Concerned about kids addicted to technology? Former Facebook, Google workers are fighting against it

Concerned about kids addicted to technology? Former Facebook, Google workers are fighting against it
Former Facebook and Google employees have banded together to lobby technology companies to make their products less addictive, particularly where kids are concerned. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

Former Facebook and Google employees have banded together to lobby technology companies to make their products less addictive and manipulative — particularly where kids are concerned, The Guardian reported.

The group is called “Truth About Tech” and is funded by Common Sense, a not-for-profit that promotes safe technology and media for children, the outlet said.

Common Sense research indicates that teenagers consume an average of nine hours of media per day, The Guardian reported, while tweens consume an average of six hours per day.

A separate study by psychologist Jean Twenge found that heavy users of digital media are 56 percent  more likely to say they are unhappy and 27 percent more likely to be depressed, the outlet added.

“Tech companies are conducting a massive, real-time experiment on our kids, and, at present, no one is really holding them accountable,” Common Sense’s CEO, James Steyer, told The Guardian, adding that such firms’ practices can harm “the social, emotional and cognitive development of kids.”

“When parents learn how these companies can take advantage of our kids, they will join us in demanding the industry change its ways and improve certain practices,” he added to the outlet.

Truth About Tech is affiliated with the Center for Humane Technology, which is all about “reversing the digital attention crisis and realigning technology with humanity’s best interests” and is led by former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris and former Facebook investor and adviser Roger McNamee, The Guardian reported.

More from the outlet:

The campaign will include educational material aimed at families highlighting the potential harm caused by digital platforms and outlining techniques for mitigating the addictive properties of tech, for example turning off notifications and changing the screen to greyscale. There will also be a lobbying push around the issue calling for policymakers to regulate tech companies using manipulative practices and the two organizations will develop standards of ethical design to help the industry discourage digital addiction.

What else is happening in the fight against tech addiction?

  • Former Facebook President Sean Parker said in November that social media is damaging how we relate to one another: “It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
  • Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive, told the Stanford Graduate School of Business in November that his former employer is “ripping apart” the fabric of society.
  • Palihapitiya, Facebook’s former vice president for user growth, added that he felt “tremendous guilt” in helping to amass users on the social networking site and suggested that people take a “hard break” from social networking, which he described as “short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops.”
  • A coalition of 97 child health advocates sent a letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in January asking him to discontinue Messenger Kids — the ad-free app targeting children ages 6 to 12 — Wired reported.
  • Advocates said Messenger Kids likely will hamper healthy childhood development by increasing the amount of time kids spend with digital devices, Wired added, and that recent studies link increased depression, poor sleeping habits and unhealthy body image in children and teens with increased use of social media and digital devices.