Apple Warns algorithms “deepen divisions, incite violence and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false.”
While some like to think this statement is a self-serving shot at Google and Facebook, the current national dialogue appears to support Tim Cook’s comments, even if we can’t scientifically link cause & effect. Relevant to FIs who are increasingly interested in leveraging social media, he urges “a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States”. This is from the NYT email that reported the speech Tim Cook gave:
“Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, rebuked his Silicon Valley peers in a speech to European officials on Wednesday, criticizing them for building a “data industrial complex” in which our personal information “is being weaponized against us with military efficiency.”
As a result, he said, algorithms have magnified our worst tendencies and “rogue actors and even governments” have used our data against us “to deepen divisions, incite violence and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false.”
In one piercing portion, Mr. Cook criticized how companies like Facebook and Google — while taking care not to mention them by name — deliver personalized news feeds that lead to so-called filter bubbles and confirmation bias.
“Your profile is then run through algorithms that can serve up increasingly extreme content, pounding our harmless preferences into hardened convictions,” Mr. Cook said. “If green is your favorite color, you may find yourself reading a lot of articles — or watching a lot of videos — about the insidious threat from people who like orange.”
He continued: “We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance. And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them.”
Whew. Those are strong words, particularly from one of tech’s most powerful people.
Mr. Cook and Apple have been clear leaders in Silicon Valley in protecting user privacy. But the speech also struck some in the tech industry as self-serving.
Apple’s business model relies on people buying more iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and other gadgets, many of which don’t need much user data to work well. Google, Facebook and increasingly Amazon, however, have prodigious advertising businesses that rely on building detailed profiles of what people read, buy and like.
In his speech, Mr. Cook endorsed “a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States,” which could help undercut the businesses of Apple’s rivals.”
While agreeing wholeheartedly that the problem outlined by Apple exists (yes, even without proof of a causal relationship), we wonder if legislation can be created that would have sufficient nuance to enable the “good” while eliminating just the “bad.” Gathering contextual information is increasingly critical to providing consumers services that they want with minimal effort. Speech recognition will improve as it increasingly utilizes context to fill in garbled speech. So arguably the problem isn’t the collection of data, the typical lens of privacy laws, it’s how that data is used.
Overview by Tim Sloane, VP, Payments Innovation at Mercator Advisory Group