Techlash is a portmanteau word that combines the words technology and backlash. The term comes from the title of a November 2013 article in The Economist magazine, “The coming tech-lash” which refers to the strong and widespread negative reactions for large technology companies, including criticism and boycotts, based on their growing power and influence. (Wooldridge, 2013) This article will briefly analyze the concerns behind Techlash and how to deal with them, using Facebook as an example.
Concerns lie behind it
The resistance to technology companies comes from the negative impact of the dominance of large technology companies and concerns about the problems encountered in using the Internet, which can be divided into three parts in this essay: political, economic, and social factors.
Large technology companies hold the personal information of many users, and the leakage of this information could be exploited to affect the country’s democracy. In 2018, the New York Times and the Guardian reported that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, had collected and misused the personal data of Facebook users for the Trump election without authorization, involving 50 million individuals. (Ma & Gilbert, 2019) Data is no longer simply digital, it plays a role in “constructing” the world and influencing the functioning of the state. People become commodities for sale, and the data are analyzed and infiltrated into social networks using user preferences in order to change the psychology of users and thus control the voting tendencies of voters in the political sphere. One can imagine being damaged would be to democracy, as people’s supposedly autonomous votes would actually be manipulated and their decisions would be influenced by the struggles of political parties, unknowingly becoming pawns in the game. On the one hand, this fundamentally undermines public confidence in the ethics and competence of the technology industry, causing a backlash against social networks, and on the other hand, it brings about distrust of the state.
Large technology companies hold a considerable market share and reach a monopoly in the market through emerging technologies. In September 2019, the state of New York launched an antitrust investigation into Facebook. Then in October, Letitia James announced that the attorneys general of 45 states and the District of Columbia, as well as Guam, would investigate whether Facebook was obstructing competition. 2020 In July, Zuckerberg had attended a House hearing in response to allegations of alleged monopolization by Rep. (Lordan, 2020) Monopolies can affect fair competition among firms in an industry. It affects the efficiency of economic operation and technological progress. The price monopoly implementers of industry enterprises, whether they restrict competition among competitors in the same industry or among operators upstream and downstream of the industry, will cause solidification of interests in the industry and related associated industries, and the absence of normal competition among the same industry will inevitably make it difficult to improve the efficiency of the entire economic operation. The lack of competition caused by the implementation of price monopoly and the solidification of monopoly interests of market players can easily cause a reduction in the willingness of enterprises to innovate, thus hindering the overall rate of scientific and technological progress of society. More seriously, if monopolies are formed, because of economic globalization, these negative effects will not only occur in individual countries but will sweep the whole world.
Privacy and security are the biggest and most important issues facing online platforms. New technologies represented by smart manufacturing and artificial intelligence are opening up new changes and leading global economic development. Both smart manufacturing and artificial intelligence are inseparable from data analysis, and the era of big data has arrived. In order to get access to the software, users have to accept the terms required by the platform and provide personal privacy data. The huge amount of information collected and stored so that the relevant Internet companies actually have huge power, this power if not shut into the cage, then on the network, nearly “naked” user information, may at any time be betrayed to the limelight. For example, Karpf (2018) shows that Dimonde Media has been making huge profits by capturing consumers’ search records and placing advertisements without their consent. This has actually violated the user’s data privacy. All these phenomena indicate that the state of personal privacy is really worrying.
What to do
Cybersecurity cannot be ensured by the actions of a single government, a single platform, or a single individual; it takes the combined efforts of all parties to make the cyber environment better. ( Berners-Lee, 2020)
The government should implement management to regulate the behavior of large technology companies and improve the relevant system, and as a law enforcement agency, should promote the implementation and enforcement of anti-monopoly law to maintain a fair competition order. For example, the U.S. government sued Facebook in 2020 for allegedly violating antitrust laws. (Lordan, 2020) However, the government should not interfere too much with the market. Under the premise of ensuring personal privacy and data security, the government should explore to achieve a more reasonable use of data and continue to stimulate the vitality of market players and the ability of science and technology innovation. At the same time, it should continue to enhance policy transparency and predictability, protect privacy, and promote fair competition. Adhere to the direction of marketization, rule of law, and internationalization, create a good business environment, expand a high level of openness to the outside world, and strengthen international cooperation in science and technology innovation in the digital field. Therefore, the government should grasp its own strength, both to discipline these large technology companies and to ensure that it does not stifle innovation through excessive discipline.
Civil Society Organization
Organizations can play a regulatory and supporting role. Starting June 17, 2020, six major U.S. public interest groups launched a campaign called “StopHateforProfit” calling on brand advertisers to refrain from placing ads on Facebook that allows Facebook to profit from hate speech. The reason for the boycott was Facebook’s inadequate handling of Trump’s violent comments. The campaign accused Facebook of inciting violence against racial justice protesters. As a result of the boycott, Facebook shares fell 8.3 percent on Friday and the company’s market value evaporated by $56 billion. (StopHateForProfit, 2020) While Organizations do not have the same enforcement powers as governments, nor the autonomy of large tech companies, they can achieve their intended purpose by launching campaigns that send a strong and powerful message to companies.
Technology giants themselves should take greater responsibility and set higher requirements. First of all, they should comply with the relevant regulations and accept the supervision of the government and the community. Secondly, they should listen to society’s opinions and take corresponding actions to protect data security. There are three points to protect data security: to do a good job of data classification and grading control; to control the whole life cycle of data security, and to establish a perfect data security monitoring and early warning mechanism. Internet companies should classify data assets for the management of important data and core data involving national security, national economic lifelines, important people’s livelihood, and major public interests; public data involving platform business, and user data involving a large number of personal privacy. For data of different security levels, the security protection requirements for each link of the data life cycle such as collection, transmission, storage, use, and deletion are clarified to avoid leakage of important data such as user information. By building a data security risk monitoring platform, early warning response to data security risks. In order to avoid the recurrence of terrorist attacks lives, Facebook has restricted the use of the live streaming function. (The Guardian, 2019) In addition, attention should be paid to strengthen the regulation of undesirable speech such as racist speech, hate speech, and cyber violence. With such an advanced data economy today, the social responsibility of companies has become correspondingly greater. If they fail to protect their critical data, they may also have to bear the corresponding responsibility.
The platforms created by large technology companies have enhanced communication among people and with the outside world. But at the same time, it also brings many new problems and concerns, such as the impact on the functioning of the state, the suspicion of monopoly due to excessive market share, and the privacy and security of users. In order to address these concerns, it is not enough for companies to regulate themselves, but also requires government regulation and the assistance of organizations.
Berners-Lee, T.(2020). 30 years on, what’s next #ForTheWeb?
Retrieved from https://webfoundation.org/2019/03/web-birthday-30/
Karpf, D.(2018).25 Years of WIRED Predictions: Why the Future Never Arrives. WIRED.
Lordan, B.（2020）FTC Sues Facebook for Illegal Monopolization
Ma. A. &Gilbert. B.(2019) What Is Cambridge Analytica? a Timeline of the Facebook Controversy
StopHateForProfit(2020) #StopHateForProfit September 2020 Week of Action
The Guardian(2019) Facebook teams up with police to stop the streaming of terror attacks
Wooldridge, A. (2013). The coming tech-lash. Economist
Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/news/2013/11/18/the-coming-tech-lash
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