The responsibility of the media and technology industries for shaping a positive digital reality could not be more critical. In short, there needs to be a public and sustained discussion among tech leaders about how they can be truly responsible and accountable to the young people (and all consumers) who use their products and platforms. Significant leadership will only come about when individual leaders in this industry recognize that shareholder value and the related pursuit of data and efficiency are not the only values that matter.
Society should insist that there be a clear code of ethics and social responsibility for the technology companies who hold such sway over our children's lives. In the broadcast era, for example, the public interest responsibilities of the media industry were clearly enunciated, and large media companies were both proactive in pursuing this and held accountable by government and citizens when they did not. This set of public interest responsibilities has diminished over the past three decades of deregulation, but many traditional media industry leaders still recognize their obligations to the broader public good.
No such clear set of standards and accountability mechanisms exist today in the digital technology space, and that should change. This is particularly important since so many of the pioneers and leaders of the field are so young and have not yet embraced any meaningful sense of public interest responsibilities. Giants of the field like Bill Gates, Brian Roberts, John Chambers, and Tim Cook should set an example for the young tech pioneers. At the same time, several of the new generation of leaders like Larry Page at Google, Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, and Dick Costolo at Twitter need to step forward and assume a far greater mantle of leadership on the social responsibility front. After all, they're parents, too ... and their platforms are reshaping the lives of millions of children, including their own.
In a related vein, our political leaders need to get their heads out of the sand and establish an overall societal framework for social responsibility in the digital age. We obviously need major new laws and regulatory standards regarding the privacy of children and other consumers. The technology industry has shown little concern or responsiveness in this critical area except when pressured by government, so the answer is clear. Federal and state government leaders need to pass new privacy statutes, and key agencies like the FCC and the FTC need to enforce them consistently, especially where the well-being of children and teens is involved. Similarly, at the state level, attorneys general need to use their enforcement powers to hold the tech industry to account for the protection of young people and other consumers. With the current dysfunctional partisanship in Washington, D.C., some of the most important government leadership in this area is likely to come at the state and local level ... and none too soon.