Last week, the Fourth Group held their annual Politics Summit with the focal point regarding citizens in the digital age and how technology effects our lifestyle on daily basis whether we choose to accept it or not.
Many topics were heavily discussed including how current technological advances affect politics in light of Cambridge Analytica and also how we solely harness the positives of technology and minimalise the negatives.
It is of mass importance to acknowledge that we are in a digital revolution, in what some may dub the fourth industrial revolution which undoubtedly is littered with asymmetric information. Out with the old and in with the new.
However in the current phase we reside in, where new tech firms arrive daily and algorithms are at the forefront, it is imperative we should not trade anything for convenience as Jamie Bartlett the author of ‘The People vs The Tech’ said – something we have all probably indulged in. Briefly ask yourself when the last time you fully read the terms and conditions before clicking agree was. I myself too hang my head in shame.
A ‘sin’ most of us reading this piece would have more than likely committed is signing up to a social media site or purchasing a product and handing over our information, i.e an address and all other identity details, all for the sake of convenience.
But do we know how powerful the information we are giving away is? Who wants the information? Why do they want it? What are they going to do with it?
The truth is the vast majority of us do not know and this is due to a lack of care and digital literacy. At the beginning of the summit a video was played showing the interaction between an elderly woman and her grandchildren using Google Home, a device which has a monumental amount of automated responses and the woman was bewildered to say the least.
This is a prime example of how many of us are in this digital age to varying degrees. The difference in asymmetric information between some of those meddling in Silicon Valley and the rest of us is startling.
When incidents like Facebook’s recent breach of data where 50million profiles were harvested for Cambridge Analytica, where this information was harvested and allegedly used by President Trumps Republican party to sway voters, it is only then that we realise the power our information has and how it is being used against us. Algorithms and formulas constructed by the elite have propelled some of these organisations to greater heights than many countries on this planet alone and what is even more astonishing, that there is not one common code of conduct the social media companies are subject to, they are operating arbitrary.
In other fields there are common independent boards of conduct, teachers, lawyers, accountants and sportsmen/women are all subject to rules. But somehow these social media companies are exempt. We let this happen precisely because we do not know what is happening and a few things need to be resolved immediately.
In a capitalist society these tech firms are only exploiting what they can for business purposes and profit and in one sense who can blame them? On the other hand ethical values and laws are being broken and compromised with only the slightest of fines. If incidents like Cambridge Analytica occur as a flash in the pan without real tangible consequences, they will only continue to re-occur with the masses being exploited.
Solutions to our data being exploited by companies
A variety of solutions have been coined including a mass boycott of digital firms but lets not forget we are also great beneficiaries of these products. Viable solutions include teaching digital literacy in schools. Jobs change, technology changes, everything in life evolves bar the teaching in schools as Emmanuel Speaks eluded to on the day of the summit. This will somewhat develop a dual-class consciousness – not to sound too political.
Another medium which is virtually imperative is that a board of conduct needs to be implemented immediately, a board who understands and can monitor these algorithms alongside ethical guidelines. Currently digital firms are operating at more or less free will. A common consensus should be formulated that yes inspite of the capitalist climate we are in, a moral high ground must be upheld.
Last but not least is that we should all care more! As Mike Omoniyi the founder of The Common Sense Network at the summit reminded us, we cannot think a click of the like button or a retweet will suffice, we have to take this issue into the real world and make it a tangible issue with urgency. Will it take a death before we all arise?
Lets not forget we have been great beneficiaries of technology so not to slate what we have gained from them. But this doesn’t mean we cannot iron out these issues for the greater good of mankind, before the issues grave deeper. We are already playing catch-up.