Presentation Title

The myth of digital democracy: how opt-in agreements and filter bubbles have broken the early promises of Google and Facebook

Type of Presentation

Individual presentation

Brief Description of Presentation

This paper revives early writings of Zuckerberg, Page, Brin and Winograd as a backdrop for a critical analysis of Alphabet Inc. and Facebook Inc. as content curators and gatekeepers of the Internet. The paper argues that while these companies gained credibility and user loyalty through long held outspoken advocacy of digital democracy, their business models are based almost exclusively on restriction. In its conclusion the paper calls for an end to “all or none” user agreements and offers alternative models.

Abstract of Proposal

Google began its success nearly two decades ago with a now infamous public promise to itself: “Don’t be Evil”—a mantra that helped the company become the most trusted search engine in the world. Meanwhile we have watched Facebook transform its entire platform and mission from giving “people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” into an advertising company “making the world more open and connected.” As the leading two aggregators of unprecedented amounts of market research, these two companies effectively direct and manage what is accessible on the World Wide Web. This paper revives early writings of Zuckerberg, Page, Brin and Winograd to serve as a backdrop for a critical analysis of Alphabet Inc. and Facebook Inc. as content curators and gatekeepers of the Internet. As part of this analysis, the paper provides examples of user agreements and privacy policies as they have evolved with company missions. The paper argues that while these two companies gained credibility and user loyalty through long held outspoken advocacy of digital democracy, their business models are now based almost exclusively on restriction. Each of the companies’ combined 3.5 billion active monthly users is contractually restricted to access only curated monetized content through their services, in exchange for opting in to a vast digital infrastructure of behavioral analytics. In its conclusion the paper calls for an end to “all or none” user agreements and offers alternative models, proposing protections that shift the default state of terms of service from opted-in-to-all to opted-out-of-most.

Start Date

2-24-2018 1:10 PM

End Date

2-24-2018 2:40 PM

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Feb 24th, 1:10 PM Feb 24th, 2:40 PM

The myth of digital democracy: how opt-in agreements and filter bubbles have broken the early promises of Google and Facebook

Google began its success nearly two decades ago with a now infamous public promise to itself: “Don’t be Evil”—a mantra that helped the company become the most trusted search engine in the world. Meanwhile we have watched Facebook transform its entire platform and mission from giving “people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” into an advertising company “making the world more open and connected.” As the leading two aggregators of unprecedented amounts of market research, these two companies effectively direct and manage what is accessible on the World Wide Web. This paper revives early writings of Zuckerberg, Page, Brin and Winograd to serve as a backdrop for a critical analysis of Alphabet Inc. and Facebook Inc. as content curators and gatekeepers of the Internet. As part of this analysis, the paper provides examples of user agreements and privacy policies as they have evolved with company missions. The paper argues that while these two companies gained credibility and user loyalty through long held outspoken advocacy of digital democracy, their business models are now based almost exclusively on restriction. Each of the companies’ combined 3.5 billion active monthly users is contractually restricted to access only curated monetized content through their services, in exchange for opting in to a vast digital infrastructure of behavioral analytics. In its conclusion the paper calls for an end to “all or none” user agreements and offers alternative models, proposing protections that shift the default state of terms of service from opted-in-to-all to opted-out-of-most.