By Amanda Weston
Roger McNamee, an early Facebook investor and mentor of Mark Zuckerberg, is calling for drastic measures for Silicon Valley giants to undo rampant abuse of data privacy ー and says it will take more than Zuckerberg's recent announcement that his company would pivot to focus on privacy and encryption.
"That's a dodge," McNamee said of the announcement. "It's all about avoiding responsibility for the hate speech and all the divisive stuff that's on there. If it's encrypted end-to-end, then he can go, 'hey, I can't see it.'"
With less than two years left until Election Day 2020, McNamee wants Facebook to take decisive action to avoid the meddling that tainted the 2016 election and left our country more divided.
"I think the most helpful thing they could do would be to voluntarily withdraw from having any targeted election advertising in the last two or three weeks before the election itself," he said.
McNamee's new book, "Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe," details the "the serious damage Facebook is doing to our society."
McNamee said he had a "wonderful relationship" with Zuckerberg as a mentor and has "enormous respect" for both Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg. But he blamed the culture of Silicon Valley and the sense of "exceptionalism" among its top executives for the string of missteps that have roiled Facebook and others industry players.
"I think these are brilliant people, but I think the culture of Silicon Valley, the culture of the business world today in this unregulated environment, and combined with the sort of brilliance of these people, and the sort of general sense of exceptionalism ー this notion that there are no rules that apply to the smartest people in the valley ー that's what got us into trouble," McNamee said.
"And when I look at this, it's now become a huge issue for democracy, for public health, for privacy, and frankly for innovation and growth," he added.
To address those issue, he said fundamental questions must be asked about the legitimacy of the industry.
"Why is it legal for companies to make a third party market in private data? Why is legal for credit card processors to sell our credit card transaction history? Why is it legal for cell phone companies to sell our location?" he asked, among other questions. "I think we have to roll all of that stuff back and then ask the question ー when is it OK?"
"With 2020, with the election coming up, we have the perfect time ー every candidate should have to declare what they're going to do about this stuff," he said.
McNamee named Google, Facebook, Amazon, Verizon, and Microsoft as the five companies with most control over the problematic "data economy" model. But as a former company insider, McNamee's focus remains on Facebook. He said he has not heard from anyone at the company since February 2017 ー after unsuccessfully pushing its leadership to be more transparent with users about how their data is being used.
"I was hoping they would do an investigation and figure out, was there a structural problem with the ad products, with the algorithms, and the business model that let bad people hurt innocent people? And then of course at the election, let people change the outcome of elections."
"I think success gave everybody at that company a sense that everything they touched turned to gold," McNamee said. "They became resistant to any kind of criticism or negative feedback. And I think it got very hard for them to imagine that anybody would use their products differently than they intended."
As a consequence, he said technology leaders have acquired de facto political power without an election or accountability.
"And that political power right now is destabilizing too many things in our economy and society."
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