Should Facebook Be Treated Like Other Companies That Make Addictive Products?

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Written by Staff


It’s time for the government to step in and regulate social networks just as it does cigarettes, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said in a CNBC interview from Davos, Switzerland.

One of Silicon Valley’s most influential leaders, Benioff has some strong opinions about Facebook’s influence and how the government could regulate it.

“I think that you do it exactly the same way that you regulated the cigarette industry,” Benioff said. “They’re addictive, they’re not good for you. I think that for sure, technology has addictive qualities that we have to address, and that product designers are working to make those products more addictive and we need to rein that back.”

Benioff, who founded the enterprise software giant Salesforce in 1999, is known for speaking publicly on political issues while his peers refrain from doing so, Mashable reported. In 2015, he canceled all of the company’s events in Indiana after the state passed an “anti-gay” law that allowed business owners to discriminate against LGBT people.

The tech industry has traditionally opposed most forms of government regulation. Benioff is one of the highest-profile figures to call for it publicly.

“We’re the same as any other industry,” Benioff said. “In technology, the government’s going to have to be involved. There is some regulation but there probably will have to be more.”

A former Facebook executive said he feels “tremendous guilt” about the company he helped make. Facebook is harming civil society around the world, said Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined the social network in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth,

“I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he told an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business, before recommending people to take a “hard break” from social media.

The World Health Organization says some video game use amounts to addictive behavior, and WHO plans to add “gaming disorder” to its list of mental health conditions.

Smartphone use alters brain chemistry to the point of cognitive and emotional impairment, recent research shows. Two of Apple’s biggest investors want the iPhone maker to act on concerns about smartphone addiction among children and the effects of technology and social media on youth, including higher risks depression and suicide.

None of this should come as a surprise, Futurism reported. Technology is designed to work this way… “to hook into the pleasure and reward centers in the brain, capture our attention, and keep us coming back for more.”

From Futurism. Story by Claudia Geib.

Silicon Valley “digital detox” events and retreats have become a popular function. Some app developers have begun consulting non-profits focusing on tech addiction to make their apps more mindful and less focused on hooking users.

“It’s easy to take advantage of consumers if you understand what drives them to engage,” Adam Alter, an associate professor of marketing at New York University, told Futurism. Alter is the author of “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked”, and studies how stimuli from our environment can impact human decision-making and behavior.

He explained that the standard rule for technology based on engagement is to test different features, such as color choice or the amount of notifications that an app delivers, and choose the feature that encourages the most engagement. But that isn’t how it has to be.

“Instead of adopting this rule blindly, developers could combine it with a sort of Hippocratic Oath, the medical philosophy of, above all else, doing no harm to patients,” Alter said. Developers could instead weigh the potential psychological, social, or financial harm that a feature could cause against the benefits of that tech – “and I’d argue that harms often outweigh benefits in the tech world,” he says.

Alter said “The only way to ensure companies design consumer-friendly tech is to

  • Educate consumers so they know how to identify predatory practices.
  • Encourage consumers to pressure tech companies to design friendlier tech (just as consumers recently pressured Apple and Facebook to redesign their products.
  • Consider legislative intervention that defines what tech companies can and can’t do to encourage engagement.’

Read more at Futurism.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook takes a selfie with students. Photo: Apple