She shook Facebook in 2021 when she revealed, on tens of thousands of pages, how the social network chose profit over security. Today, whistleblower Frances Haugen joins McGill University in her crusade against the opacity of these multi-billion dollar giants. Her motto, she summarizes in an interview: better understand them to take back control of our digital life.
Over the past few months, my main focus has been on democratic accountability and social media transparency. All other equally powerful industries are accountable, not only under individual laws, but also under an entire ecosystem of accountability. They are informed citizens. They are informed investors who manage for long-term returns. They are lawmakers who hold corporations accountable. How do we build this accountability ecosystem that we have, like the automotive industry?
The same goes for social media accountability. We believe that online security comes down to password protection. There is currently a huge knowledge void around the idea that we should be asking questions about how these systems are designed. We should ask ourselves how these systems are governed, both inside and outside companies.
So my project for next year is about how we might have a different relationship with these companies now. We accept whatever they give us because it’s a free product.
What really scares me is that for a while it seemed like Facebook was listening, reacting, investing more in security. After my unveiling, they reinforced the protection of children. Mark Zuckerberg has announced that this is the year of efficiency. And they just cut security teams. I’m afraid Facebook has learned the lessons of the Elon Musk case, which fired nearly every security professional and didn’t really have to face the consequences. Mark looked at that and said, “Right now we’re spending money on things we don’t have to do. »
This is partly why we need transparency laws.
I’m not well versed in public policy, I’m primarily a data scientist and product manager. At present, we have a very limited vocabulary on how to deal with these issues, with notions such as privacy, freedom of expression, antitrust law. We need to think about a slightly broader approach. I’m excited to raise awareness of how these systems are designed up front. They already have biases, you know, some ideas get out there and some don’t. We do not have the opportunity to see what these prejudices are. Yes, better privacy laws can help these systems in some way, because if they don’t know anything about you, they can’t personalize you. But we shouldn’t just talk about it. We have 21st century problems and we need new 21st century solutions.
I didn’t sign on purpose. The concept behind the break is that these technologies are difficult to develop today. And if we don’t make bigger ones, we can’t develop them. But we don’t need much larger models than we have now.
Second, I think the basic premise is really misleading. When it comes to AI, yes, there are serious existential risks. These are long-term risks, but there are huge short-term rewards. Playing in this space costs very little money. What do you think will happen? You are going to witness a balkanization. I think it makes the world less safe.
Oh, 100%. In general, I’m skeptical of people who always say “Oh, it was better in the past”. The old days weren’t that great. I think there’s a great opportunity to go back to something a little more like Facebook from 2008, 2009. There, we were connecting with people that we really knew. But we didn’t spend as much time on Facebook. Social networks that relate to our family and friends are really satisfying, but they are not addictive. But the only way to get the market to move in that direction is for consumers to know what they’re using. And the only way to achieve this is to establish transparency imposed by law.
It’s part of our job. How to involve young people in digital governance? I think there are going to be some really exciting opportunities around how to go to schools and engage kids in the kind of life they want to live. Show them how these systems work. Here’s how these systems influence you. You actually have to make governance decisions collectively. Last year, I mainly worked with students and organized my first event. They’re on social media, since they’re 8 years old, right? Working with young people means creating events of change, we cannot just lecture them. You can’t tell them they make bad decisions, you have to tell them, “Hey, you can change the world, let me help you.” »