Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash
Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

The People v Big Tech

Technology is a seemingly overwhelming force in our personal lives and society, but as these stories show, people are working to check Big Tech’s power at every turn, whether by resisting expansion to new American cities or by introducing legislation to force companies into implementing more user-friendly design.

By Jessica S. McKenzie

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash
Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

America’s love affair with Big Tech is finally over, asserts Micah Sifry in his review of three books that look at surveillance of capitalism. But now that we are re-evaluating our relationship with Facebook, Amazon, and other social media apps that have traded convenience for our money and our attention, will we insist on real change? Perhaps. But only if we put some effort into understanding, describing, and analyzing the impact it has had on our lives. Read the review here.

Here is a fun, not entirely unrelated thought experiment: Could we blow up the internet? As we consider its ubiquitousness in our lives and how to mediate and improve the internet’s influence, perhaps it’s important to recognize that no, actually just blowing it up (probably) isn’t an option. Read more here.

Regulating Big Tech is a more likely scenario than blowing it up and starting over. Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) have introduced a bill that is meant to outlaw some of the most manipulative design tricks employed by technology companies to get users to hand over more of the data or personal information than they might otherwise choose to, if they understood that they had a choice. Learn more about the bill here.

The U.K. is also taking steps to limit the worst features of technology companies, particularly as it relates to users under the age of 18. The Information Commissioner’s Office also wants internet companies to make privacy settings high by default, to turn location tracking off when the app is not in use and make it clear when it’s on, and explain how personal data is used, among other proposed changes. Learn more here.

Opposition to tech companies can actually have a unifying effect on groups that otherwise espouse ideologically opposed worldviews. That is what is happening in Nashville, where free-market libertarians and union-backed activists are both working to oppose a deal in which Nashville will give public money to Amazon in exchange for jobs. Activists are pressuring Amazon to prove to the public that they have followed through on their promises to the city. Read more here.

Jessica McKenzie is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, NY. Previously, she was the managing editor of the civic technology news site Civicist and interned at The Nation magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @jessimckenzi.