Ouf, it’s been a rough week for tech.
Through some great reporting by The Guardian and Channel 4, we learned the truth behind Cambridge Analytica and their role in recent global elections, notably the 2016 US presidential election. Key to that revelation was how lax Facebook’s approach to data-sharing has been. While this may not have been a hack or data breach in the strictest use of the term, it was most certainly a breach of trust. Giving access to users’ personal data to third parties, even those parading as researchers, seems flawed in hindsight. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are both on the defensive, with regulators on both sides of the pond demanding answers.
In other unmissable tech news this week, the world has experienced its first death tied to an autonomous vehicle. Sadly, we fear this tragedy may happen again as cars begin the process of learning of driving in real world conditions. In 2016 alone, the EU counted 25,500 (human caused) road fatalities. This death is horrific, but the aggregate experience of automated driving could drastically reduce the total global road fatalities.
On both those topics and more, read on for our weekly #TechAways.
Facebook. Personal data. Steve Bannon. Russian information warfare. Super PACs. Cambridge University. 20-something Canadian with pink hair. Billionaire political backers. Reading this piece we weren’t sure if we were beholding reality or the latest episode of Scandal. It’s hard to summarise this great journalism in a few words – so we will just say, if you have any interest in the future of technology, social media, privacy or democracy, please check it out. Also watch the multi-part documentary from Channel 4: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
ICYMI, a woman in Arizona died Sunday in what is believed to be the world’s first fatality caused by an autonomous vehicle on a public road. Tragic as it is, those familiar with the numbers know road deaths today – caused by humans - are a huge problem. Globally, road traffic is the fifth leading cause of death. Automated vehicles provide the possibility to radically reduce that number, but this will take time. Uber, the car’s operator, has suspended its autonomous vehicle operations in Pittsburgh, Tempe, San Francisco, and Toronto. Here’s hoping that the regulatory reaction will be measured, giving the technology time to develop.
No data, no AI, This is a challenge for competitiveness. No privacy, no trust; this is a challenge for citizens. France, under President Emanuel Macron’s push, is trying to position itself at the center of a European AI-based tech ecosystem and to find a balance between data’s use and privacy. France will publish an AI strategy next week while the European Commission is working on an AI strategy of its own. The success of both will depend on companies’ ability to share and access data while protecting privacy. Quite the challenge… it’s a hard balance to strike.
Amnesty International recently launched a #ToxicTwitter campaign, advocating an end to violence and abuse against women online. The group claims that Twitter fails to prevent the spread of a toxic environment for women on its platform. Despite the company’s announcement in February of new measures to better protect users from abuse and harassment, Amnesty International believes the platform isn’t doing enough. According to a survey of 1,100 British women carried out by the NGO, 78% of the respondents don’t see Twitter as a place where they could share their opinion without receiving threats. Social media has much to do towards protecting women’s rights online.
Social media platforms and the rest of the tech community have long been joined at the hip. With all the controversies besetting the erstwhile poster children of the internet’s power to connect, particularly Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal, this is changing. Big tech is no longer big. Tech firms and organisations no longer want to be seen to be clubbing with social media. Interesting to see how this plays out in Europe.
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