Dear Tech Companies, You're More Than Just a Platform
It's time for tech companies to stop hiding behind the "we're just a platform” jargon
Rama Mamuaya - 18 April 2018
For the past few decades, technology has turned from a nice to have feature for nerds, into an inseparable part of society and how humans behave in general. Humans might come up with technology, but technology also shapes our lives in a very-very significant way. From the internet, communications, social network, artificial intelligence and God knows what else the techies will come up in the next decade or so.
For every disruptive force that was brought up by these technology companies who brings in the new way of doing things, the old way must die. The old inefficient, expensive, time-consuming behavior must be replaced with technology platform.
Google changed the world. Facebook changed the world. Amazon changed the world. Uber changed the world.
And it pains me to see that although these companies bring an amazing new and more powerful way of doing things, they seem to be lacking in the knowledge that they also have a responsibility to society and not just to their shareholders.
I remember how companies like OLX Indonesia got vilified for selling babies online. Of course, it wasn't OLX that did it, it was one of their merchant (it is a c2c platform). Anyone can sell anything on OLX, and that OLX is just a platform between buyers and sellers. I remember how, in India, an Uber driver raped his passenger. And sure enough, Uber hid behind the same argument. I remember how Go-Jek have so much power over the Indonesian economy now that they have more than a million drivers working for them. But their early days of Go-Jek's growth were dark days for a lot of conventional taxi drivers as their income decline rapidly.
And of course, not to forget Facebook that has been the center of attention the past few weeks.
Granted, whenever something went wrong, these companies take responsibilities and act accordingly to solve the problem but it seems to me that they failed to grasp the power they have in our society. And it’s the kind of power that transcends economic empowerment. Listening to Zuckerberg’s interrogation by US Congress gave me the sense that Zuckerberg feels like he failed to protect individual’s privacy, their users. But it seems that Zuckerberg doesn’t realize that he and Facebook had failed us as a society. Zuckerberg sees a product improvement as a solution to his problem. It’s much much deeper than that.
Facebook, Google, Uber, Amazon, and Alibaba; all these giant tech companies have become so big that they have the muscle power to move society into any direction, whether they realize it or not, whether it's intentional or not. And they should start thinking about how their movement impacts the society before even proceeding to talk about products and business model. Of course the conflict between ethics and business model exists. This is where tech CEOs will decide what kind of CEO she/he wants to be.
An also good case is digital media. As one of the players in digital media, it concerns me that a lot of media companies forget about how they shape the society. It’s a two-way road. Media companies look at their statistics and learn how users consume their content, go look for the most popular content and try to replicate that type content to get user engaged and consume more content, therefore make money from advertisers.
But what if the type of content that the users prefer is the type of content that is disruptive? Or straightforward false? Do you listen to the users even when the user is stupid? Do you give them negative content because they like it? Of course, you can, and you’ll make tons of money. Probably. But you also can make a stand and decline, pushing through educative content that is more proper and positive to society. Some people call this integrity. Others call it business ethics. But whatever you want to call it, it’s important that this proceeds business considerations.
I am one to believe digital media ruins the world. With so much hate and negative aura around the world, digital media has been the epicenter of the movement. It’s very easy to monetize hate and negative content through advertising. More hate, more traffic, more advertising money. No consideration whatsoever on how it impacts the society as a whole.
Technology will continue its stride to become an even more inseparable part of human lives. And humans will survive, one way or another. The rise of Artificial intelligence, biotechnology, space technology and all these exciting development in our society will have the role of technology all over it.
It’s time we reclaim technology as a positive tool, not just to make a ridiculous amount of money, but also to impact society as a whole. It’s time for technology companies, innovators and disruptors to stop hiding their existence as "just a platform”, and start taking business ethics and integrity into consideration.