Big Tech update

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I’m Vicky and I’m a campaign director with SumOfUs, and for the past year I’ve been coordinating our work to rein in the power of Big Tech companies.

The fight for a better, safer internet is a long-haul one. But there’s no doubt we’re making major progress – in the last few months alone we’ve seen huge breakthroughs, from a legislative triumph in Europe to getting Meta’s harmful business model firmly on investors’ agenda. And none of it would have happened without you.

Together we’re taking huge strides to hold giant tech corporations like Meta and Google to account and push back against their harmful practices. And we want to make sure you know about the amazing work you’ve made possible! So here’s some highlights from the year so far:

Regulation at last!

In April, after months of wrangling, European legislators finally agreed to pass a strong internet law – the Digital Services Act. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this legislation, which will be the first in the world to truly rein in the power of the tech giants and be a blueprint for governments everywhere.

While it doesn’t include everything we campaigned for, the law brings in powerful new... rules for the world’s biggest tech platforms, and that’s thanks to the relentless pressure SumOfUs members and other civil society groups put on lawmakers in Europe.

At critical moments, we quickly mobilised to flood key MEPs with thousands of messages demanding action. And we coupled this with behind the scenes advocacy – including in-person deliveries to key decision-makers consisting of beautiful books with EU citizens’ hopes and dreams for a better online world. Tens of thousands of us also joined citizens and organisations across Europe in signing a People’s Declaration against Big Tech, showing that this is a priority for people everywhere.

And it worked! We saw off attempts to weaken the bill, like a dangerous proposal for a media exemption which would have allowed pretty much anyone calling themselves media to spread disinformation with abandon. And we made sure transparency stayed at the heart of the bill, with measures to ensure independent researchers can access key data from the platforms so we aren't reliant on tech companies to come clean about the scale of disinformation on their platforms.

My colleague Flora who coordinated the efforts targeting Brussels says “we wouldn't have such a strong law without this community, and now we have a blueprint for how governments around the world can regulate tech companies and protect users from harm.”

Mark Zuckerberg’s toxic metaverse

In addition to targeted pressure on decision-makers, we’ve been exposing the harms of Big Tech through cutting edge research that has garnered headlines across the world – making sure these harms stay firmly in the spotlight, and forcing the platforms to take action. As Facebook’s future looks increasingly uncertain, Mark Zuckerberg has been hyping up his metaverse plan. So SumOfUs swung into gear, sending researchers into the Metaverse to see and document what it is really like using the platform.

In just an hour, they had been exposed to upsetting experiences from a gun shoot-out to sexual assault – the researchers were astounded by how quick and easy it was to stumble into disturbing situations and how traumatic virtual encounters can be.

My colleague Andrea who oversaw the small team of researchers says: “Watching their firsthand encounters in the metaverse proved that the harms that can happen in a virtual world are very real and very disturbing. If Meta cares about the safety of its users, more protections need to be put into place before it’s too late.”

The report received overwhelming media attention, with hundreds of outlets around the world from the US to Italy to India covering the research, and highlighting our recommendations.

sumofus headlines in the media

SumOfUs Metaverse research making headlines

And we’re having an impact! Within days of our research gaining massive attention and dozens of journalists requesting comments from Meta, the company announced several measures to address harassment on its metaverse platform. Unfortunately the measures don’t go nearly far enough to adequately protect users from harm, but the rapid response from Meta shows that our campaigning is forcing a response.

Rewan who helped oversee the report says “Instead of addressing all the toxic content flooding his current platforms, Zuckerberg is chasing the dollar signs by plunging head-first into the Metaverse. It’s incredibly irresponsible, and we’re already seeing serious harms. But our campaigning is creating shockwaves and we won’t be backing off anytime soon.”

Investors on board!!

We’ve also taken our members’ demands to clean up Big Tech to investors and company boards, filing shareholder resolutions that have helped inform and mobilise investors who are increasingly worried about the harms and believe running a tech business doesn’t have to mean putting profits over people. There are three that I’d love to highlight:

Apple:

We exposed Apple’s use of Uyghur forced labour in its supply chain and mobilized customers and shareholders to pressure the company to act. After we staged a bold visual protest at the Apple store in central DC, over a third of Apple investors voted in favour of our resolution. Over 188,000 SumOfUs members have meanwhile signed the petition to date, and our Apple campaign has been covered by major global media outlets like the Financial Times and Reuters. As the US law to outlaw Uyghur forced labour comes into force, Apple is under growing pressure to root out forced labour in its supply chain.

SumOfUs protest outside Apple store

SumOfUs protest outside Apple store in central DC, in Politico

Apple resolution in the Financial Times

Our Apple resolution in the Financial Times

Meta:

SumOfUs members co-filed two important resolutions at Meta – one challenging the company to report on the human rights impact of the Metaverse, and the second raising the ineffectiveness of the company’s Risk and Audit committee, which is supposed to fix the harms caused by platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

We reached out to over 4000 major investors who have shares in Meta warning them of the risks that this company poses. We ran TV ads on US networks pointing out the need for change at Meta, and SumOfUs' Executive Director, Emma, addressed shareholders at Meta's annual meeting calling on them to back our resolutions. Even though the resolutions didn’t pass (Mark Zuckerberg owns the majority of votes and so can kill any proposal he doesn’t agree with) a third of independent shareholders backed our resolution – helping to add pressure on Zuckerberg to act.

SumOfUs metaverse resolution in the New York Post

Our Metaverse resolution in the New York Post

Alphabet:

SumOfUs members forced Alphabet, Google’s parent company, to address the implications of placing data centres in countries with human rights abuses - for example Saudi Arabia, where the company intends to build a large facility. This resolution received a massive 57.6% of the independent investor vote. We can – and will - use this strong support in the coming months to pressure Google to reconsider partnerships with such brutal regimes.

SumOfUs Alphabet resolution in the New York Post

Our Alphabet resolution in the New York Post

The best part of shareholder activism is getting to work closely with members of the SumOfUs community who put their hand up to help file the shareholder resolutions with their investments.

Christina, who was burning the midnight oil to get these resolutions drafted and approved by the SEC, said “It’s been a very exciting shareholder season made possible by the SumOfUs members who helped us file. Bringing these important issues right to board members and investors gives us major leverage in our work together for a just future.”

And Mari, one of the SumOfUs members who helped us file said “After over 50 years of investing I can assure you that the management deeply cares about shareholder opinion, and shareholders uniting is a powerful tool!”

A new youth movement

Last but not least, we’ve organised dozens of students at Stanford University to publicly pledge that they will not go work for Big Tech – kickstarting a larger campaign to get students to boycott the industry.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen spoke at a SumOfUs event to inspire students to take a stand against the tech companies. And our billboard van has been driving around campus this Spring and Summer calling on students to boycott Big Tech. Perhaps best of all, a few weeks ago we flew an aeroplane banner during the commencement speech at the Stanford graduation reminding students to stand up against Big Tech’s power. And now we’re gearing up to roll out this campaign across the US.

And that’s just in the last few months – we’ve achieved so much together already, taking on some of the world’s most powerful tech giants and winning. And because of this incredible community coming together, we can push for even bigger changes in the months ahead.

With gratitude,
Vicky and the SumOfUs team


SumOfUs is a community of people from around the world committed to curbing the growing power of corporations. We want to buy from, work for and invest in companies that respect the environment, treat their workers well and respect democracy. And we’re not afraid to stand up to them when they don’t.

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