Technology is not technology is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Technology is pushing social networks and web tools deeper and deeper into our lives, privacy, and politics (Ian I and Rune,2020). The rise of the Internet, especially the application of big data, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, mobile Internet, Internet of Things, and other emerging technologies in the industry, has brought a lot of convenience to people’s production, life, and study. Science and technology make human life wonderful. However, as science and technology rapidly develop, there are also many problems such as techlash appearing.
What is techlash?
Techlash was coined by The Economist in early 2018 to describe the growing dissatisfaction of the public, politicians, and governments with the power of big tech companies such as Facebook, Apple, and Google.
Public concerns behind techlash
Facebook is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
- Techlash might lead to monopolies and unfair competition. Tech companies are the new robber barons (Ian I and Rune,2020). Big tech companies use their strong position in the market to create rules and monopolize the market and squeeze and dominate smaller companies. Because tech giants monopolize the market, the missteps would significantly impact a wide range of businesses. On October 5, Facebook engineers mistakenly sent out a command that cut off all Internet connections to Facebook’s data centers around the world, leading to a massive outage of Facebook and its software. The failure lasted more than six hours. The accident involved many parties such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp cannot be accessed or used normally. It not only affects the daily communication of ordinary people but also affects the business of many businesses, reflecting the monopoly of the market and life of the technology giants. The technology industry needs more competition and more choices. Otherwise, once problems occur, it will bring inconvenience to people’s life.
- Techlash infringes user privacy to some extent. Information technology has developed rapidly after entering the digital age, and people’s privacy has gradually been violated. There is more and more data on the Internet. Each of us is constantly generating and publishing data about ourselves (SINTEF, 2013). Advanced technology invades our privacy, but it also invades our innermost being, collecting our sense of self and well-being without the explicit knowledge and sell vast amounts of personal data to unscrupulous third parties for profit (Ian I and Rune,2020). The disclosure and dissemination of users’ personal information bring danger and inconvenience to people’s life.
- Techlash has made algorithmic recommendations more common, surveillance capitalism grew, and created filter bubbles. By automatically collecting and processing user data, the platform can target and analyze individual users and user groups (José, Thomas, and Martijn, 2018). When users use the APP, the platform will recommend the content according to the user’s preference, which reduces the user’s search scope and information filtering by technology. Platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Google, and Twitter rely on algorithms that deliberately magnify the types of content they engage users with (Cohen, 2019). The use of technology to sell users’ attention and time as a commodity to advertisers is controversial. Facebook and Google control more than 60% of online advertising (José, Thomas, and Martijn, 2018). Systems are designed to create perverse incentives at the expense of user value, such as advertising-based revenue models and commercial rewards for clickbait and viral misinformation (Tim,2020). These tech companies work with advertisers to deliver ads to users when they use the platform through recommendation algorithms, and over time, users could easily become resentful.
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4. Diversification of press and publication is undermined by techlash. Nowadays, many people regard social media as a way to retrieve news, while traditional media such as books and newspapers are gradually losing their dominant status. According to ACCC (2019), every month, about 19.2 million Australians use Google to search, 17.3 million visit Facebook, 17.6 million watch YouTube (owned by Google), and 11.2 million visit Instagram (owned by Facebook). The widespread and frequent use of Google and Facebook means these platforms hold a crucial position among businesses seeking to reach Australian consumers (ACCC,2019). The rise of these platforms has suppressed many traditional media and destroyed the diversified development of news publishing.
5. Techlash is likely to fuel racism and hate speech, leading to disharmony of the network environment. The rapid growth of big tech companies and the lack of regulation might lead to free speech online and the spread of fake news rumors. There will always be racists, misogynists, anti-Semites, and child abusers (Cohen, 2019). When people use Google to search for black people, the prompts are most damaging, such as crime, poverty, and dirt. When searching for “black girl,” the Google results page is filled with pornography (Umoja, 2018). The search results suggest a systemic bias and lack of attention to race by Google and other information monopolies. Thus, citizens, especially people of color, are worried about the harm and discrimination behind the technology.
Self-regulation by tech companies
by Facebook Press Conference is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Digital platforms could be effective if they self-regulate because self-regulation falls under corporate social responsibility. Technology companies have a better understanding of their own business and problems. They can upload and execute faster so that the rights and interests of consumers and the privacy of users could be protected as soon as possible. Zuckerberg said social media companies should “live up to their responsibilities” and take responsibility when their products are flawed (Cohen,2019). For example, the recent failure of Facebook shows that there are still gaps in the oversight of technology companies, which need to make timely adjustments to internal technology and strengthen supervision platforms. However, the company is profit-oriented, self-regulation is challenging to ensure complete fairness and justice, and the implementation is not strong enough. Self-regulation sometimes conflicts with its own interests. Therefore, technology companies cannot completely rely on self-regulation by technology companies and require third-party supervision.
François Bausch on the positive reinforcement of government regulation is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Social media companies should “live up to their responsibilities” but clearly cannot be trusted to self-regulate. As with the industrial revolution, it is time for regulation and legislation to curb the greed of these high-tech robber barons (Cohen, 2019). The government supervises Internet companies because the government has a good supervision system and rules and more vigorous enforcement, which could well implement some industry rules and make supervision more effective. However, government regulation also has many disadvantages. If it is regulated by the government, the whole regulatory process: formulation, supervision, enforcement takes time. This kind of supervision is inefficient and narrow in scope. It cannot keep up with the speed of technological innovation development in time, which will lead to supervision blank. Besides, the government does not understand the internal business of technology companies, and the rules formulated by the government are not specific, making it difficult to implement. Furthermore, many of the biggest tech firms are multinationals with broad reach. Facebook, for example, is based in America but is used in many countries. In this way, government regulation has limitations: different legal systems in different countries, supervision requires multi-party cooperation, which is more troublesome.
Regulation of civil society organization
Citizens’ personal involvement in monitoring technology companies could raise citizens’ awareness of protecting their rights and promote regulation. Civil society supervision can mobilize diversified forces, with strong supervision force, feedback problems from the bottom up, and more flexible supervision methods. However, the supervision of civil society organizations is more of a proposal, which is challenging to implement. If it does, citizens need to work with the government and technology companies to formulate laws and regulations to regulate it.
In a word, while the web has created opportunities to give a voice to marginalized groups and make our daily lives easier, it has also created opportunities for fraudsters, provided a voice to those who spread hate, and made crimes of all kinds easier to commit (Tim,2020). Technology has made our lives infinitely better and now poses one of the greatest threats to humanity (Ian I and Rune,2020). Techlash has raised public concerns. Therefore, technology companies themselves, governments, and civil society organizations need to work together according to the pace of technological innovation, adjust regulatory plans in a timely manner, strengthen regulation, and strive to make technology benefit humankind in the future.
Accc. (2019). Digital Platforms Inquiry – Final Report. https://www.accc.gov.au/publications/digital-platforms-inquiry-final-report
Berners-Lee, Tim (2020) ’30 years on, what’s next #fortheweb’, Available online
Dijck, J. van, Poell, T., & Waal, M. de. (2018). The platform society. Oxford
Mitroff, I. I., & Storesund, R. (2020). Techlash. Springer.
Noble, S. U. (2018). Algorithms of oppression: how search engines reinforce racism. New York University Press. https://doi.org/10.18574/9781479833641
Sacha Baron Cohen speech to Anti-Defamation League, 2019 https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/nov/22/sacha-baron-cohen-facebook-propaganda
SINTEF. (2013, May 22). Big Data, for better or worse: 90% of world’s data generated over last two years. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130522085217.htm