KH Insight Report—05
A couple of years ago, every other presentation at Austin’s creativity festival SXSW spoke about how to mine data and target users while claiming legitimacy as a broker of world peace. Fast forward to 2019 and audiences are screaming for the blood of Zuckerberg and Larry Page. Is this the era of regulation?
Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google (FANG) have been on a historic run with valuations climbing above and beyond many of the monopolies of the early days of industrialization. Their success has been built on the ability to collect and sell their users’ data to the highest bidders or by crunching enormous amounts of consumer data to aid their promotional engines. But more and more voices are being raised about the legitimacy of this business model. At the forefront of the protest movement are people like legendary Silicon Valley investor, Roger McNamee. An early investor in Facebook, he has grown to become one of their fiercest critics. Among other crimes, he points to psychological experiments on unaware users to see if it is possible to evoke “sadness” through their news feed, the denial of knowledge about Russian infiltration in the 2016 US presidential election, and the general sloppiness (not to say lack of interest) in protecting user data. With no regulation protecting users, the following hypothetical scenario is wholly plausible: Google identifies if you have early-onset Alzheimer’s before you do by tracking your mouse movements. Then, Google sells this information to the highest bidders; for instance, insurance providers who render you ineligible for healthcare coverage.
The monopolistic tendencies of the FANG companies are also irking Silicon Valley – just try to build a great messaging service in the shadow of Facebook (Snap!).
Joining the chorus of “Break ‘em up!” is, among others, 2020 presidential hopeful Elisabeth Warren (a.k.a. “fake Pocahontas” @Realdonaldtrump) who wants to regulate the industry, and force Facebook to divest Instagram and WhatsApp.
Many other hours at SXSW were dedicated to the basic drivers of what is called the 4th industrial revolution – artificial intelligence, electrification, 5G connectivity and automation. These technologies are set to disrupt industries as disparate as logistics, banking, gaming and manufacturing (for a more elaborate explanation on how, feel free to message me). Futurologist Amy Webb shared a glimpse of a future where Amazon grows fruit and vegetables in basements under their Whole Foods outlets across America, and where goods are delivered by electric trucks at night, guided by Amazon’s big data and AI.
And on a distinctly positive note – diversity and gender equality at the workplace are no longer fringe topics interesting to silly idealists only, but rather a force of change, in the US and elsewhere, promising more inclusive societies and inspired ideas with contributors of all backgrounds and genders. Let’s just fix the climate as well and we might have a lot to look forward to.
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