- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2019


A new survey from Pew Research shows that the number of Americans who view Big Tech through star-studded eyes has fallen the last four years — by 21%, no less.

It’s about time people take off the blinders on emerging technology and see the cool toys and shiny gadgets and data-driven breakthroughs for what they also represent: constitutional dings and privacy nightmares.

By the numbers: In 2015, just at 71% of Americans believed technology companies represented positives for the country. Now? Only 50% of Americans say similarly.

That’s a 21-point tumble.

And deservedly so.

These emerging technologies, brought forward in large part by social media giants that have been outed for bias, hold some serious keys to power over people’s lives. Rely on YouTube for income? Better not be a conservative. Need Facebook to help spread the word about your research? Better not bring up anything negative about sharia — or Islam. Turn to Twitter to share findings from the medical world? Better not pass along pro-life posts that out abortion for the atrocity it is.

Pew, in a separate poll from June of 2018, found that 72% of Americans believed social media companies regularly engaged in censorship of views its employees and executives found distasteful.

That wary eye has now been cast at technology companies in general.

“Negative views of technology companies’ impact on the country have nearly doubled during this [four-year] period, from 17% to 33%,” Pew reported.

Again: It’s about time.

It’s not just social media companies and censorship that ought to bring about the red flags in First Amendment-friendly America. It’s the technology that’s driving police surveillance — namely, the predictive policing models. It’s the technology that’s taken over the banking and financial sectors — that lead to the type of breaches Capitol One just admitted. It’s the technology that’s fueling medical discoveries — namely, that lead to big data collections, absent patient permissions.

And more. Much more.

It’s all the questions and concerns and cautionary tales about the loss of privacies, the demise of civil and constitutional rights, that tear at the very American concept that here, in this country, it’s the individual, not the collective, that matters most.

These are the issues with emerging technology that are often cast aside because, well, darn it, convenience is just so — convenient. Who cares if hackers and marketers can steal sensitive and personal information from my self-driving car, so long as I get the self-driven experience?

Pew’s findings about Americans’ growing realization of the dark side of technology is actually a positive. It shows the nation’s removing the rose-colored glasses and adopting a more balanced view of the world of technology.

Let’s just hope the lesson in reality hasn’t come too late to keep the Constitution intact.

• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter, @ckchumley.

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