Confronting the 0.1%: Tech Workers and the Tech Industry

Exploitation. That’s an appropriate word, exploration. People are exploited everywhere continually by the tech industry, it never stops.

Pity we don’t use the word exploitation more. What do we have to be afraid of? Calling the pot black? Tech workers are the 0.1%. If we’re afraid to confront the top 0.1% by global income and call them exploiters because they look like us, then how far will this movement get?

The tech industry is the least of our exploitation problems.

The automotive industry has a monopoly and laws that make it impossible for us to buy new vehicles from anyone but brand dealerships.

The private school loan industry (US) is so corrupt that they actively work to issue loans they know students can’t pay back while telling them they must have a college degree or they’ll be doing something unpleasant the rest of their life. Check out the resources section:

All internet access is controlled by a few large conglomerates (Tier 1 providers) who have the FCC in their back pocket (goodbye net neutrality.)

Speaking of the FCC, they are working to remove restrictions on the owning of major news outlets. At present, there are 4 and no one person can own more than one, but they want to remove that ruling. Imagine what would happen if all our news was owned by only one or two outlets?

Monsanto is so powerful that they threatened a state and won.

I agree with both of you @Free and @lisatwin1,

Exploitative businesses are everywhere. Exploitation in one form or another has become the norm, because - with our current economic systems - this is where the road to ‘success’ leads. With success being superficially defined as economic benefit, business growth and commercial profit (greed?). Our ‘modern’ society does not define success as increasing the wellbeing and happiness of people in general.

Tech is all pervasive and most important driver for business innovation, but not necessarily (or: often not) leading to human progress.

I think the majority of tech workers cannot be blamed (if that is the right word) directly for the exploitation that results from their work. This exploitation results from a very complex system, and ‘blame’ is spread more evenly across the entire population, ranging from consumers, tech workers, to higher management / leadership. IMHO - if blame is applied - like with e.g. climate change, most of responsibility is a the leadership level.

I think if you interviewed the average tech worker, you’ll find very good people, with proper (personal) morals and ethics. Problem is they work on the small moving parts, and are for the most part blinded, ignorant on how these fit into the whole. And here - I agree @Free - we should raise their awareness. To not look only at the cool code on their screen, but look up and around to see how it will be used.

I’ve moved this post to the ‘Engagement’ category. The Engage Employees strategic pillar of CHT and HTC aims to make tech workers aware of the ethics of their activities and the humane tech solutions that are available to work in a different, better ways.

Especially the ethics aspect is important. Empowering tech workers to call out their management when business decisions do not align to proper human interests (but e.g. instead only benefit the bottom line of a small group of shareholders) is the goal. I found @tristanh’s keynote speech at Dreamforce conference a very powerful example of how to influence business stakeholders and the work floor (the SalesForce CEO is very pro Humane Tech, though I think the underlying reason has a lot to do with the dominance and perceived threat of FAANG to the business).

There is a category of people that may need a harsher treatment than just raising awareness: Those that are knowingly involved in unethical practices, finding new ways to exploit people for profit. Some good examples are described in this opinion piece that appeared in The Guardian on New Years’ Eve:

Highlight mine:

[…] while considering the frenzy of consumerism that rises beyond its usual planet-trashing levels at this time of year, I recently stumbled across a paper that astonished me. It was written by academics at public universities in the Netherlands and the US. Their purpose seemed to me starkly at odds with the public interest. They sought to identify “the different ways in which consumers resist advertising, and the tactics that can be used to counter or avoid such resistance”.

Apparently used by Facebook (who deny that):

Facebook, according to a leaked report, carried out research – shared with an advertiser – to determine when teenagers using its network feel insecure, worthless or stressed. These appear to be the optimum moments for hitting them with a micro-targeted promotion.

Naming and shaming in public of people involved may be in order here.

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Then maybe there is nobody left to blame. The workers know exactly what they are building. They just won’t admit it. We can blame the managers, including the founders and major investors who influence bad decisions. But they still won’t change.

The solution would have to be a world leader that takes action, declares technology as a national disaster crisis ready to destroy world democracy and Western civilisation, mass international mobilisation to regulate and build a national / international massive project to rebuild the broken tech system. We just need a leader who understand the potential disasters we’re risking with technology. Technology mind manipulation by Russia has already caused the loss of two big Western countries into the deep mud – the United States with Trump’s election and the loss of the UK to this failed attempt at Brexit idiocy. We have also lost many other European countries to various degrees, to foreign manipulation that nobody even bothered to check up on extensively. There are few powerful strong and large Western countries left in the world. The authoritarians now include not just the 2/3 of the world that is not free, but also leaders of some free countries and leaders of the technology industry. People everywhere are becoming phone zombies, unproductive, unsocial, disconnected and addicted. I see phone zombies everywhere, always more of them, brains already removed. We’re at a risk of the unknown unknown happening, and our governments are doing almost nothing to prevent it, and perhaps even taking part in future manipulations themselves.

Well, note that I am not saying they are not to blame. Just not directly, because they - or a majority at least - are blinded to the complete picture. Do they know exactly what they are building? Take e.g. the Endless Scrolling feature. The designers / product managers may have known its addictive purpose of grabbing people’s attention for a longer time. Some most certainly knew. The developers however may have thought it just a time-saving functionality that avoids paging. When I first encountered an endless scrolling feed I found it a nifty feature. Only later I learned about its true purpose.

And blame is spread. This is why I mentioned the consumers too. It is comparable to saving the environment and avoiding climate change. We (in the West) all complain about it, yet most of us don’t drive a mile less with our cars, and jump on a super-polluting airplane 4 times a year to our holiday destination.
Same with technology. Everybody should know by now that there are some dire ethical issues with using e.g. Facebook and the likes, plus that loss of privacy can have serious negative consequences. Yet by continuing to be users we are giving no signal, implying we are okay with it, and there is no pressure to change.

(I am generalizing, of course. We on this forum are much more aware people).

Leaving specific political issues aside (these are off-topic for this forum), I agree that what we need are better leaders and leadership in general. People that can protect us from the worst influences of technology.
But here too, there is a task for everyone. Current politicians are mostly beholden to special interest groups, poll numbers and the next election, and that’s the only thing that counts for them. That is, unless people raise their voice, and withhold their vote if they don’t rule in the general interest, putting people before special interests. Good leaders are made, and rarely born.

Just like with politicians, they will change or go out of business altogether, if not changing means they will be less successful. If they lose business or profits when they don’t listen to our needs and rather exploit them. But there should be some real pressure applied to them to affect that change.