asked what he would say to Mark Zuckerberg today, the Facebook creator’s former mentor, Roger McNamee, stated “Today I would tell him: your users are in peril”. Still need convincing? Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff recently declared that “Facebook should be regulated like the cigarette industry”, whilst just back in January Sean Parker (Facebook’s founding president) said “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains”.
One thing that’s clear – whatever it’s doing, it’s not good.
And on that note we wish you a, erm, “happy” Safer Internet Day…