If you’ve been paying attention to the tech world for the past several years, you know there’s been a bubbling issue considered by politicians, journalists, and tech consumers alike: a troubling rise in tech censorship and uncertainty over how to respond to it.
To be clear, tech censorship is a complex issue that requires a nuanced discussion. There are no clear answers on whether tech censorship is truly destructive, or what should be done about it – and this article will not be taking a political stance.
However, whether you’re a startup entrepreneur, an industry professional, or just a tech consumer trying to make the best decisions for you and your family, it pays to know more about what’s going on.
The Central Tech Censorship Issue
There are certain countries that have major, life-altering tech censorship problems. In China, for example, many types of content (including criticisms of the government) are outright banned and filtered out of search results.
What we’ve been seeing in the United States is much tamer by comparison, but it is concerning.
Right now, there are a few dozen massive tech platforms that control what we see online, to some extent. Google, for example, is by far the most popular search engine in the world, responsible for handling billions of searches every day and displaying results that list webpages matching those user queries. While Google’s algorithm works mostly automatically, it wouldn’t take much for an employee to make a manual change or tweak the algorithm slightly to adjust results.
In some contexts, this is almost universally viewed as acceptable. Google has had a longstanding and transparent motivation to delist certain websites from its search results based on those sites’ violations of Google’s terms of service. For example, websites that promote or allow content piracy are essentially blacklisted.
But other companies are taking more controversial, debatable actions. For example, Twitter and other social media sites have intentionally removed user posts and comments if they happen to contain certain phrases, or if they feature incorrect information. Controversial political commentators have been completely removed from a wide variety of platforms in one fell swoop, and certain opinions have been forcibly removed from discussion.
What’s the Problem?
What exactly is the problem here?
On some level, it’s not especially concerning to see a controversial, inflammatory, chronically lying public figure get removed from a platform where their primary goal is recruiting toxic followers. On another level, there’s a lot at stake in a maneuver like this.
- Power and control. There aren’t many big tech companies. If you want to post on social media and reach a sizable audience, there are fewer than a dozen options. If you want to build a website, there are only a handful of hosting companies and website builders to choose from. If one or a few of these companies decide that your voice isn’t appropriate for others to hear, they can easily shut you out. On a large scale, this gives tech companies the power to influence public opinion; they can control the narrative surrounding things like public health crises and major elections. With a couple of tactical moves, such as removing a candidate from a platform or banning the mention of a certain news topic, a platform could have a dramatic impact on the outcome of an election.
- Polarization and extremism. It’s arguable that these moves also contribute to political extremism. When one candidate and their followers are banned or silenced on a given platform, they don’t disappear – in fact, they often become galvanized, seeing themselves as martyrs whose mission is of the utmost importance. When they find a new platform in which to gather, they will become further isolated and harder to reach. Meanwhile, much of the general public won’t even know that people with this controversial opinion exist.
- Fragmentation of access. Most would agree that access to social media platforms, search engines, and other high-visibility tech tools leads to greater knowledge, greater awareness of current events, and more connections to others. Limiting access to these tech tools can be detrimental; if a person has less access to news and information, they’re going to be at a considerable disadvantage in many areas of life.
- Collaboration. These matters are often made worse by the fact that big tech companies have the power (and inclination) to collaborate with each other. Overnight, a coalition of tech companies can decide to ban a person (or a topic) at the same time, leaving no refuge for people who have deemed controversial.
Recent Legal Action
Some politicians have proposed taking action against tech censorship as a way to preserve democracy and increase the visibility of political candidates. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis is currently backing House Bill 7013, which outlines a plan for penalizing social media sites that block or silence political candidates in Florida. The bill also strives to give individual users the power to opt out of certain algorithms and choices from big tech companies.
As of the time of this article’s writing, the bill is being reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee. Its fate may be a hint of how future federal legislation may fare.
What are the options ahead of us?
- Do nothing. First, we could do nothing. Social media companies are private companies that, arguably, should be free to approve or deny access to any user and/or control the content featured on those platforms. We don’t bat an eye if a restaurant owner kicks someone out for being inflammatory or rude; why should we force tech companies to serve any and all users? At the very least, we should acknowledge that social media bans and limitations aren’t, as some may suggest, an infringement on free speech as protected under the First Amendment.
- Empower users to push for change. We could also encourage social media and search users to demand more from the companies they patronize on a daily basis. Deleting your account in solidarity or signing a petition for change could lead to grassroots momentum substantial enough to get these companies to change their policies.
- Pass a law. The other option is to pass some kind of legislation that dictates the way that tech companies can do business. But this opens the door to a number of other complex problems. For example, who gets to decide what constitutes a “big tech” company? Would this legislation limit the entry of new competition? Could this result in a kind of coalition between big tech and the government, resulting in even more centralized control?
Platforms or Publishers?
One of the central philosophical issues in this debate is whether social media companies (and other big tech companies) should be considered platforms or publishers.
If these companies are platforms, they’re not necessarily responsible for the content posted by their users. They only exist as a third-party tool where people can post content and exchange comments with each other as they see fit.
If these companies are publishers, they exercise a degree of control over what gets posted and how; they can use their authority to ban certain types of content, ban certain users, and otherwise control the flow of information.
If companies recognize themselves as platforms, they’re freed from responsibility for illegal content – but they don’t get to exercise power over what gets published. If they recognize themselves as publishers, they can control messages however they want, the same as any publisher – but they must take responsibility for anything damaging that gets through their filter.
In reality, most of us can likely agree that big tech companies occupy a kind of awkward middle ground. We expect them to remove some types of blatantly illegal content, but we don’t want them to dictate or control our political discussions. We want to have unlimited access to them so we can have ample information, but we have few reservations against the banning of certain other users.
It’s a complex set of considerations for an industry that’s still in its infancy. We need to remain open minded and diligent in our discussions and debates on this topic – and aware of the true power that big tech companies collectively wield.
Fintech Kennek raises $12.5M seed round to digitize lending
London-based fintech startup Kennek has raised $12.5 million in seed funding to expand its lending operating system.
According to an Oct. 10 tech.eu report, the round was led by HV Capital and included participation from Dutch Founders Fund, AlbionVC, FFVC, Plug & Play Ventures, and Syndicate One. Kennek offers software-as-a-service tools to help non-bank lenders streamline their operations using open banking, open finance, and payments.
The platform aims to automate time-consuming manual tasks and consolidate fragmented data to simplify lending. Xavier De Pauw, founder of Kennek said:
“Until kennek, lenders had to devote countless hours to menial operational tasks and deal with jumbled and hard-coded data – which makes every other part of lending a headache. As former lenders ourselves, we lived and breathed these frustrations, and built kennek to make them a thing of the past.”
The company said the latest funding round was oversubscribed and closed quickly despite the challenging fundraising environment. The new capital will be used to expand Kennek’s engineering team and strengthen its market position in the UK while exploring expansion into other European markets. Barbod Namini, Partner at lead investor HV Capital, commented on the investment:
“Kennek has developed an ambitious and genuinely unique proposition which we think can be the foundation of the entire alternative lending space. […] It is a complicated market and a solution that brings together all information and stakeholders onto a single platform is highly compelling for both lenders & the ecosystem as a whole.”
The fintech lending space has grown rapidly in recent years, but many lenders still rely on legacy systems and manual processes that limit efficiency and scalability. Kennek aims to leverage open banking and data integration to provide lenders with a more streamlined, automated lending experience.
The seed funding will allow the London-based startup to continue developing its platform and expanding its team to meet demand from non-bank lenders looking to digitize operations. Kennek’s focus on the UK and Europe also comes amid rising adoption of open banking and open finance in the regions.
Featured Image Credit: Photo from Kennek.io; Thank you!
Fortune 500’s race for generative AI breakthroughs
As excitement around generative AI grows, Fortune 500 companies, including Goldman Sachs, are carefully examining the possible applications of this technology. A recent survey of U.S. executives indicated that 60% believe generative AI will substantially impact their businesses in the long term. However, they anticipate a one to two-year timeframe before implementing their initial solutions. This optimism stems from the potential of generative AI to revolutionize various aspects of businesses, from enhancing customer experiences to optimizing internal processes. In the short term, companies will likely focus on pilot projects and experimentation, gradually integrating generative AI into their operations as they witness its positive influence on efficiency and profitability.
Goldman Sachs’ Cautious Approach to Implementing Generative AI
In a recent interview, Goldman Sachs CIO Marco Argenti revealed that the firm has not yet implemented any generative AI use cases. Instead, the company focuses on experimentation and setting high standards before adopting the technology. Argenti recognized the desire for outcomes in areas like developer and operational efficiency but emphasized ensuring precision before putting experimental AI use cases into production.
According to Argenti, striking the right balance between driving innovation and maintaining accuracy is crucial for successfully integrating generative AI within the firm. Goldman Sachs intends to continue exploring this emerging technology’s potential benefits and applications while diligently assessing risks to ensure it meets the company’s stringent quality standards.
One possible application for Goldman Sachs is in software development, where the company has observed a 20-40% productivity increase during its trials. The goal is for 1,000 developers to utilize generative AI tools by year’s end. However, Argenti emphasized that a well-defined expectation of return on investment is necessary before fully integrating generative AI into production.
To achieve this, the company plans to implement a systematic and strategic approach to adopting generative AI, ensuring that it complements and enhances the skills of its developers. Additionally, Goldman Sachs intends to evaluate the long-term impact of generative AI on their software development processes and the overall quality of the applications being developed.
Goldman Sachs’ approach to AI implementation goes beyond merely executing models. The firm has created a platform encompassing technical, legal, and compliance assessments to filter out improper content and keep track of all interactions. This comprehensive system ensures seamless integration of artificial intelligence in operations while adhering to regulatory standards and maintaining client confidentiality. Moreover, the platform continuously improves and adapts its algorithms, allowing Goldman Sachs to stay at the forefront of technology and offer its clients the most efficient and secure services.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Google DeepMind; Pexels; Thank you!
UK seizes web3 opportunity simplifying crypto regulations
As Web3 companies increasingly consider leaving the United States due to regulatory ambiguity, the United Kingdom must simplify its cryptocurrency regulations to attract these businesses. The conservative think tank Policy Exchange recently released a report detailing ten suggestions for improving Web3 regulation in the country. Among the recommendations are reducing liability for token holders in decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and encouraging the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to adopt alternative Know Your Customer (KYC) methodologies, such as digital identities and blockchain analytics tools. These suggestions aim to position the UK as a hub for Web3 innovation and attract blockchain-based businesses looking for a more conducive regulatory environment.
Streamlining Cryptocurrency Regulations for Innovation
To make it easier for emerging Web3 companies to navigate existing legal frameworks and contribute to the UK’s digital economy growth, the government must streamline cryptocurrency regulations and adopt forward-looking approaches. By making the regulatory landscape clear and straightforward, the UK can create an environment that fosters innovation, growth, and competitiveness in the global fintech industry.
The Policy Exchange report also recommends not weakening self-hosted wallets or treating proof-of-stake (PoS) services as financial services. This approach aims to protect the fundamental principles of decentralization and user autonomy while strongly emphasizing security and regulatory compliance. By doing so, the UK can nurture an environment that encourages innovation and the continued growth of blockchain technology.
Despite recent strict measures by UK authorities, such as His Majesty’s Treasury and the FCA, toward the digital assets sector, the proposed changes in the Policy Exchange report strive to make the UK a more attractive location for Web3 enterprises. By adopting these suggestions, the UK can demonstrate its commitment to fostering innovation in the rapidly evolving blockchain and cryptocurrency industries while ensuring a robust and transparent regulatory environment.
The ongoing uncertainty surrounding cryptocurrency regulations in various countries has prompted Web3 companies to explore alternative jurisdictions with more precise legal frameworks. As the United States grapples with regulatory ambiguity, the United Kingdom can position itself as a hub for Web3 innovation by simplifying and streamlining its cryptocurrency regulations.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Jonathan Borba; Pexels; Thank you!