Socrates in Silicon Valley

from Project Syndicate

If Socrates’s gadfly was in Silicon Valley, it would have a lot of lazy horses to sting. The citizens of the techno-polis appear oblivious to how the outside world’s perception of them has changed, and radically so. Once universally revered as a hotbed of innovation, the world’s premier technology hub is increasingly viewed with suspicion and resentment.

Yes, Silicon Valley is still admired as a source of invention and creative destruction; but it is also widely viewed as having lost its ethical compass. With proliferating reports of lax attitudes toward data privacy, wanton disregard for the dignity of the less fortunate, and a growing sense that technology companies are pushing their preferred policy agenda on the rest of the world, discontent and disillusion are rising. 

Viewed from outside, the world sees companies that exude a sense of entitlement – for example, by flouting local regulations as they expand into cities around the world, from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro. Supremely confident in the power of their knowledge and skills, they are convinced that they will guide the world onto the Path of Truth. This overweening certitude is not new – the United States, after all, was founded on missionary zeal – but the ethical arrogance is.

Of course, not all technology companies should be tarred with the same brush as the main offenders. But the recent spate of high-profile cases harms the reputation of the sector as a whole. As the world looks to Silicon Valley and sees an echo chamber of self-righteous conceit, mature and law-abiding technology companies are assumed to be inside it, too.

The cases are becoming legion. Uber, the data-abusing car-sharing app that spikes prices during peak demand and threatens journalists who write negatively about it, has been banned in Spain, the Netherlands, Thailand, and two Indian cities so far, including New Delhi (after a driver allegedly raped a passenger). These reports follow the revelation that pictures shared on Snapchat may not be deleted, as promised. In August, Brazilian authorities banned the social-networking app Secret after the company failed to respond to cyberbullying concerns, with Israel considering a similar move. The list goes on.

Silicon Valley is risking a backlash that will not do anyone any good. Its leaders are increasingly out of step with the public’s expectation of ethical and conscientious behavior. If they fail to generate new ideas and devise novel approaches, their problems will only multiply further.

More here.

, , , ,

4 Responses to Socrates in Silicon Valley

  1. jonathan Villegas April 10, 2015 at 1:19 pm #

    In this article the author writes about the perception of Silicon Valley and its companies around the world. Once looked and admired as the source of invention and creativeness now is looked as unethical, privacy invading, and pushing their ideas on everyone that uses their platforms. The author calls out these companies like Uber, which is now banned in Spain, the Netherlands, Thailand, and two Indian cities. Also Snapchat whose pictures shared in the app are not deleted as promised. Many more companies are not safeguarding their users privacy and only look to maximize profits.
    The author calls for Silicon Valley to examine their policies or else companies that will do what the users actually want will overtake them. The need for privacy should be the number one concern for these companies as well as users of the Internet. The author calls for change in companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter. These changes should be drastic compared to the privacy rules that are in place now.
    I completely agree with the author’s viewpoints. Silicon Valley needs to step up to the plate and handle the concerns of their users. I think that privacy should be one of the biggest concerns for users even if they aren’t hiding any secrets. Companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple hold so much of people’s personal information that if they are hacked can hurt millions of people around the world

  2. Thomas Guglielmo April 17, 2015 at 8:12 pm #

    This article gives insight to the world of tech companies in Silicon Valley and the ethical issues that arise after the tech leaders get comfortable in their position at the top. What the author really seems to be suggesting through his Socratatic method analogy is that the companies are not thinking for themselves. Something every top competitor must do to remain as #1 is differentiate themselves and stay humble to the notion that #1 can be taken from them. The companies in Silicon Valley seem to have no regard for this humbleness or any interest in differentiating themselves.

    To differentiate themselves, these companies need to offer the public a sense of security and satisfaction with the product. If the product is being banned throughout the world, such as Secret, then people will stop buying the product. This article actually is bad publicity for the companies in Silicon Valley, and hopefully will serve as a wake up call. If these companies do not differentiate themselves by communicating their ethics, they will fail.

    By abusing consumer data and not providing privacy, these companies show no regard for the possibility to lose their number one spot. There have already been court cases on consumer privacy, and they will continue to grow until there are law regarding electronic contracts and what companies are allowed and not allowed to do with consumer information.

  3. Anthony Barley April 17, 2015 at 8:58 pm #

    This article is about the companies that were the main offenders of high profile harm. This has been among the hot topics of discussion, privacy. The patriot act increased the amount of surveillance and security to insure our safety. It’s kind of frightening that your iphone messages are being recorded weather you send it out or not. Apps such as “snapchat” claim to delete your pictures but they aren’t. Is this the rational ignorance of the consumer or the invasion of privacy? Its kind of both in a way because you can live under a rock and the government wouldn’t know what your doing. The idea of sacrificing the technological advancements shouldn’t be our thinking upon purchasing.

    Some have argued that if you are not doing anything wrong why should you be afriad of security being enforced? No this is wrong because this goes against acts of the Fourth Amendment. This is a form of the government and the NSA department collaborating to spy on people. 2015 is like what George Orwell suggested 1984 would be but in a conspicuous way or maybe an accurate prediction.

    Last month Uber was under serious investigation in regards to a data breach. Uber has faced a data breach which has left 50,000 drivers information at risk. Uber’s driver’s names and personal license numbers have been exposed to a hacker. Uber noticed the system was intercepted by a third part last year. After thorough investigation they found a third party in an unauthorized access point. Once Uber discovered a hacker in the system they filled a lawsuit to identify the perpetrator. A statement has been released on Februray 27, 2015 by Katherine Tassi, the Managing Counsel of Data and privacy. The statement stated, “In late 2014, we identified a one-time access of an Uber database by an unauthorized third party. A small percentage of current and former Uber driver partner names and driver’s license numbers were contained in the database. Immediately upon discovery we changed the access protocols for the database, removing the possibility of unauthorized access. We are notifying impacted drivers, but we have not received any reports of actual misuse of information as a result of this incident. Uber takes it seriously our responsibility to safeguard personal information, and we are sorry for any inconvenience this incident may cause. In addition, today we filed a lawsuit that will enable us to gather information to help identify and prosecute this unauthorized third party.”

    Cases such as Uber’s issue shows a lax attitude when it comes to privacy in general with consumers and employees as well. The real question is if we should live with in fear of our personal information getting in the wrong hands or just in someones hands in general.

    These matters will only get worse as far as technology is moving at such rapid rate. An official White House repsonse was given about cyber-security. “The White House issued a veto threat for the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) on April 16, because the legislation did not fully address our core concerns (especially the protection of privacy). Even though a bill went on to pass the House of Representatives and includes some important improvements over previous versions, this legislation still doesn’t adequately address our fundamental concerns. An official White House repsonse was given about cyber-security But it’s not good enough to just stop things: We’ve got to work together, with legislators on Capitol Hill, technology experts from the private sector, and engaged advocates like you to advance cybersecurity legislation without compromising privacy.”

  4. Walker J. Mondt May 1, 2015 at 9:00 pm #

    This article discusses the morality of the Silicon Valley and uses the great thinker Socrates metaphorically to describe the situation. I agree with the conclusion that those working in Silicon Valley and related jobs have lost their morality. All they care about is making money, and bringing their product to life. Their ambition and pride has left their morality long behind.

    This is just part of a larger problem. It seems society as a whole has forgotten its moral compass. It is unfortunate that as technology gets better, morality gets worse. These technological advance can be of so much use to society, but instead since they are backed by a lack of morality they cause harm. Companies like Snapchat and Uber provide excellent services, however, because of the lack of virtue, they have caused harm. In order for society to continue to move forward, we must intertwine morality and technology.

Leave a Reply