Google AI Expert Says Facebook Is Used for 'Psychological Control'

A Google artificial intelligence (AI) expert believes Facebook can be used for "psychological control" and says researchers who want to work for the social media giant should "show some conscience" and abandon the platform.

François Chollet, a software engineer who specializes in deep-learning algorithms, said in a series of tweets published that internet users should now strive towards technology products "that are the anti-Facebook."

"The problem with Facebook is not just the loss of your privacy and the fact that it can be used as a totalitarian panopticon," he wrote. "The more worrying issue … is its use of digital information consumption as a psychological control vector."

He spoke out in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which an app developer allegedly harvested the Facebook account information of 50 million users for use in targeted political campaigns. The company, which worked on the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign for Donald Trump, has denied all wrongdoing.

Chollet detailed some of the key issues now emerging around the subject of AI and algorithms, including the "feedback loops" they create. He questioned Facebook's ability to spread news—both fake and real—and claimed the website could potentially be used to take "control of your political beliefs and your worldview."

The researcher noted that, currently, bots and trolls who spread misinformation and sow political division are simplistic. That is going to quickly change, he warned.

He wrote: "Deep learning only started to make its way into newsfeeds and ad networks around 2016. Facebook has invested massively in it. Who knows what will be next. It is quite striking that Facebook has been investing enormous amounts in AI research and development, with the explicit goal of becoming a leader.

The problem with Facebook is not *just* the loss of your privacy and the fact that it can be used as a totalitarian panopticon. The more worrying issue, in my opinion, is its use of digital information consumption as a psychological control vector. Time for a thread

— François Chollet (@fchollet) March 21, 2018

"We're looking at a powerful entity that builds fine-grained psychological profiles of over two billion humans, that runs large-scale behavior manipulation experiments, and that aims at developing the best AI technology the world has ever seen. It really scares me. If you work in AI, please don't help them. Don't play their game. Don't participate in their research ecosystem. Please show some conscience."

Of course, critics quickly pointed out that Google is no angel when it comes to data collection. Last year, as reported by The Guardian, it faced legal issues after allegedly harvesting the information of "more than five million people in the U.K."

Like Facebook, it admitted to being exploited by a Russian troll farm in 2016 and raised widespread concern in 2014 for scanning users' Gmail inboxes. And its YouTube algorithms have consistently been embroiled in scandal over the years.

"Some say this applies to Google too," Chollet hit back on Thursday. "This is the laziest kind of thinking. There's only one company where the product is an opaque algorithmic newsfeed, that has been running large-scale mood/opinion manipulation experiments, that is neck-deep in an election manipulation scandal, that has shown time and time again to have morally bankrupt leadership."

He meant Facebook, by the way.

Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks onstage during the annual F8 Facebook Developer Conference in San Jose, California, on April 18, 2017. Zuckerberg believes the viral movement that urged fans to abandon the platform had little meaningful effect. REUTERS/Stephen Lam