Human communication

Leader commentary: Big Tech, big topic

A OFT-repeated axiom about Big Tech immediately rings the alarm bells of Christian anthropology: “If you don’t pay for the product, you are the product.” But, while there is some truth to it, it is too neat to summarize the complex moral issues raised by the digital world. For the thoughtful Christian, a better place to start is the Church’s document of England which now presents the policy of its national investment bodies and the advice which influenced it, which lists many of the advantages of Big Tech and adds that free services at the point of use have enabled the social participation of billions of the poorest people. But “great” is the word for this subject, to which “inescapable” could be added; because even those furthest from social networks can hardly escape the effects of what the authors make their central theme: ” a business model that relies on the aggregation of very large amounts of personal data, the analysis of this data by algorithm-based machine learning methods to predict behavior human, and the monetization of these predictions”.

This harvest of data appears as research in its own way as a first admission (aside from the invisible work of the Spirit), if not more: the report quotes an author on the ability of media platforms to easily predict “if you are alone or if you suffer from self-esteem” and “what is your sexuality before you know it yourself”. From this process arise many concerns about privacy, misinformation, democratic subversion, social polarization, hate crimes, and the psychological effect, on children in particular, of prolonged time on social media. These media have isolated certain aspects of human interaction and focused on them in ways that shape societies and even adults for better or worse; and that in addition to whether they are being used deliberately for good or evil (for example, the same app was used to lure a victim into domestic slavery as was used to free them). Readers may think of characters ruined by the lure of attention-seeking or put-down opportunities.

Nevertheless, to use the metaphor of the priest in confession, Big Tech not only learns a lot about people that it is not allowed to reveal, but it bears a moral responsibility in doing so. Unlike the Priest, whose clear purpose is to facilitate communication with a Greater Other, one of Big Tech’s problems is that, aside from the financial gain of its anonymized data, it’s unclear what higher ends its operations serve. . Here, the principles of the new report are useful as what used to be called intermediate axioms, even if they raise other questions; hence the importance of the interim recommendations to investors on the four specific public commitments. Once the notion of moral neutrality has been abandoned, the debate is in order.