Technology

Tech Tent: Are tech giants held to account?

Apple Park, US
Image caption Apple has a $5bn campus in Cupertino that befits its status – but does it get the scrutiny it deserves?

With its vast architectural masterpieces, built at eye-watering cost to house some of the world’s largest tech brands, Silicon Valley is certainly doing a good job of making itself look important.

But as the biggest firms extend their reach in the public sphere, is sharing our personal data a fair price to pay for the services they deliver?

Remember the days when Google was “just” a search engine? When Facebook was just a way of catching up with your distant mates? And when Apple was just a fruit – only kidding – a computer?

Now these same brands are also involved in healthcare, education, payment systems, community projects and – increasingly – politics.

On this week’s Tech Tent podcast, author and futurist Lucie Greene tells me she thinks it is about time the tech giants faced a bit more scrutiny.

Big-brand ‘adoration’

“I think for a long time we were kind of in awe of these businesses who grew so quickly and were such a success story,” she says.

“For a long time these guys have been viewed with a not-really-critical lens, in my view.”

You only have to attend a tech product launch (or indeed view the live stream) to see the adoration with which these big brands are viewed by many.

And why would the firms invite anyone who doesn’t share that enthusiasm?

They are likely to be people who will ask more critical questions – the questions that a multi-billion-dollar global firm should arguably have a duty to answer, whether they are about its political ambitions or its treatment of factory workers.

‘Anti-media’

Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica data scandal may have shone a light on what goes on behind those shiny campus windows, but despite their public proclamations, Ms Greene believes the tech giants continue to shy away from transparency.

“In a lot of ways their attitude to the media is really quite similar to [that of President] Trump,” she says.

“There’s been a lot of controversy in the US in the last week about Trump’s anti-media stance. But really big tech is much more anti-media and presents more of an existential threat, whether it’s Peter Thiel shutting down a media publication he took issue with, essentially, or Google and Facebook becoming the media, replacing the media.”

Charlotte Jee, editor of the news site Tech World, agrees.

“Tech companies like to give access to who they want to and who will be friendly,” she says.

“They should be held to account but they certainly do try to avoid it.”

Also on the podcast this week:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-45300019

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