190725 Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg Image Credit: AP

The $5 billion fine levied by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Facebook for its privacy misdemeanours and market monopolistic practices could well be the first step in reining in the runaway control of tech giants. The antitrust moves by the US are an endorsement of the fact that the time has come to expect, and in fact, push for a gathering momentum that will loosen the chokehold of tech giants on people’s personal data.

Thanks to our absolute dependence on technology, we have shaped an age that is entirely defined by data harvesting and its ills have now become all too well known. From fuelling toxic socio-political movements to spawning of vast data-rich underworlds for marketeers to use the information to boost their bottom lines to the death of competition, our surrender of personal information and preferences to technology’s insatiable appetite has led to individual privacy being threatened like never before, and all in the guise of empowerment.

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After all, the promise of technology, and its purveyors, was that it existed to make life better for all mankind, a promise it failed to deliver on in an ennobling way. Instead, lured by the staggering riches of information it was privy to, tech giants have repeatedly sacrificed the trust of its subscribers for ulterior motives. Last year, Facebook’s admission that it had shared user information with 52 hardware and software makers is just one example of such a trust deficit.

The backlash has already begun with more and more people now de-addicting from their tech dependence and snatching back agency on their choices, preferences and privacy.

Admittedly, regulating private tech companies is an area fraught with ideological landmines as it sets up a face-off between free market forces and government regulations. But this is a battle that must be fought to ensure that an individual’s every like, preference, purchase and transaction will not be turned into an algorithm for future use by vested interests. This is a guarantee that must prevail, because it forms the core of a progressive, healthy society and a balanced, respectful world where transactional transparency forms the bedrock of technological progress. And if such guarantees are engineered by federal policies, in the absence of self-regulating ethics by tech giants, it’s all for the greater good anyway.