Former early employees from Silicon Valley companies such as Facebook and Google have formed an organization which aims to warn the public of the negative effects of these tech companies.
The New York Times reports that employees that joined tech firms such as Facebook and Google during their inception have formed a union titled Center for Humane Technology (CHT) to educate the public on the dangers of unregulated tech firms. Working alongside liberal nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media, the CHT has planned an anti-tech political lobbying program as well as advertising across 55,000 U.S. public schools. The campaign will be titled “The Truth About Tech,” and is backed by $7 million in funding from Common Sense Media and the Center for Humane Technology.
The group’s website reads, “Our world-class team of deeply concerned former tech insiders and CEOs intimately understands the culture, business incentives, design techniques, and organizational structures driving how technology hijacks our minds. Since 2014, we’ve convened top industry executives, advised political leaders, and raised awareness of the problem for millions of people through broad media attention. Building on this start, we are advancing thoughtful solutions to change the system.”
Tristan Harris, the head of the Center for Humane Technology and a former in-house ethicist for Google said, “We were on the inside… We know what the companies measure. We know how they talk, and we know how the engineering works.” One of the biggest areas that the group is focusing on is the mental effect of social media on children and teenagers, “The largest supercomputers in the world are inside of two companies — Google and Facebook — and where are we pointing them?” Mr. Harris said. “We’re pointing them at people’s brains, at children.”
Much of this sentiment has been shared by former Facebook employees such as the company’s original president, Sean Parker, who said that the social media platform was “exploiting” human psychology. Similarly, Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya described his regrets in helping to build the company, stating that he believes social media is “ripping apart” modern society.
The CHT has amassed quite a group of knowledgeable former tech company employees including Tristan Harris; former Facebook operations manager Sandy Parakilas; Lynn Fox, a former communications executive at Apple and Google; former Facebook exec Dave Morin; Justin Rosenstein, the creator of Facebook’s famous Like button and co-founder of project tracking startup Asana; Facebook investor Roger McNamee; and technologist Renée DiResta.
Jim Steyer, the liberal CEO and Founder of Common Sense Media, said that the new Truth About Tech campaign was modeled on old anti-smoking ads and focused specifically on children as they are the most vulnerable to these influences. Steyer said, “You see a degree of hypocrisy with all these guys in Silicon Valley.” Roger McNamee said that he joined the group out of horror at what he had enabled at Facebook, “Facebook appeals to your lizard brain — primarily fear and anger,” he said. “And with smartphones, they’ve got you for every waking moment.” McNamee stated, “This is an opportunity for me to correct a wrong.”