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Is Silicon Valley nearing its demise?

Thirty-four billionaires live in Silicon Valley. The majority are owners or founders or CEOs of some of the world’s largest and most renowned tech companies. As part of a tech company yourself, it’s likely you’ve envisaged what life is like on the opposite side of the pond, in an area that we imagine to be paved with gold.

But after a few recent news stories, questions are being raised about the part Silicon Valley is playing in lives across the world – and not in a positive way. Could this be the start of its demise?

Two quite significant scandals emerged from the area last week. The first, that credit agency Equifax came asunder to a massive cyber attack that put the data of 143m Americans at risk. Second came the admission from Facebook that it has uncovered advertisements places on its platform by Russian-backed groups interfering with American elections to the tune of at least $100,000. While these stories specifically impact America, other challenges on the tech giants residing in SV have caused us to wonder if allowing these organisations to reach such enormity is actually more damaging than good.

While the argument about #fakenews continues to ramp up, authorities are casting their eye towards platforms like Facebook and Twitter that allow false or staged activity to do the rounds, with many questioning why the platforms don’t block content that’s deliberately misleading and potentially harmful.

And as extremist behaviour continues to plague the globe, the UK Government is putting extra pressure on Silicon Valley giants to prevent unlawful material from appearing online. They say that doing so is fuelling terrorism, and only by intervening will we preserve freedom and liberal values. The Telegraph quoted digital minister Matt Hancock this week, who has urged that encouraging Google and Facebook to intervene in this activity is “an opportunity for Britain to gain a ‘massive advantage’ after Brexit by being the first country to make sure offline principles apply online”.

Part of the reason tech has grown so exponentially is from an assumed (and not at all proven) view that the online world is different to the offline world, different rules exist and it acts instead as a challenger to what is engrained in our society. But think about it – when’s the last time a significant scandal played out that has absolutely no involvement from the internet? (not including health epidemics or natural disasters).

So what part can you play? Whether you run a social media platform, create ecommerce software, process big data or manufacture smart items for the home, it’s a case of questioning whether what you’re doing is for the greater good, definitely doesn’t put people at risk of harm and plays a helpful part in wider society. If you can’t tick all three boxes, tweak what you’re doing. Because the chances are, if you don’t, you’ll have the spotlight shone on you soon enough.

As Mr Hancock so eloquently put it: “We must build an internet… where we cherish freedom yet prevent harm to others.” Silicon Valley, are you listening?

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