Chelsea Manning: Twitter and Google must deal with ‘consequences’ of data collection
The people who create our technology have a responsibility to do more than just make sure it works.
That’s the latest message from Chelsea Manning. The 30-year-old for intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army, famed for sharing classified documents in 2010 with WikiLeaks and coming out as transgender while in prison, said software developers should operate with a code of ethics, similar to doctors or other professions, in on-stage an interview with Vogue’s creative digital director Sally Singer at South by Southwest, the annual music, tech and film festival in Austin, Texas.
Chelsea Manning On Live After Prison, Advocacy, And Coder Ethics — SXSW https://t.co/jiyuQgopkU pic.twitter.com/suwNWgeU8L
— Deadline Hollywood (@DEADLINE) March 13, 2018
“We as technologists and as developers, especially those of us that work on systems that affect millions of people — and yes I’m talking about the Twitter TWTR, -3.96% algorithms and GOOG, -2.26% algorithms — we need to be aware of the consequences of what we’re making,” Manning said, while seated on stage during the interview.
‘I was dead for seven years, according to the credit reporting agencies.’ Chelsea Manning
Manning, who worked on digital tools in the military and says she finds comfort in coding, added that developers need to think through not only how their software could be used, but how it could be misused.
Her comments come as the technology and political world are reckoning with the possibility that major tech companies and platforms were exploited by foreign forces during the 2016 election. (Google and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)
Meanwhile, a spate of former tech company employees have publicly criticized the impact of their work on society as a whole and children, in particular.
But Manning said she was concerned about more than just the political implications of software, algorithm, and data misuse. She said she worries that the “huge repository” of data collected by companies to advertise to consumers could be bought and used for nefarious purposes.
But some of her challenges were less emotional and more practical. In the several months after her release she had trouble accessing her bank accounts or renting an apartment without help from her lawyers. The data-driven economy helps people, but it can also take away the power to take out a loan or even own a credit card. “I was dead for seven years, according to the credit reporting agencies,” she said.
‘We need to be aware of the consequences of what we’re making.’
Privacy experts and even consumers have derided the way companies collect and use personal data, as at best creepy and at worst a privacy and security risk. Manning said she was worried about the policing of certain neighborhoods and how computer algorithms affect policing levels in certain neighborhoods.
[email protected] (Chelsea Manning) at #SXSW!#She’sGotThis pic.twitter.com/ygnh00jUtk
— unR̶A̶D̶A̶C̶K̶ted (@JesselynRadack) March 13, 2018
For those worried about revealing their personal data, Manning, who said she operates at “paranoia levels of security,” advised consumers to be more self-aware about what they’re revealing when. For example, she suggested turning off location tracking services on your cell phone when you don’t need them for things like ordering a car or getting directions. That’s a step that she’s taken in her post-prison life.
During the interview, Manning discussed other ways she’s adjusted to her life outside of prison and in the spotlight. She said she’s struggled to get used to living alone, which at times can remind her of her year in solitary confinement.