Tech Transparency

Naomi Sagan

Over the past few months, iPhones users have started to realize that their old Apple phones, especially iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s devices, are taking a longer time to launch apps and experiencing slower performance. After some reports, Apple officially confessed and apologized on Thursday, Dec. 28th, stating that they “would never do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the use experience to drive customer upgrades,” but that they reduced the performance in order to maximize “performance of some system components.” Apple’s admission provoked outrage among customers, which led to more than 30 lawsuits throughout the country on the grounds that Apple’s were deliberately trying to make people to buy new iPhones. Moreover, the news was brought to an international level when France opened an investigation about this issue, raising people’s awareness of tech transparency as well as their concerns regarding tech companies’ trustworthiness.     

The lack of transparency in the tech industry can have an even more insidious impact on people’s daily lives. Every time you browse the web, use social media, create a bank account, or even go to the DMV, your personal information is at risk of being collected by data brokers. Data brokers are large, underground corporations that compile information about internet users into an all-inclusive “profile”, which can then be sold to advertisers and other interested companies. The details enclosed in these profiles range from general identification information such as name and age to browsing habits, income, and political preferences. There is little to no regulation on data brokerage, which has quickly turned into a billion-dollar industry. Recently, there have been calls from both the public and Congress for increased transparency in the data industry, but little progress has been made.

Even worse, tech transparency’s deficiencies are contributing to censorship. It is famously known that Google had shut down their Chinese office in 2010. However, the reopening of the office in 2016 came with the restriction on certain types of content online, such as pro-democracy or any other anti-communism topics. These non-transparent networks restrain users under the umbrella of censorship, limiting their freedom of speech. However, China is not the only country to do so. Iran is also blocking down some social media platforms in the effort of avoiding anti-government protests. Apps like Telegram and Instagram are necessary for protesters to organize the events and were intentionally shut down.    

The refusal of technology companies to be transparent about their activities has proven to be harmful on both an individual and a global scale. Without warning, we are seeing our phones slowed down, our sensitive information collected and distributed to ad companies, and (in certain countries) our internet usage censored. In each case, technology companies fail to take the actions necessary to protect their customers. Decisions that impact consumers should not be made in secret. The repercussions of this are starting to show: we are losing trust in tech corporations as news about Apple slowing down iPhones, social media apps spying on users and companies meddling with foreign affairs comes to light. If this trend continues, we, as consumers, must force tech companies to be more transparent – or the consequences will be disastrous for everyone involved.