Tech reviews

It’s time to unfriend a self-interested tech giant


If there was ever any doubt about Facebook’s cavalier attitude to the network of users it has created, this news blackout is definitive. To Facebook, we are all merely pieces of data to be observed, exploited and monetised. As citizens we are worthless.

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By rejecting the decisions of our elected representatives to implement the findings of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s review of its monopoly power, Facebook is asserting its commercial interests should prevail over the public interest. Indeed, Facebook seems more comfortable with its networks supporting despots and dictatorships by algorithmically fomenting division than respecting a government working in support of democracy.

This decision was made hours after our elected leaders form across the political spectrum endorsed the work of experts to deliver a significant reform that will make our democracy stronger.

The News Media Bargaining Code, the brainchild of the ACCC and its chairman Rod Sims, was a systemic response to the monopoly power that Google and Facebook exert over advertising and its impact on public interest journalism.

Under Australian law there is now a legal mechanism to place a value on fact-based news within the digital platforms that have come to dominate our online world with their algorithmically powered engines of division, distortion and denial.

The spectre of the code – with its global precedence – has already begun to do its job. Google has rushed to finalise premium-content deals with media organisations. These deals will not only make the Australian media, which has shed more than 5000 jobs in the past decade, stronger; it will help address the built-in weaknesses of digital platforms that refuse to discriminate fact from fiction.

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And they were only the first step in the program of digital platform reform that the ACCC has laid out to address the power of the Google/Facebook monopoly.

A review of privacy laws is currently under way, looking at the way Australians’ personal information is collected and monetised by online platforms with a view to designing consumer rights and protections. A separate process is focussing on the responsibilities social media should have to address harmful misinformation and disinformation, dispelling for good the myth that they are platforms with no broader social obligations for the harm they cause.

There’s also a review of the creepy world of ad-tech, where automated, virtual trading floors are running real-time auctions for our attention every time we visit a news page.

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But this sort of expression on democratic reform is a red line for Facebook, which believes its network is stronger than our public institutions.

Australians need to respond with our mouses. We need to unfriend Facebook and find alternative places to connect and collaborate, free of its surveillance models and reckless self-interest.

Peter Lewis is the director of the Centre for Responsible Technology.

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