Tech giants despise politics? Hardly – they are in the thick of it and being called out | John Naughton

Silicon Valley’s countercultural aura is gone now that Google develops AI for China and Palantir helps monitor immigrationIf there was one thing that united the founders of today’s tech giants in their early days it was contempt for politics, manifeste…

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The Guardian view on big data and insurance: knowing too much | Editorial

Insurance depends on the pooling of risk but big data may drain that poolIs it reasonable for life insurance companies to demand that their customers try to get fit? Reasonable or not, it is already happening. John Hancock, one of the oldest life insur…

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How Facebook got into a mess – and why it can’t get out of it

Mark Zuckerberg will be hauled before Congress this week. He’ll apologise – but his company doesn’t know how to change its brand of ‘surveillance capitalism’Ponder this … and weep. The United States, theoretically a mature democracy of 327 million soul…

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Vodafone to track users in Ghana to halt spread of epidemics

Company will have to be careful it does not breach people’s anonymity, says data expert

Vodafone is partnering with the government of Ghana to share the movements of its customers to help track and contain the spread of epidemics such as the Ebola virus.

The charitable arm of the mobile phone company said it would provide real-time tracking data from its 8.7 million customers in Ghana, which could provide invaluable information on population movements during an outbreak.

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Data is the new lifeblood of capitalism – don’t hand corporate America control

Data has become the world’s most important resource. Now Silicon Valley giants want to keep government from standing in the way of profits

One hundred and sixty years ago, the first transatlantic telegram traveled from Britain to the United States along a rickety undersea wire. It consisted of twenty-one words – and took seventeen hours to arrive.

Today, the same trip takes as little as 60 milliseconds. A dense mesh of fiber-optic cables girdles the world, pumping vast quantities of information across the planet. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that 543 terabits of data are flowing across borders every second. That’s the equivalent of roughly 13 million copies of the complete works of Shakespeare.

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The big tech backlash

Tech giants are drawing political fire over fake news and Russian meddling

Nicholas Terry understands the internet’s darker side better than most. A history lecturer at Exeter University, Terry is an expert on antisemitism and runs a blog examining Holocaust denial and its dissemination online.

“You’ve got three separate phenomena converging,” he says. “One is the fake news stuff, promulgated by the likes of Facebook and Twitter, which is trying to promote specific false stories in real time for immediate impact; second, there’s the ideological bubble – people only reading leftwing or rightwing news sites; and then there’s this effort by fringe movements on Holocaust denial to make their websites look respectable and to hoodwink readers into thinking what they’re reading is OK.”

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The digital hippies want to integrate life and work – but not in a good way

Data firms such as the rapidly expanding WeWork hope to blur the line between home and office. That won’t be any help to staff

The digital turn of contemporary capitalism, with its promise of instantaneous, constant communication, has done little to rid us of alienation. Our interlocutors are many, our entertainment is infinite, our pornography loads fast and arrives in high-definition – and yet our yearnings for authenticity and belonging, however misguided, do not seem to subside.

Beyond the easy fixes to our alienation – more Buddhism, mindfulness and internet detox camps – those in the digital avant-garde of capitalism have toyed with two solutions. Let’s call them the John Ruskin option and the De Tocqueville option. The former extended the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement, with its celebration of craftsmanship and romantic, artisanal labour by Ruskin, William Morris and their associates, into the realm of 3D printers, laser cutters and computerised milling machines.

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Silicon Valley has been humbled. But its schemes are as dangerous as ever

Sex scandals, rows over terrorism, fears for its impact on social policy: the backlash against Big Tech has begun. Where will it end?

Just a decade ago, Silicon Valley pitched itself as a savvy ambassador of a newer, cooler, more humane kind of capitalism. It quickly became the darling of the elite, of the international media, and of that mythical, omniscient tribe: the “digital natives”. While an occasional critic – always easy to dismiss as a neo-Luddite – did voice concerns about their disregard for privacy or their geeky, almost autistic aloofness, public opinion was firmly on the side of technology firms.

Silicon Valley was the best that America had to offer; tech companies frequently occupied – and still do – top spots on lists of the world’s most admired brands. And there was much to admire: a highly dynamic, innovative industry, Silicon Valley has found a way to convert scrolls, likes and clicks into lofty political ideals, helping to export freedom, democracy and human rights to the Middle East and north Africa. Who knew that the only thing thwarting the global democratic revolution was capitalism’s inability to capture and monetise the eyeballs of strangers?

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