Duopólio Facebook-Google é ameaça global à democracia que exige ação imediata, alertam Soros e Annan

Duopólio Facebook-Google é ameaça global à democracia que exige ação imediata, alertam Soros e Annan

As redes sociais são hoje um grave ameaça à democracia em todo o planeta, alertaram nesta semana dois diferentes e influentes pensadores: Kofi Annan, ex-secretário-geral da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU) e Nobel da Paz em 2001, e o bilionário e filantropo George Soros. O investidor húngaro afirmou que as grandes empresas de tecnologia norte-americanas, em especial o duopólio formado por Google e Facebook, são uma “ameaça pública” e, para proteger a sociedade, é necessária forte iniciativa das autoridades regulatórias. Já o diplomata de Gana ressaltou a relevância de regulação diante de um problema “global”, mas enfatizou que as regras não podem comprometer o direito fundamental à liberdade de expressão.

Em artigo no jornal The Guardian e no site do Project Syndicate, publicado nesta sexta-feira (16), Soros disse que as companhias de tecnologia com plataformas na internet manipulam e induzem as pessoas a abdicarem das suas autonomias. Impedi-las, comentou, é de responsabilidade das autoridades regulatórias. Ele afirmou depositar esperanças na União Europeia (UE), que tem leis para a proteção da privacidade e dos dados e não possui gigantes de tecnologia com negócios similares aos do Google e do Facebook, como os Estados Unidos. “É só uma questão de tempo antes que a supremacia global das empresas de internet dos EUA seja derrotada. A regulamentação e a fiscalização, encabeçadas por [Margrethe] Vestager [comissária de defesa da competição da UE], tratarão de vencê-las".

Soros afirmou que as redes sociais enganam os seus usuários ao manipularem a sua atenção, dirigindo-a para os seus próprios fins comerciais, e concebendo deliberadamente meios para aumentar a dependência aos serviços que fornecem. "Isto pode ser muito prejudicial, especialmente para os adolescentes", comentou. O bilionário comparou as gigantes de tecnologia a empresas de jogo. “Os cassinos desenvolveram técnicas para prender clientes até um ponto em que estes jogam todo o seu dinheiro, incluindo dinheiro que não possuem”.

O Facebook e o Google, lembrou Soros, controlam mais da metade das receitas publicitárias digitais e, para manter a sua supremacia, precisam expandir as suas redes e aumentar a cota de atenção dos usuários. Isso, frisou, garante retorno aos verdadeiros clientes das empresas de redes sociais: os anunciantes. Ao mesmo tempo, ao controlar uma infinidade de dados pessoais, “essas empresas oferecem serviços e usam preços discriminados para chamar a si uma maior parte dos lucros, que de outra forma deveriam ser partilhados com os clientes, comprometendo a eficiência da economia de mercado”.

Nesse modelo, os fornecedores de conteúdo não conseguem evitar usar as plataformas das gigantes de tecnologia, ficando obrigados a aceitar quaisquer condições que lhes forem apresentadas, afirmou Soros. Com isso, os publishers também contribuem para os lucros das redes sociais. “Na verdade, a excepcional rentabilidades dessas empresas depende em grande parte da sua fuga às responsabilidades – e aos pagamentos – relativas aos conteúdos presentes nas suas plataformas”.

Aliança com governos autoritários

Além de serem distribuidores "quase-monopolistas", que impedem a competição, a inovação e o acesso justo e aberto, Google e Facebook oferecem uma perspectiva mais alarmante no horizonte, disse Soros: uma aliança entre estados autoritários e grandes monopólios de Tecnologias de Informação (TI) possuidores de grandes volumes de dados, que reúna sistemas nascentes de vigilância corporativa a sistemas já desenvolvidos de vigilância estatal. “Daqui poderá resultar uma rede de controle totalitário, de um tipo que nem mesmo George Orwell poderia ter imaginado”.

Kofi Annan, também em texto no Project Syndicate nesta sexta-feira (16), detalhou como as redes sociais passaram a ser instrumentos de regimes autoritários. Ele reconheceu que Twitter, Facebook e outras mídias sociais desempenharam um papel fundamental nas revoltas populares no Irã em 2009, no mundo árabe em 2011 e na Ucrânia em 2013-2014. Mas os regimes autoritários, afirmou, começaram a usar as mídias sociais para seus próprios fins. “Todos ouvimos as alegações de que a Rússia utilizou secretamente as mídias sociais para influenciar os resultados eleitorais na Ucrânia, na França, na Alemanha e nos Estados Unidos”, assinalou.

O diplomata, entretanto, recordou de acusações anteriores do papel da Rússia no fomento das revoluções na Ucrânia e na Geórgia e advertiu: “Se mesmo os países mais tecnologicamente avançados não conseguem proteger a integridade do processo eleitoral, pode-se imaginar os desafios que enfrentam os países com menos know-how”. Annan reforçou que, na ausência de fatos e dados, a mera possibilidade de manipulação alimenta teorias de conspiração e mina a fé na democracia.

As "câmaras de eco" ideológicas das mídias sociais, continuou o ex-secretário-geral, exacerbam os preconceitos naturais das pessoas e diminuem as oportunidades para um debate saudável. “Isso tem efeitos do mundo real, porque promove a polarização política e implode a capacidade dos líderes de forjar compromissos, a base da estabilidade democrática. Do mesmo modo, o discurso de ódio, os apelos terroristas e o assédio racial e sexual que encontraram um lar na internet podem levar à violência do mundo real”.

O exemplo da UE

George Soros enfatizou que os monopólios da internet não têm vontade, nem estão predispostos para protegerem a sociedade das consequências, muitas vezes nefastas, de suas atividades comerciais, o que reforça a importância da ação das autoridades regulatórias. Ele disse que os reguladores dos Estados Unidos não são suficientemente fortes para enfrentar a influência política dos monopólios, mas a UE está em condições de fazê-lo. 

Soros citou, por exemplo, os reflexos da multa recorde (€ 2,42 bilhões) aplicada pela UE ao Google, em 2017, por manipular os resultados de pesquisa a seu favor.  “Como consequência do seu sucesso, o processo de implementação de regulamentação adequada foi grandemente acelerado. Além disso, graças aos esforços de Vestager, a abordagem europeia começou a afetar atitudes nos EUA”, ressaltou.

Diálogo e proteção às liberdades

Kofi Annan, por sua vez, disse que, por mais úteis que sejam essas medidas, não tem certeza de que leis nacionais sejam adequadas para regular a atividade política online. “Muitos países mais pobres não serão capazes de suportar tal resistência, e a aplicação será difícil em todos os lugares, porque grande parte dos dados são armazenados e gerenciados fora do país regulador”, lembrou. Ao comentar as normas internacionais, o diplomata ponderou sobre o necessário cuidado para que, ao tentar reduzir os excessos, o direito fundamental à liberdade de expressão não seja comprometido. “Na verdade, as sociedades abertas não devem reagir de forma excessiva, para que não prejudiquem as próprias liberdades em que baseiam sua legitimidade”.

O ex-secretário-geral da ONU pregou o diálogo em torno de compromisso. Por meio da Fundação Kofi Annan, ele disse que pretende pretende convocar líderes  empresariais do mundo das novas tecnologias e expoentes políticos para, em formato de comissão, examinar como estados, empresas e cidadãos podem explorar possibilidades das novas tecnologias de forma a atender as democracias e, ao mesmo tempo, reduzir os riscos tão evidentes atualmente. A expectativa dele é que esse grupo possa produzir um relatório com recomendações de boas práticas.

“A tecnologia não permanece imóvel, nem a democracia. Temos que agir rápido, porque os avanços digitais podem ser apenas o início de uma inclinação escorregadia que nos leva a um mundo orwelliano controlado pelo Big Brother, onde milhões de sensores em nossos smartphones e outros dispositivos coletam dados e nos tornam vulneráveis à manipulação”, advertiu Annan

Leia abaixo as íntegras dos textos de George Soros e Kofi Annan publicados nesta sexta-feira (16) no site do Project Syndicate:

The Social Media Threat to Society and Security

George Soros

MUNICH – The current moment in world history is a painful one. Open societies are in crisis, and various forms of dictatorships and mafia states, exemplified by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, are on the rise. In the United States, President Donald Trump would like to establish his own mafia-style state but cannot, because the Constitution, other institutions, and a vibrant civil society won’t allow it.

Not only is the survival of open society in question; the survival of our entire civilization is at stake. The rise of leaders such as Kim Jong-un in North Korea and Trump in the US have much to do with this. Both seem willing to risk a nuclear war in order to keep themselves in power. But the root cause goes even deeper. Mankind’s ability to harness the forces of nature, both for constructive and destructive purposes, continues to grow, while our ability to govern ourselves properly fluctuates, and is now at a low ebb.

The rise and monopolistic behavior of the giant American Internet platform companies is contributing mightily to the US government’s impotence. These companies have often played an innovative and liberating role. But as Facebook and Google have grown ever more powerful, they have become obstacles to innovation, and have caused a variety of problems of which we are only now beginning to become aware.

Companies earn their profits by exploiting their environment. Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment. This is particularly nefarious, because these companies influence how people think and behave without them even being aware of it. This interferes with the functioning of democracy and the integrity of elections.

Because Internet platform companies are networks, they enjoy rising marginal returns, which accounts for their phenomenal growth. The network effect is truly unprecedented and transformative, but it is also unsustainable. It took Facebook eight and a half years to reach a billion users, and half that time to reach the second billion. At this rate, Facebook will run out of people to convert in less than three years.

Facebook and Google effectively control over half of all digital advertising revenue. To maintain their dominance, they need to expand their networks and increase their share of users’ attention. Currently they do this by providing users with a convenient platform. The more time users spend on the platform, the more valuable they become to the companies.

Moreover, because content providers cannot avoid using the platforms and must accept whatever terms they are offered, they, too, contribute to the profits of social media companies. Indeed, the exceptional profitability of these companies is largely a function of their avoiding responsibility – and payment – for the content on their platforms.

The companies claim that they are merely distributing information. But the fact that they are near-monopoly distributors makes them public utilities and should subject them to more stringent regulation, aimed at preserving competition, innovation, and fair and open access.

Social media companies’ true customers are their advertisers. But a new business model is gradually emerging, based not only on advertising but also on selling products and services directly to users. They exploit the data they control, bundle the services they offer, and use discriminatory pricing to keep more of the benefits that they would otherwise have to share with consumers. This enhances their profitability even further, but the bundling of services and discriminatory pricing undermine the efficiency of the market economy.

Social media companies deceive their users by manipulating their attention, directing it toward their own commercial purposes, and deliberately engineering addiction to the services they provide. This can be very harmful, particularly for adolescents.

There is a similarity between Internet platforms and gambling companies. Casinos have developed techniques to hook customers to the point that they gamble away all of their money, even money they don’t have.

Something similar – and potentially irreversible – is happening to human attention in our digital age. This is not a matter of mere distraction or addiction; social media companies are actually inducing people to surrender their autonomy. And this power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies.

It takes significant effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called the freedom of mind. Once lost, those who grow up in the digital age may have difficulty regaining it.

This would have far-reaching political consequences. People without the freedom of mind can be easily manipulated. This danger does not loom only in the future; it already played an important role in the 2016 US presidential election.

There is an even more alarming prospect on the horizon: an alliance between authoritarian states and large, data-rich IT monopolies, bringing together nascent systems of corporate surveillance with already-developed systems of state-sponsored surveillance. This may well result in a web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even George Orwell could have imagined.

The countries in which such unholy marriages are likely to occur first are Russia and China. Chinese IT companies in particular are fully equal to the US platforms. They also enjoy the full support and protection of President Xi Jinping’s regime. China’s government is strong enough to protect its national champions, at least within its borders.

US-based IT monopolies are already tempted to compromise themselves in order to gain entrance to these vast and fast-growing markets. These countries’ dictatorial leaders may be only too happy to collaborate with them, in the interest of improving their methods of control over their own populations and expanding their power and influence in the United States and the rest of the world.

There is also a growing recognition of a connection between the dominance of the platform monopolies and rising inequality. The concentration of share ownership in the hands of a few individuals plays some role, but the peculiar position occupied by the IT giants is even more important. They have achieved monopoly power while also competing against one another. Only they are big enough to swallow start-ups that could develop into competitors, and only they have the resources to invade one another’s territory.

The owners of the platform giants consider themselves the masters of the universe. In fact, they are slaves to preserving their dominant position. They are engaged in an existential struggle to dominate the new growth areas that artificial intelligence is opening up, like driverless cars.

The impact of such innovations on unemployment depends on government policies. The European Union, and particularly the Nordic countries, are much more farsighted than the United States in their social policies. They protect the workers, not the jobs. They are willing to pay for retraining or retiring displaced workers. This gives workers in Nordic countries a greater sense of security and makes them more supportive of technological innovations than workers in the US.

The Internet monopolies have neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions. That turns them into a public menace, and it is the regulatory authorities’ responsibility to protect society against them. In the US, regulators are not strong enough to stand up to the monopolies’ political influence. The EU is better positioned, because it doesn’t have any platform giants of its own.

The EU uses a different definition of monopoly power from the US. Whereas US law enforcement focuses primarily on monopolies created by acquisition, EU law prohibits the abuse of monopoly power regardless of how it is achieved. Europe has much stronger privacy and data protection laws than America.

Moreover, US law has adopted a strange doctrine that measures harm as an increase in the price paid by customers for services received. But that is almost impossible to prove, given that most giant Internet platforms provide a majority of their services for free. Moreover, the doctrine leaves out of consideration the valuable data that platform companies collect from their users.

The EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager is the champion of the European approach. It took the EU seven years to build a case against Google. But, as a result of its success, the process of instituting adequate regulation has been greatly accelerated. Moreover, thanks to Vestager’s efforts, the European approach has begun to affect attitudes in the US.

It is only a matter of time before the global dominance of the US Internet companies is broken. Regulation and taxation, spearheaded by Vestager, will be their undoing.

George Soros is Chairman of Soros Fund Management and Chairman of the Open Society Foundations. A pioneer of the hedge-fund industry, he is the author of many books, including The Alchemy of Finance, The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What it Means, and The Tragedy of the European Union.

How IT Threatens Democracy

Kofi A. Annan

MUNICH – The Internet and social media were once hailed for creating new opportunities to spread democracy and freedom. And Twitter, Facebook, and other social media did indeed play a key role in popular uprisings in Iran in 2009, in the Arab world in 2011, and in Ukraine in 2013-2014. Back then, the tweet did at times seem mightier than the sword.

But authoritarian regimes soon began cracking down on Internet freedom. They feared the brave new digital world, because it was beyond the reach of their analogue security establishments. Their fears proved unfounded. In the event, most social media-enabled popular uprisings failed for want of effective leadership, and traditional political and military organizations retained the upper hand.

In fact, these regimes have begun to wield social media for their own ends. We have all heard the allegations that Russia covertly used social media to influence electoral outcomes in Ukraine, France, Germany, and, most famously, in the United States. Facebook has estimated that Russian content on its network, including posts and paid ads, reached 126 million Americans, around 40% of the nation’s population.

We should recall earlier accusations by Russia of the West’s role in fomenting the “color revolutions” in Ukraine and Georgia. The Internet and social media provide another battlefield, it seems, for the surreptitious manipulation of public opinion.

If even the most technologically advanced countries cannot protect the integrity of the electoral process, one can imagine the challenges facing countries with less know-how. In other words, the threat is global. In the absence of facts and data, the mere possibility of manipulation fuels conspiracy theories and undermines faith in democracy and elections at a time when public trust is already low.

Social media’s ideological “echo chambers” exacerbate people’s natural biases and diminish opportunities for healthy debate. This has real-world effects, because it fosters political polarization and erodes leaders’ capacity to forge compromises, the basis of democratic stability. Likewise, the hate speech, terrorist appeals, and racial and sexual harassment that have found a home on the Internet can lead to real-world violence.

But social media are hardly the first communication revolution to challenge political systems. The printing press, radio, and television were all revolutionary in their day. And all were gradually regulated, even in the most liberal democracies. We must now consider how to submit social media to the same rules of transparency, accountability, and taxation as conventional media.

In the US, a group of senators has introduced the “Honest Ads Act,” which would extend the rules that apply to print, radio, and television to social media. They hope it will become law before the 2018 midterm election. In Germany, a new law, the Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz, requires social-media companies to remove hate speech and fake news within 24 hours or face fines of up to €50 million ($63 million).

As useful as these measures may be, I am not sure that national laws will be adequate to regulate online political activity. Many poorer countries will not be able to put up such resistance, and enforcement will be difficult everywhere, because much of the data are stored and managed outside the regulating country.

Whether or not new international norms are necessary, we should be careful that in seeking to curb the excesses, we do not jeopardize the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Indeed, open societies should not over-react, lest they undermine the very freedoms on which they base their legitimacy.

But nor can we remain idle. A few major players, in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, hold our fate in their hands; but if we can get them on board, we can address the failings of the current system.

In 2012, I convened the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy, and Security to identify and tackle the challenges to the integrity of elections and promote legitimate electoral processes. Only elections that the population generally accepts as fair and credible can lead to a peaceful and democratic rotation of leadership, conferring legitimacy on the winner and protecting the loser.

Under the auspices of the Kofi Annan Foundation, I will now convene a new commission – this time, with the masterminds of social media and information technology, as well as political leaders – to help us address these crucial new issues. We will set out to find workable solutions that serve our democracies and safeguard the integrity of our elections, while harnessing the many opportunities new technologies have to offer. We will produce recommendations that will, we hope, reconcile the disruptive tensions created between technological advances and one of humanity’s greatest achievements: democracy.

Technology does not stand still, and nor should democracy. We have to act fast, because digital advances could be just the start of a slippery slope leading to an Orwellian world controlled by Big Brother, where millions of sensors in our smartphones and other devices collect data and make us vulnerable to manipulation.

Who should own all the data collected by our phones and watches? How should such data be used? Should its use by others require our consent? To whom are those using our data accountable? These are the big questions that will shape the future of freedom.

Kofi A. Annan, a former secretary-general of the United Nations and Nobel Peace laureate, is Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, which mobilizes political will to overcome threats to peace, development, and human rights. He is also Chair of the Elders and of the Africa Progress Panel.

Leia mais em:

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/social-media-security-threat-by-george-soros-2018-02/portuguese

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/feb/15/eu-facebook-google-dominance-george-soros

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/digital-threats-to-democracy-by-kofi-a-annan-2018-02