While its impact into the mainstream has been huge, Big Tech remains to be a largely evolving aspect of the economy and the society as a whole–thereby making it vulnerable to scandals, controversies, and criticisms. Here are some insights into the industry from Business Insider:
Facebook had a lot of growing up to do this year.
Financially, 2017 was a great year for big tech. But in just about every other way, it was a terrible year for the industry’s titans.
Even as the giant technology companies — a group that includes Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon — posted record profits and saw their stock prices soar, they had to contend with backlash to a slew of image-damaging controversies. The negative sentiment against big tech’s members has gotten to the point where some serious observers including Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at New York University, have started making the case that the government needs to them break up the way it did AT&T in the 1980s.
The controversies that plagued big tech this year and the potential for government intervention are guaranteed to bleed into 2018, and they could well accelerate. Public officials in the US and abroad are already taking a closer look at the technology giants, both at their dominant positions in the market and how billions of people rely on them every day for their news, information, and more. They’re already exploring what actions their governments can take to level the playing field for other competitors and curb the abuse of the tech companies’ systems.
As the year comes to a close, it’s worth taking a look back at how big tech bungled its way through 2017.
Big tech failed to proactively police its services
Repeatedly throughout 2017, consumers were alerted to how bad actors — propagandists, racists, child abusers, extremists, and more — had hijacked tech companies’ services to spread their messages and make money off them. And each time, it became more apparent how little the technology giants were doing proactively to prevent such abuse.
Most notably, it became clear the extent to which YouTube in particular had become the platform of choice for abusers. Many were able to make money off videos that advertisers would normally avoid by gaming the Google-owned company’s systems. But YouTube experienced a succession of black eyes.
In February, The Wall Street Journal reported that Felix Kjellberg, a popular YouTube personality known to fans as PewDiePie with whom the company was developing an original video series, had posted anti-Semitic jokes in some of his videos. YouTube quickly severed ties with Kjellberg, canceling the series and kicking him out of its preferred-advertiser program.
But the controversy was emblematic of those that followed. YouTube would work with — or at least wouldn’t do anything to hinder — the abusers on its site until they were identified in public reports or advertisers raised a fuss. YouTube’s move came only after The Journal started asking questions about the jokes and Disney canceled its relationship with Kjellberg.
The following month, The Times of London published an investigation that reported that extremist videos were being funded in part by YouTube advertisers. But it wasn’t until more than 200 advertisers — many of whom most likely had no idea that their ad dollars were going to extremists — threatened to pull out of YouTube that the company fixed the problem.
More recently, reporters discovered a community that was posting disturbing videos targeted at children, some of them depicting abuse of kids. Many of the videos had ads served up by YouTube, which was also helping market the videos to site visitors. Many of the videos were eventually removed — but, again, only after people outside YouTube raised the issue.
But it wasn’t just YouTube that seemed to have lost control of its service and left it open for abuse. A ProPublica investigation discovered Facebook’s automated advertising service let advertisers target “Jew-haters” and exclude people from ads based on race or ethnicity. Just this week, ProPublica and The New York Times discovered that Facebook made it possible for employers to exclude people of certain ages from seeing the recruitment ads they placed on the social network, a potentially illegal practice.
After the reports, Facebook moved to address some of the concerns — but not all.
The unfortunate, underlying narrative to all these cases? The largest tech companies seem all too happy to let anything go on their services — until they got caught.
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