The technology industry believes it is a force for good -- one that connects the world and helps information flow freely. But the industry is being watched following reports that people in Russia used technology services to target and influence American public opinion.
A big tech conference took place last week in San Francisco. The city is just a short drive from California’s Silicon Valley, the home of several major high-tech companies.
Many startup businesses sent one or more representatives to the conference, which was called TechCrunch Disrupt. The startups hoped to interest investors and consumers in their products. They did not seem worried about investigations into Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and the way Russia used social media to influence the U.S. elections last year.
Still, many high-tech entrepreneurs wonder what they can control and what they cannot in the products they are creating.
Lachlan Phillips set up a company called Adrobot. It helps businesses make video advertising and distribute those ads on social media.
“What technology is allowing is that it’s allowing people to have more freedom to create and more freedom to communicate,” he noted. “A malevolent message might have been quiet in the past, and that can be quite loud now.”
With so many people questioning the actions of high-tech companies, he says that integrity is important to him and to his business. He wants to avoid distributing information that isn’t truthful or agreeable.
Amy Chen created 99voices.org, a website that lets people rate politicians and businesses. Chen told VOA she hopes to make her site foolproof so its ratings can’t be manipulated.
“I don’t know if technology can solve this issue,” she said. “It would be nice if each person gets one person and one say and that’s the platform where you can judge what is public opinion.”
Dylan Sidoo also attended TechCrunch Disrupt. He operates a company that makes and sells encrypted message space. He believes technology companies should be treated the same as manufacturing companies.
“I think to a certain extent there should be some policing, but that could be said about any industry,” Sidoo said. He believes people can use encrypted message space for good or bad reasons just as they may use a car for good or bad reasons. It’s the aim of the company that is important, he noted.
But Facebook has announced plans to bar malevolent advertising.
The company is using real people to inspect its automated ads in order to prevent racist or anti-religious speech from reaching users. Last month, it added 3,000 workers to inspect content after violent acts appeared on Facebook Live. The company said it will remove information that violates its rules.
I’m Susan Shand.