Freelance technical communicator to the stars. Podcaster, video maker, writer of interactive fiction
Over the past months, I have given much thought to ‘bad’ technology and how to stop being so reliant on it. What you consider ‘bad’ is hard to define, and a personal issue, but it could include everything from clearly problematic software like malware, cracking software, keyloggers, and intentionally biased AIs. This software is more obvious, and easier to opt out of using or supporting. The next level down becomes more personal. If you have issues with models that Aral Balkan terms, “Surveillance Capitalism”, or the adage of, “If there is no product, you are the product,” then maybe you avoid products and services from Google or Facebook. Their products are often harder to avoid, but with a little research, only slightly harder to know if they use practices that you disagree with.
The next level down is when it gets more complex and reminds of the time many years ago when I was a struggling vegan. As a vegan, it was clear to avoid meat or obvious animal by-products such as cheese or honey. But animal products are snuck into the most surprising of places such as alcohol, candies, and even breadcrumbs. After that, it became a point of how far you want to go. Do you avoid leather shoes even though they are more reliable than some vegan alternatives? Do you consume products that don’t contain animal products but use them in processing? Do you consume products that have anything to do with fossil fuels (seriously, think about it)?
You may consider it a poor comparison, but I feel the same now when thinking about what technology to stop using. If I want to stop using Gmail, or Google calendar, there are plenty of alternatives, possibly quitting Android or Facebook (especially events) for me would be difficult, but there are options. But what about the software behind these tools?
Back in the mid-2000s I contributed and implemented to an Open Source CMS and CRM. A lot of those involved with open source lean towards the ‘left,’ and we forget that putting out our software for anyone to use means just that — anyone can use it. I naively took a meeting once with a potential user of the CRM that not only completely contradicted my ethical views on a topic, but had previously sued my partner.
If you decided to #deleteFacebook would you use GraphQL or React? They were created as by-products of the Facebook platform. What about the variety of tools used for streaming, analyzing, storing and manipulating big data such as streaming platforms or messaging busses? While these mostly open source projects seem innocuous enough and idealistic engineers created them, think about their frequent use cases. There’s a high likelihood they are mostly used by data analytics and marketing companies, companies very much a part of “surveillance capitalism.”
Artificial intelligence libraries are similar. An enterprising engineer open sourced their work to show their smart ideas, but also hopefully to help research and positive projects. To be honest, again, marketing and advertising companies (or worse) are also highly likely to use such libraries.
It’s a tough and thorny topic to unpick, and personally, I have no idea how far down the chain I am prepared to delve. How about you? What software do you consider too ‘dirty’ to use, and are its creators responsible for what others use it for?
Originally published at dzone.com.