For a while, regulation was an ugly word when speaking about Big Tech. What for? Innovation was everything.
And social justice was a sure result given the so-called Varian Rule from Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian :
“a simple way to forecast the future is to look at what rich people have today; middle-income people will have something equivalent in 10 years, and poor people will have it in an additional decade.”
Why regulate? It’s cool. We’ll help rich people, and it will help the poor in the end. The system will self-regulate easily.
What could go wrong?
Indeed technology is not magic. As of today, inequality is higher than ever. And the Varian Rule appears to be a techno-hyped version of the good old Reaganomics textbook from the 80s.
In the meantime Big Tech is doing surprisingly well with regards to the European GDPR, and they begin to ask for more regulation.
Following an Open Letter of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control sent by the ACLU to Jeff Bezos, Microsoft asked congress to regulate the use of facial recognition.
It’s quite clear that these technologies are dangerous. They are being used by Police departments, immigration services and militaries. In a public stunt, Amazon recently used Facial Recognition Technologies to identify the people invited to Harry and Meghan wedding. But the reality of these technologies is that they will soon allow companies and governments to control who’s present where, and to take sanctions. Being in a crowd for a protest will never mean being in a crowd anymore. Participants will be identified and listed for later use.
And just imagine when smaller and more dictatorial countries than China will want to implement them?
Amazon refused to stop developping and selling these technologies. Google accepted to stop selling it to the militaries, but not to governments or third parties.
As often, T-TIANA, the Technological TIANA, is on. “There Is No Alternative”. Once the infrastructure will be there, Facial Recognition Technology will become a go-to solution for many problems.
The backlash will be huge. This is not about tracking ISP logs, or SMS data. It’s not some a posteriori help for detective work. It’s a mechanism and a technology designed for everyday control of society. It’s made to be fluid. It’s nudge as a service. In China, “punishment-worthy” infractions to be controlled by Facial Recognition include jaywalking, smoking in non-smoking areas and even buying too many video games. “Punishment” includes travel and movement restrictions meaning that people will be forbidden to go to certain places or to take certain planes, cars or highways.
Nearly 70 civil rights organizations signed the letter the ACLU delivered to Amazon. Eventually, more than 150,000 people signed the petition as well. In addition to the Google employees opposing Project Maven, some Microsoft employees are calling for the company to stop selling to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The trouble is that we discover that Varian Rule is a big lie. It’s easy to think that technology will solve by itself the various problems it creates. It’s not the case. As with inequality, we need to think about what we want to do, and what we need to do.
Otherwise, as I wrote before, the backlash could be huge.
That’s why Big Tech is calling for regulation. They want Facial Recognition to exist as a market. But given the possibilities it offers, this technology can only be used in a dictatorship such as China, or in a regulated market such as what they’re calling for.
It’s a bit what has already been in existence in France and Germany since 1978, and in Europe since 1995, and which is now perfected through the GDPR.
Data is regulated, and biometrics data is even more regulated. Consent is mandatory. Some uses are forbidden. Audits and controls are possible. Fines can happen.
The Law is already here. There is even an english version ready for use.
It’s not that difficult. And if the EU can do it, why couldn’t the US? Given the amount of business Big Tech Giants do in Europe, it does not seem to be such a threat to their activities.
If you want to know more, here are some great reads on this topic:
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