Daphne Foundation joins global call to rein in Big Tech

The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation has signed the People’s Declaration on Big Tech, a call to arms for action against technology companies that have weaponised people’s data to use it against them.

The declaration was first published in July 2021 and made a series of demands to increase protections for communities and democracies while limiting the power of large technology companies and corporations.

“We, the people of Europe, demand technology that serves us, instead of putting us, our communities and our democracies at risk. We call for an end to Big Tech’s destructive business model, which has turned our data into weapons against us,” the declaration opens.

The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation was set up after Caruana Galizia’s assassination in October 2017. The aim is to ensure justice for her assassination but also to continue her fight for media freedom, liberal democracy and to fight back against “populism, corruption, and impunity in Malta and internationally”.

Signed by some of the most respected and well-known organisations globally, the declaration lays down several concrete demands, including requests for provisions in the upcoming European Union Digital Services Act (DSA).

It asks for “the manipulation machine” to be turned off and for platforms to “de-risk their design, detox their algorithms, give users real control over them and to be held accountable for failing to do so”.

These algorithms are amplifying hate speech and disinformation while “weaponising every societal fault line with relentless surveillance to maximise ‘engagement’”.

Another demand is for a cessation of the surveillance for-profit business model. The declaration explains how people have been “conned” into giving consent for surveillance. They noted that the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act must end surveillance advertising that people did not ask or provide informed consent for.

“The use of digital services cannot be conditional on acceptance of surveillance and profiling. In addition, we demand transparency on all aspects of online ads and enforcement of our data rights to make them a reality,” it continues.

The third demand is for big tech to be held accountable and for people to be put back in charge.

“The DSA must create stronger powers for regulators to hold Big Tech to account, including through robust audit powers that cannot simply be gamed by the companies. Europe must not allow a repeat of the failures of enforcement as seen with the GDPR,” it noted.

The declaration has been signed by 101 organisations, including the  Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, representing 71,872,881 citizens across the EU. The declaration closes by stating that “we the people will no longer tolerate this relentless corporate assault on our lives and liberty”.

Signatories include various factions of Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth Europe, Global Witness, Statewatch, Transparency International, and Reporters Without Borders.

Facebook is currently under fire from multiple angles as it grapples to shake accusations it prioritises profit over the wellbeing of users, including teenage girls. A series of internal leaks have shown that the company has consistently been aware of the harm and impact its algorithms have on users but failed to take action.

Furthermore, the company also appears to have a policy that harmful, divisive and even false content should be allowed, as it brings more engagement and thus profits to the company.

Ex-Facebook employee Frances Haugen went public with thousands of documents she had secretly copied during her time with the company.

“Misinformation, angry content, is enticing to people and keeps them on the platform,” she said in her groundbreaking interview.

She added, “Facebook has realised that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click fewer ads, they’ll [Facebook] make less money”.

Haugen is in Brussels today, where she is due to speak before members of the European Parliament. Meanwhile, Facebook says her claims are false and rebranded itself as ‘Meta’ in an attempt to bush off its tarnished image.

Concerns have also been raised over Android and how it surveils users by transmitting vast amounts of personal data to the OS developer and third parties. These include Google, Microsoft, Facebook and LinkedIn, which enjoy pre-installed app status on such devices.

The DSA is a proposed rulebook that will protect consumers’ rights while increasing the transparency and accountability of online social media platforms. The road to getting the act approved will not be easy as many stakeholders have different views, and there will be much back and forth on many of the key provisions.

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