As America’s tech companies emerge as the most powerful and profitable in the history of mankind, these one-time scrappy upstarts are having to learn on the job about how their influence impacts politics, policy, human rights — and their bottom lines.
Mark Zuckerberg found himself in front of Congress explaining Facebook’s role in 2016 election interference. Just this week Facebook is being blamed for breaking a century-old publishing model with inflated video ad metrics.
Just a few months ago Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was feted in Silicon Valley by the likes of Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos and Sundar Pichal and pitching opportunity and big investment in the Middle East.
This week, mounting evidence links MBS to the brutal murder of journalist and outspoken critic Jamal Khashoggi Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi pulled out of the Saudi Future Investment conference in Riyadh in protest, joining Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene and many others.
There are other pressures too. Director of U.S. National Intelligence Dan Coates spoke at a recent CyberScoop conference about the need for more cooperation from the tech sector in fortifying the nation’s cyber security efforts.
“Even when we’re seeking cooperation on national security matters, some companies are reluctant to partner with us because they believe it could hurt their brand by working too closely with the U.S. government,” Coats said. “Nevertheless, many of these same companies turn right around and pursue access and production opportunities in China.”
The result, according to former CEO of Google and current adviser to the government on Middle East issues, San Blattels, is a search for more expertise in the government sector. It’s the kind of thing multi-national oil and gas companies have had to navigate for decades. And they’ve largely been successful doing big business in unsavory places with questionable people in power. All it takes is an army of lobbyists, lawyers and spin doctors to make it work.
“Many of them are still the ‘new kids on the block’ to the Middle East, compared to the energy and defense industries,” Blatteis, told CNN. They real question they need an answer to: “Tell me how this ends.”
Let’s hope the tech sector learns how to make a buck and use its powers to defend human rights at the same time.
Featured image: Pixabay