(9/13/20)

My mother would tell you that the 70’s were complicated. She was the classic Enjoli woman: bringing home the bacon and frying it up in the pan as she balanced the responsibility of raising three daughters, amidst the challenges of Vietnam, fighting for equal rights in the workplace, inflation and highly processed foods going mainstream. She worried about all of those things. She never spent a single second worrying about someone hacking into her phone, scanning her email or recording every keystroke she made and then selling her off to the highest bidder as she conducted the tasks of her daily life. 

I got a message today from my iPhone: “iOS 13.7- available”. I went to check out the update details so I could understand the why behind the update. Reportedly, a new software version had been released to keep me safe. It offered bug fixes for improved security and COVID tracking without the need for an additional app. Before I could process what I’d learned, my screen went black- the apple glowed and the update began.

That got me thinking about a Netflix film I watched over weekend called Social Dilemma.  It’s a well executed, deeply disturbing unveiling of the business model behind big social platforms, the manipulative, addictive nature of technology design and the impact the tech and these platforms are having on our psychology, our humanity and our world.  As I listened to the stories from the people instrumental in creating the tech and platforms most of us use, my mind went to the three little words I use to define kindness in business: do no harm. I started thinking about the values these companies publicly profess to hold dear and the philosophies they say guide them. Then, I started thinking about their body of evidence and I searched. My mind went to the starting point of the relationships we share with these companies- the terms and conditions. 

When was the last time you read the terms and conditions for your iPhone? How about for Google? Pinterest? Instagram or Facebook? With the exception of the rare few, most of us blindly click the box and agree-including me. Maybe it’s because they’re so lengthy. Maybe it’s because they’re chocked full of legal jargon too difficult to understand. Maybe it’s because we’ve all simply accepted these agreements as a tradeoff of our digital reality. But maybe, just maybe,  it’s because we trust that these companies who are “bringing us together” and “making our lives easier” will take care of us. Why would it be so outlandish to expect that they would? Now consider this. A body of work is considered a novel when it exceeds 40,000 words.

Apple’s terms and conditions consist of  20,000+ words. Tim Cook’s second bullet in Apple’s core values says: “We believe in the simple, not the complex.”

Facebook’s terms and conditions consist of 15,000+ words. Mark Zuckerberg’s five core values are “be bold; focus on impact; move fast; be open; and build social value”.

Google comes in with one of the briefest sets of terms and conditions with roughly 3,000 words. One of their core values is “do the right thing; don’t be evil.” I have to wonder how they are living into “doing the right thing” when they collect our data from their free, powerful and fluid platform. 

Part of Pinterest’s mission says Pinterest is using cookies to help give you the best experience we can.”  That’s not exactly a generous position considering that cookies are little pieces of data collected about us every time we use their website. 

These terms, conditions and platforms are not designed to take care of us. They are designed to protect the companies who create them in just about every scenario. They are also designed to protect the data they collect and the way they use it. The policies are cryptic, lengthy and confusing by design. These big companies are placing bets on our eight second attention span and the fact that we, as a society obsessed with clicks and likes, have become too lazy to actually read about the rights we are surrendering- that we are too busy to care. In exchange for free, powerful, slickly designed, connected tools and convenience, we’ve given up the right to be protected. That’s the hard truth and it will continue to be the truth until we adopt a mindset that insists on actual openness, transparency and simplicity.

Now, the companies will argue that they’ve provided us with the information. The lawmakers can argue that the tech has outpaced their understanding and that they can’t create laws fast enough to keep up. The trouble is this. We’ve become a digital society and we are vulnerable. Nearly every facet of our lives relies on our devices and our ability to access the information they hold and provide. The horse is out of the barn and it has grown two million heads. The questions that beg to be answered are these. If we are reliant upon the technology that’s been created, who is responsible for taking care of us- the consumers? What responsibility do the leaders of these companies have to live into the values they claim to hold dear? Who will hold them accountable?

This multi-headed horse is indeed out of the barn but it’s not unstoppable- not yet. Wrangling and taming it will require attention, intention and a commitment to something far better. Every one of us has to think differently and insist that the CEOs of these tech companies do the same. To the leaders of these companies, here’s my message: 

“You have a duty to value the people using your platforms. You have a responsibility to protect us and our information. You have a human obligation to care. You can start by making one foundational commitment: to do no harm. You could begin using the tech you’ve created for good by extending the mindset and promise to do no harm to every feature you create, every algorithm you write, the business models that govern you and the terms and conditions you put in front of us when you ask for our agreement. That’s simplicity and a perfect way to begin caring about the people who create your profits. That is kindness in business.”

In a recent interview, I was asked about my dream for business. I said: 

“I’d love to hold a Kindness Summit for business and world leaders. I would get them all in the same room, sans devices. I’d give them a chance to pause.  Then, I’d ask them to consider the gravity of the business decisions they are making- one at a time. I’d ask them to think about how their series of profit driven choices are affecting humanity, our well-being, our reality and our planet. I’d offer them a glimpse of the world they could shape if they simply started with kindness- if they approached every decision with the mutual agreement to take care of the people who entrust the details of their lives to them. I’d ask them to imagine the impact they could make if they made the simple agreement to do no harm.” 

Kindness isn’t a soft skill. It’s a currency valued by the courageous, the curious and the visionaries. Kindness is a force for good and the single most transformative agreement we can make in business.