Tech company (ir)responsibility

There are arguably lots of things that a technology startup or any company that collects data on its product and users “knows or should know,” where “should know” seems to mean “should know by virtue of having the data.”

Bird knows or should know where scooters are left;
Airbnb knows or should know when properties are rented illegally;
Amazon knows or should know when banned products are sold on its site;
Facebook knows or should know when fake news is distributed.

The Bird complaint is, in that sense, a microcosm of the debate over what responsibilities technology companies have as custodians of our data.


It’s all about incentives.

When the news of Russians buying political ads on Facebook (using Roubles) came out, there were people defending FB that its ads system is automated, so no humans could have checked.

It’s a ridiculous argument. It’s far simpler for an algorithm to block these straightforward violations, than any human.

Payment not in USD + Advertiser based abroad + Political advert on a political page/terms = Disallow

Facebook has huge, complicated algorithms for tracking users, measuring advertising performance, and site security. This one would have been trivial.

However, FB has a strong incentive to create, maintain and regularly upgrade its capabilities for tracking users, and measuring and serving ads. It has a disincentive (lost ad revenue) in tracking and blocking illegal advertising. No wonder it didn’t.

This is why I support strong government regulation (not ‘self-regulation’). A large fine for this violation, and a strong regulatory oversight for a few years would have given sufficient incentive to devote some of its resources towards enforcing its legal obligations.

It appears that FB has found it easier to pay politicians and lobbyists on both sides, than take a hit and improve its behaviour.

Published by

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.