You Don’t Have A Voice

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The technology lobby will spend tens of millions of dollars on political donations, lobbyists and publicists to further its interests this year.

The amount of money spent on your behalf? $0.

Four of the largest tech companies spent $55 million on lobbying last year (double what they spent the year prior), and had 238 lobbyists registered as of the first quarter this year, according to the New York Times. They likely spend millions every year on PR agencies.

On the political donation front, Microsoft contributed $1.7 million to politicians last year, while Amazon gave $2.1 million. Those firms also spent millions on lobbyists and PR agencies.

Then add to those biggies all of the other companies dependent on a technology future that stays unencumbered by regulation, let alone any moral obligation to respect things like customer privacy or safety, and you easily top $100 million…and then some.

In contrast to all that money and expertise being spent making the world safe for their business pursuits, consider that zilch is spent to ensure that the interests of consumers — no, of citizens or human beings — are represented forcefully in any conversation or negotiation.

I know, it’s not simply a binary issue. Tech apologists aren’t necessarily driven by evil intentions any more than suspicions of their activities are always informed or legitimate.

The most charitable view of tech companies that want to avoid regulation is that they see a future in which data are freely collected and then shared back with users in the form of wildly useful tools, like predictive health monitoring along with always-better maps and reliable reviews of products and services.

The facts that said future will require all of us to be monitored, tracked, and analyzed, and that in exchange for those “free” services tech companies want the right to use the data they collect to channel and nudge us into behaviors they can then monetize are, well, irrelevant externalities.

The Free Will Lobby can’t hold a candle to the FAANG Lobby, especially since the former doesn’t even exist. No, instead we must rely on the intrinsic good intentions of the tech firms.

Yet we know from past experiences that the effects of unintended consequences are unanticipated, by default, and that they’re usually an outcome of the best intentions, by design.

Specific to digital technology, just look at all of the “bad” effects the general “good” of social media have given us…we’ve gotten access to information and one another in exchange for fake news and social polarization/isolation. 

Did any of us consciously agree to that trade? Did any of its purveyors even see it coming? 

You’d think the explicit lessons of history would inspire some sort or pushback to the unrestrained advocacy coming from tech companies. Maybe we’d insist that our elected officials actively look out for us, or even organize as consumers to make our needs and concerns known.

Naw. We “speak” when we use free apps, post personal information, and otherwise let their money do all of the talking.

You don’t have a voice.

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