When we ponder security in 2019, we think about technology, and when we think of ways our privacy and rights are being compromised, we think about Silicon Valley and the Big Tech companies. Our job is to present the facts as we see them; and keeping our readership up to date on what is happening in the cross section of safety and technology is Interfor’s priority. Last month was an eventful one as leadership from the Big Tech companies faced questions on Capitol Hill ranging from data to financial privacy. In addition to the calls for breaking up the major tech companies, there are also influential voices calling for the barring of tech companies from offering their own currencies and financial systems. The Interfor team will brief you here on this past week’s highlights.
Silicon Valley has created the largest concentration of legal wealth in history (let’s put aside empires who pillaged and plundered). And with that concentration of wealth comes considerable power. There has been a tendency in the United States to focus on accessing political power once significant resources have been accumulated. With tech it has been more complex as many high growth companies such as Uber and Airbnb have become extremely successful by skirting the law and regulations. While they may not make natural bedfellows, both big tech and government are going to have to learn to work with each other.
Out Facebooking Facebook
The controversy of the moment is around the data (i.e., images of your face) that the hot new app FaceApp has access to. It has been a trend on Twitter as part of the #Faceappchallenge to post images of yourself through an aged filter (the app uses AI to create what they call “neural face transformations”). The app’s terms of service are vague, so users are essentially signing their rights away. Unsurprisingly, this app is Russia-based. Our take, you don’t need another reason to be on social media, and this is just another version of filters.
More talk about big tech antitrust
It seems that the only matter these days that members of Congress can agree on is that they want to break up the big tech companies. Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook have been on their target list. As this Yahoo Finance article states “lawmakers from the House Judiciary subcommittee on Tuesday probed executives of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple on antitrust concerns and the impact their platforms have on innovation. Google was asked about the fairness of its search engine’s algorithms; Apple was questioned about fees it imposes on companies through its app store, and Amazon was probed about favoritism towards its own products vs. those of third-party sellers.”
The reality is that there is a great deal of bluster coming from Congress, and Big Tech has been the boogey man that Wall Street and Goldman Sachs were for some candidates in the 2016 presidential election. While the concentration of power in the hands of Big Tech is dangerous what will most likely happen is that the government will simply fine the big tech companies as opposed to breaking them apart.
What trust is Libra based on?
Many interests, both governmental and in the finance sector, want to see Facebook’s cryptocurrency more tightly regulated. Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook leadership have matured beyond “moving fast and breaking things” and have attempted to cut these initiatives off by meeting with members of Congress. Crypto has had credibility and trust problems to begin with, so couple those issues with one of the big tech companies and concern among lawmakers is inevitable.
As this Business Insider recap noted “committee chairman Mike Crapo noted that Facebook’s existing troves of personal data coupled with Libra would give it a concerning amount of reach and influence, according to Bloomberg, while Republican Martha McSally said, “I don’t trust you guys,” cited by the New York Times.” And it is not just the United States that does not trust Facebook. The big technology company is universally mistrusted by European banks and global financial institutions. From a security point of view, would Facebook be able to seize the digital assets of terrorist organizations like ISIS who would use their e-currency to fund terror? Facebook’s record for acting against violent hate speech is not impressive, so these are questions the big tech companies must answer.
It’s summer, so many people might be clocked out and on vacation, but the world is still moving ahead, and now, when people are not paying attention, is when developments can get passed through under the radar. As we have mentioned in the past, we risk falling prey to those looking to push their agenda when we’re not paying attention.