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The Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma (2020) sheds light on the shadowy sides of big tech. The most interesting part of this rather dramatic documentary is at the very end: When the developers honestly admit that they impose strict conditions on their children when it comes to the use of technology. As it turns out, they are all ‘low-tech parents’ themselves.

Although they stand to benefit when we, the users, share a lot of private data with them, the private behavior of key figures behind big tech often still remains a ‘black box’ for us. But when a tip of the veil is lifted here and there, it exposes some very interesting information. For example, a journalist from The New York Times reacted with stunned surprise when Steve Jobs, when asked what his children thought about the iPad, replied that they were not allowed to use it. Jobs kept his offspring away from his own creations as much as possible. According to Walter Isaacson, who wrote a biography about him, Jobs preferred to have dinner and discussions with his children in the evening, without any (“Apple”) screens in sight.

‘Dynamic social norm’

Mark Zuckerberg called privacy a “dynamic social norm” in 2010 and then turned that definition to his advantage by insisting that people are increasingly comfortable sharing information with each other. That same Mark Zuckerberg bought the four adjacent houses to his home in 2013 just so he and his family could enjoy more privacy. Therefore he himself does not feel that comfortable practicing what he preaches. Yet for Facebook, it was just more strategically interesting to adopt different emphases.

The behavior they seek from us, they themselves do not necessarily practice within their own four walls. Their private behavior uncovers more interesting habits than what they want to present to us in their public statements. ‘False pretenses enthrall the public,’ Erasmus said in his In Praise of Folly, but the occasional glimpse behind the scenes can be sobering.

Aldo read: Neo, state or modern digitalism: How big will the power of Big tech become in 2021?

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Bert Overlack, Eveline van Zeeland, Eugene Franken, Helen Kardan, Katleen Gabriels, Carina Weijma, Bernd Maier-Leppla and Colinda de Beer, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented by guest bloggers, are all working on solutions in their own way on the problems of our time. So that tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous articles.