Former Facebook and Google staff create group to tackle tech addiction

Angelica Greene
February 7, 2018

Now, with millions of dollars from San Francisco-based nonprofit Common Sense Media and others, the new coalition aims to inspire companies to design their devices with tech addiction in mind; apply political pressure and advise governments on how to protect their constituents; helping consumers "take control of their digital lives" by spreading awareness; and "empowering" like-minded tech employees. Their initiative, The Truth About Tech, is partially funded by the media watchdog Common Sense Media.

Former employees of several tech companies, including Facebook and Google, have bandied up together in an effort to curb tech addiction, therefore challenging the companies they once helped build.

The education campaign, called Truth About Tech, comes as scrutiny grows of the mental health consequences of using these services and recent criticism of companies for targeting young people with kids' versions of their products. It describes Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube as examples of platforms "designed to addict us" by employing persuasive techniques and reward loops to encourage continual app usage. Their first call to duty is to create a website called Ledger of Harms, which will exist to exclusively let rank-and-file engineers know what the ethical side of things are looking like in regards to what they are being asked to build by the companies that govern them. "Sometimes we see when people post being something that may distress them that people will actually respond in a really positive way and provide support". And it will enlist designers and technologists from across the industry to recognize their moral responsibility to use technology for the greater good, as opposed to potentially harming kids. According to Common Sense, teens average nine hours of media a day, and tweens average six.

Generations of parents, teachers and researchers have expressed concerns over how children are impacted by media and technology - from television to video games, and now social media. Back in January, two prominent Wall Street investors asked Apple to weigh the health effect of its products on kids and offer an easier option to restrict kids from using iPhones and iPads.

"The Truth About Tech campaign isn't anti-tech, Common Sense founder and CEO Jim Steyer told Observer in an email".

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The people associated with this organization should know that different technologies are created to garner an inordinate amount of human attention because they worked at those companies, said Tristan Harris, a former in-house ethicist at Google, who is heading the new group.

While tools are a start, some tech insiders feel that if Facebook is serious about making a change, it will have to change its business model. One bill would fund research on the impact of social media on children's health, another would limit the use of bots.

The Center for Humane Technology is led by former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris and former Facebook investor and adviser Roger McNamee. "And with smartphones, they've got you for every waking moment".

In an interview with CNN International's Maggie Lake last week, Facebook investor McNamee said, "profits definitely come before people at Facebook now".

Other reports by GizPress

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