Americans treat technology companies as a substitute for effective representative government. It shouldn’t be.
After the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion, many abortion rights advocates turned their attention to how people’s digital breadcrumbs from apps and the web can blame them if they want the procedure, and what tech and telecom companies like Facebook, Apple, and Verizon could do to protect them.
This was understandable. In our data-hogging economy, companies have information about almost everyone. That makes them potential resources for law enforcement officers seeking to prosecute those involved in abortions.
On the other hand, it was another example of people bypassing elected officials and instead looking to powerful tech companies to address their concerns about law, policy, and accountability.
Many People Believe Donald Trump And Other Republican Officials Won’t Quit make false claims that the 2020 presidential election had been rigged. So a lot of thought has gone into what Twitter, Facebook or YouTube could do to stop those lies from spreading.
Politicians Are Angry That Some Big Businesses Don’t Pay Federal Income Taxes But Instead… changing the statutory deductions and exemptions, they yell at Amazon and other big companies for not paying their fair share of taxes. People are mad about Facebooks smooth enforcement of rules banning arms sales — but there are more gun restrictions on Facebook than in much of the real America.
Businesses are an important factor in our lives, and a few digital superpowers sometimes act like major global actors aligned with governments† They have a responsibility that goes beyond making a profit, whether any of us like it or not.
But it’s also strange to both fear that Big Tech has too much power and sometimes demand the companies fix what we don’t like about the world. Company action is no substitute for effective government†
I understand why this is happening: Many Americans don’t trust that the government is able to effectively tackle major problems such as public safety, health care and climate change. Companies are often more responsible and responsive to people’s demands than our elected leaders.
It’s also true that tech companies, including Facebook, have resisted government regulation while saying that It is needed to solve problems they have helped create.
I keep thinking about a conversation I had a conversation with Zephyr Teachout, a left-wing attorney who is now a special counsel to the New York Attorney General, a few years ago about the historical aberration of people now petitioning corporations for social and political change.
We discussed a mass protest in Britain in the early 1800s that Teachout has written about. Protesters angry that sugar producers were using enslaved people demanded that the government abolish slavery — not that the companies change their behavior.
The lack of trust of Americans in the government makes for strange spectacles. Concerns about the use of company data in abortion lawsuits — and fear about the Chinese government using Americans’ data from the TikTok app – could be a boost for elected leaders and the public. We may have national restrictions in the US on the data that companies collect about us and change how easy it is for companies to sell or share that data with just about anyone.
Google said last week that it would start deleting location information when people visit certain sensitive places, such as addiction treatment centers and abortion providers. TikTok’s parent company, based in China, has attempted to wall of the app of China’s digital borders.
America’s lax restrictions on data haven’t changed. But TikToks and Googles have.
Windows technology can open
The internet can be great sometimes! Our On Tech editor, Hanna Ingber, watched her kid unleash his amazing taste for interiors. We want to hear from you how technology has been a window to personal discovery or joy:
My 8-year-old son was recently playing on his out-of-school Chromebook and stumbled upon a design app. I let him download it and he designed his first living room. And then he wanted to design more and more.
A friend told me that her son was playing around on Google and heard about an upcoming convention for those who like to make origami; he asked his mother about it and she took him. It was mostly adults there – but he had a lot of fun.
These experiences made me think about how the Internet can open up worlds for children beyond what their parents had considered or knew existed.
We’d love to hear from you, our On Tech readers, about a recent experience with technology that has helped you or your family broaden your horizons. Share your stories with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and putting “tech wonders” in the subject line. We may publish a selection in a future newsletter.
Before we go…
Starting money dips below: Investments in American tech start-ups have fell 23 percent over the past three months. It’s the first drop in funding since 2019, my colleague Erin Griffith reported, and another sign of the freeze on money flowing in and out of fledgling companies.
The dollar store of the internet has lost its touch: Wish grabbed the hearts of shoppers and some investors who bet the company’s cheap tchotchkes would make it an ecommerce superstar. But plastering the internet with ads for Wish products stopped workingand the company sometimes used misleading experiments that drove customers away, wrote my colleagues Tiffany Hsu and Sapna Maheshwari.
Can you recognize a country by the color of the ground? My colleague Kellen Browning wrote about people catching a glimpse of anywhere in the world with Google Street View and guess in which country it is as soon as possible† The best players can identify a location in seconds or less.
Hug for this
At a fairground in southwestern Virginia, a woman won over 25 categories in a competition, including for the best sauerkraut, jelly, jam and pie, and the top three places for biscuits. People wouldn’t rest until they found her†
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