EU should regulate Facebook and Google as ‘attention utilities’

By Tristan Harri, Financial Times

The European Commission’s new digital strategy missed a momentous opportunity to better shape our global future. While it may create marginal advantages for the bloc in the race to control data and artificial intelligence, it fails to address the way digital technology platforms are degrading democracies. That will undermine the EU’s ability to accomplish its agenda.

When I was working as a design ethicist at Google, I saw how the emergence of the “attention extraction” business model led to vast individual and societal harms. The social media platforms now intermediate the way we construct shared truths and social relationships.

This business model sells advertisers and political actors highly sophisticated techniques to manipulate individuals and the public sphere. Children and teens are especially vulnerable.

The commission has earned a reputation as the world’s foremost online watchdog. Brussels’ General Data Protection Regulation becoming the gold standard for data protection — about 120 countries have adopted privacy laws — and its proposal to create a shared data pool has merit. But the new EU strategy, despite its attempts to lay down rules for artificial intelligence and data use, fails to grapple with the underlying crisis.

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