Silicon Valley Veterans Launch Fight Against Manipulative, Addictive Tech

Veterans of tech companies such as Facebook, Google, Mozilla, and others are kicking off a campaign to redesign social media and other technology platforms to reduce their damaging effects on democracy, society, mental health, and children's well-being.

While acknowledging the benefits of such technologies, the founders of the Center for Humane Technology warn these platforms are in a "zero-sum race for our finite attention" and won't change on their own because the current model is profitable for them.

Launched over the weekend, the Center for Humane Technology plans to begin by targeting the risks to children of digital addiction. The organization is partnering with Common Sense, a child- and parent-focused nonprofit, on a "Truth about Tech" campaign pushing for changes in how technologies engage with kids.

Like Magicians 'Looking for Blind Spots'

Founding members of the Center for Humane Technology include executive director Tristan Harris, formerly the design ethicist at Google; Roger McNamee, an early advisor to Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg; chief strategy officer Aza Raskin, who previously worked at the head of user experience at Mozilla; and chief operating officer Randima Fernando, who was developer tools product manager at Nvidia and executive director of the nonprofit Mindful Schools.

Since leaving Google in 2016, Harris has been leading an initiative to "reform the attention economy," giving presentations, writing essays, and advocating for changes in how technology is used. In a May 2016 commentary, he described how his views on tech-driven manipulation were formed in part by his past experience as a magician.

"Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities and limits of people's perception, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it," Harris wrote. "Once you know how to push people's buttons, you can play them like a piano."

He added the same principles are...

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