Wrestling Back Privacy From the Jaws of Big Tech

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Author, James Steyer Photo courtesy of James Steyer.

Over the course of just a few decades, technology has come to play a role in nearly every single aspect of our lives. While there have been undeniable benefits to technological advances, one of the main concerns that has grown alongside its presence in daily life is how tech companies collect, use and profit from our data in ways we’re often unaware of. James Steyer, a professor at Stanford University and the founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, a leading consumer advocacy group that promotes safe media and technology for families, joins Robert Scheer on this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence” to discuss how we can fight back against tech companies’ encroachments on our privacy. Steyer’s most recent book, a collection of essays he edited titled Which Side of History?: How Technology Is Reshaping Democracy and Our Lives, is dedicated to examining various aspects of technology featuring a wide range of voices from various backgrounds, such as Shoshana Zuboff, the author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, and actor Sacha Baron Cohen. 

“Technology is everywhere in our lives,” asserts the Stanford professor. “It is shaping all of our lives, our kids’ lives, our futures, our economies, but it’s also dramatically impacting [American] democracy and the way we live every day.

“The question we pose is [in the book is] ‘Which side of history are [tech companies] on?’” Steyer continues. “If you look at Facebook and Instagram, for example, they’re clearly on the wrong side of history when it comes to impact on democracy, elections, and the wellbeing of children and families.” 

A recent piece for The Guardian calls Steyer “the man who took on Mark Zuckerberg” precisely because of his outspoken criticism of the Facebook founder’s inability to address how his platform has become a mouthpiece for white supremacy and other forms of racism, as well as his work setting up the Stop Hate for Profit campaign. Campaigns such as these, which find ways to curtail Facebook’s power through ad boycotts and other means, are an important tool in the fight against big tech’s ever growing-power. In Which Side of History? many of the authors also offer other concrete ideas about how to challenge Silicon Valley’s outsized role everywhere, from classrooms to voting booths and beyond.

Listen to the full conversation between Steyer and Scheer as they discuss the possible break-up of tech monopolies and the work of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, as well as how a few tech companies, such as Apple, might actually be on the right side of history when it comes to privacy.



Joshua Scheer