Tech Shock: four unmissable podcasts from season 2
One of this season’s most impassioned guests was Carissa Veliz, author of Privacy is Power. In it, Veliz made a strong case reevaluating how we think about privacy.
“I had always thought of [privacy] as a personal issue, but Veliz argues rightly that it’s not just a personal thing because these companies and brokers can make inferences about other people from what you do online,” says Geraldine.
It’s not just a question of vulnerable demographics being targeted with ads, but the possibility of the entire online advertising bubble being unsustainable. As Geraldine explains: “The people who are behind that advertising bubble are the same people who were behind the subprime bubble [2007 financial crisis]; that’s why Veliz thinks there’s an enormous potential for it all to explode in the end.”
Vicki and Geraldine agree with Veliz’s idea about a fiduciary system for tech companies – similar to the system used in medicine where, for example, a doctor can only operate on you if doing so is in your best interests. “If there was something like that that could be applied to tech companies, that would make a huge difference,” says Geraldine.
During Digital Parenting Week 2021, Vicki and Geraldine hosted a special live edition of Tech Shock with VoiceBox’s Lottie Gimlette and Natalie Foos and Jonathan Baggaley from the PSHE Association. They discussed VoiceBox’s report into digital wellbeing.
This generation of young people seems to be taking fewer risks than young people did in the past. Vicki remembers how Jonathan questioned during the episode whether this was necessarily something to be pleased about: “Is it good or is it worrying that we have instilled in this generation this sense of adult responsibility and concern?”
Young people today have less freedom to make mistakes that are often necessary in building their resilience for the future. Vicki and Geraldine discuss the huge amount of pressure on young people to manage their own wellbeing, and whether this is a reasonable responsibility for them to have.
“All kinds of things have a bearing on mental health that are external to individuals and tech is one of them,” says Geraldine. “To what extent are you responsible for your own mental health and to what extent is it a kind of function to the way you’re having to live?”
The Online Safety Bill has dominated many conversations over the course of this season. Vicki describes how her conversation with Caroline Dinenage, MP for Gosport and previously minister at the DCMS really explained some of the thinking behind the Bill.
“The key takeaway for me was her [Dinenage’s] clarity around what the Bill was trying to do and what the Bill was not trying to do,” says Vicki. However, parents having practically no mention in the draft Bill, or in the recommendations put forward by the scrutiny committee, is a big failing that both Vicki and Geraldine feel hasn’t been adequately addressed.
“This Bill, possibly inadvertently, will undermine parents' rights by virtue of not including them,” says Vicki. Even the relatively basic inclusion of parents being able to make complaints to tech companies on their children’s behalf could have made a huge difference.
Without extra government legislation to tackle some of the gaps in this Bill – something both Vicki and Geraldine believe is unlikely to happen – it’s too narrow to be an adequate response to the major digital issues children are facing.
Perhaps the most optimistic episode this season was Nejra van Zalk, from the Dyson School of Engineering at Imperial College London on introducing psychology to the tech world.
Van Zalk called for greater safety standards to be used in social media platforms, just as you would when building, for example, physical structures. As Vicki puts it, “software engineers should have some sort of professional standards they have to adhere to much as an engineer building a bridge has a professional standard.”
Getting the tech world to take a real interest in mental health is no small task. But Van Zalk was enthusiastic about getting companies to make their platforms ethical by design, and found that plenty of software engineers were taking an interest.
“If engineers are being educated to think about empathy and the implications of their work, I think that’s really fantastic,” says Geraldine.
Tech Shock will return in January 2022. In the meantime, listen to all available episodes here.
Listen to episode 13 of Tech Shock season two: Vicki and Geraldine
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