Former Facebook and Google staff create group to tackle tech addiction

5 Feb 2018

Many people worry about the impact of tech on the minds of young people. Image:

Concerned experts are launching a lobby group to examine the problem of tech addiction.

Young people’s addiction to technology is a major talking point among parents, educators and other informed individuals.

Apple investors recently penned a letter warning the tech giant to take more responsibility when it comes to preventing excessive use of its devices by children.

A light has also been shone on Facebook for similar reasons, with a recent petition calling for the removal of its Messenger Kids app from the App and Play stores garnering many signatures.

Protecting young people from harm

This narrative around the potential dangers of technology does not look set to diminish for the foreseeable future. On that note, digital advocacy organisation Common Sense has partnered with the Center for Humane Technology to announce a new campaign “to protect young minds from the potential of manipulation and digital addiction”.

Dubbed Truth About Tech, the campaign will apply pressure to the tech industry to lessen the intrusive and addictive elements of its products, while also informing consumers and emphasising the importance of tech use for the greater good.

Accountability is overdue

Several individuals who have been involved with major Silicon Valley players are taking part in the campaign, including former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris, and Roger McNamee, former adviser and investor at Facebook.

The number of tech insiders raising concerns about the societal impact of technology is growing. CEO and founder of Common Sense, James P Steyer, explained that these companies can implement damaging decisions: “Their business models often encourage them to do whatever they can to grab attention and data and then to worry about the consequences later, even though those very same consequences may at times hurt the social, emotional and cognitive development of kids.

“It’s time to hold tech companies accountable for their efforts designed to target and manipulate young people. When parents learn how these companies can take advantage of our kids, they will join us in demanding the industry change its ways and improve certain practices.”

A report due to be launched by the group will examine the potential negative effects of tech products used by young people, from a lack of critical-thinking skills to anxiety, stress and even suicidal ideation.

The fallout from the attention economy

Harris opined that tech firms have “created the attention economy and are now engaged in a full-blown arms race to capture and retain human attention, including the attention of kids.

“Technologists, engineers and designers have the power and responsibility to hold themselves accountable and build products that create a better world.”

Other coalition members form a who’s who of people with insider knowledge, including: Sandy Parakilas, a former Facebook operations manager; Lynn Fox, a former Apple and Google communications executive; and Justin Rosenstein, who created Facebook’s Like button.

The campaign is yet another element of the growing backlash against how certain practices are carried out, and it certainly won’t be the last we see of the criticism.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects