By Cat Zakrzewski Cat Zakrzewski Technology
Commuters use their smartphones in a subway station in New York on July 1, 2016. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
A new study on social media use coming out today found that people who spent excessive time on Facebook also made riskier decisions -- performing as poorly in a famous psychological test as people dependent on substances such as cocaine or heroin.
Researchers at Michigan State University and Monash University in Australia gave 71 people the the Iowa Gambling Task, which psychologists say identifies the differences in decision-making among healthy people and substance abusers.
When playing the computer simulation of a card game, people who reported they overindulged in Facebook made big gambles at a higher rate -- even when they saw that taking risks in the game always came with big punishments. They played the game the exact way drug addicts typically do, while people who reported less time on social media made better decisions.
This camp also reported feeling similar symptoms of dependence on social media similar to those who suffer from substance abuse -- including feeling overly emotionally connected to the platforms, or letting them disrupt focus on work or other daily tasks. “They’re constantly thinking about these platforms when they’re not using them,” said the study's lead author, Dar Meshi. “They’re losing sleep because they’re on social media.”
Tech addiction is an issue on Congress's radar -- and is quickly becoming a point of contention between tech companies and lawmakers who worry about the impact of pervasive platforms on citizens' health. Senate Democrats are preparing to introduce bills addressing technology addiction, including one that would allocate more public funding into research on the impacts of technology on children’s psychology.
“The widespread practice of designing technology products to be habit-forming, or to otherwise undermine user consent or autonomy, is a major concern,” Senator Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told me in an email. “I’m in the process of drafting legislation that would address this phenomenon.”
Meshi said his findings underscore the need for more research into dependence on technology. Scientists still know very little about technology addiction. The National Institutes of Health launched a major study into how screen-time impacts children's brain development, as CBS News recently reported. But overall, researchers have largely focused on dependence on video games, and to date, research into social media dependence is just beginning.
Lawmakers and consumer advocates also want more data. Facebook and companies have built their platforms with habit-forming features aimed at giving users psychological rewards that keep them coming back for more. Their efforts have been effective — and lucrative. Though Facebook rarely gives exact figures on time people spend on its site, in 2016 it said the average person spends about 50 minutes per day across Facebook, Messenger and Instagram.
Lawmakers are especially focused on the impact of these sites and heavy screen time on children's health. Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) tells me he is planning to reintroduce a version of the Children and Media Research Advance (CAMRA) Act this Congress, which would allocate millions in funding for NIH to research the impact of technology such as mobile devices and video games on children and adolescents.
“Parents and policymakers alike are in the dark on pressing questions regarding how the technology children use every day is affecting their brains and bodies,” Markey told me in an email. “We need to get to the bottom of the cognitive, physical, and socio-emotional repercussions of young people’s tech use and media consumption.”
The bill gained sponsors on both sides of the aisle and in the House, but did not move forward in the last Congress. Markey’s staffers tell me they’re collecting co-sponsors to reintroduce the bill. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) was a House co-sponsor of the legislation, but he did not run for reelection in 2018 because he is pursuing a 2020 presidential bid.
Legislators have been trying to exert more political pressure on tech addiction since around the time Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook in his dorm room — years before Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone. In 2005, former senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) first introduced the CAMRA Act to study the impact of electronic devices on children. But these efforts were not successful.
A perfect storm is brewing in 2019 that could result in a different outcome. Policymakers are planning to get tough on technology addiction as Wall Street investors and even prominent Silicon Valley technologists are using their influence to bring technology addiction to the public’s attention.
The companies have introduced some new product features intended to get ahead of the backlash, such as timers that tell people how much time they’ve spent on their phone each week. But that doesn't seem to be enough for lawmakers, who are still promising to get tougher.
Warner told me the technology companies have too often used behavioral psychology to the detriment of consumers.
“Rather than using technology to empower consumers, too often we’ve seen large technology companies — particularly in the social media space — utilize technology, along with tricks gleaned from behavioral psychology, to disempower users — undermining their ability to make informed, deliberate choices in their use of tech products.”
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The Apple logo at a store in Miami Beach on Aug. 8, 2017. (Alan Diaz/AP)
“Sandy Parakilas monitored software developers’ privacy and policy compliance at Facebook for a year and a half before he left the social network in October 2012,” Kuchler and Bradshaw wrote. “At the time, he warned senior executives of the potentially damaging consequences of the company’s data-sharing policies, but felt his concerns were played down.” Parakilas has also advocated for encrypted messaging and increased protection of user data, according to the Financial Times.
The AT&T logo by a store in Carlsbad, Calif., on April 22, 2013 file photo. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
“Verizon won’t take an old phone and just change the 4 in the status bar to a 5,” Kyle Malady, Verizon's chief technology officer, wrote in an open letter that was published online and in newspapers as full-page ads, the Journal reported. T-Mobile has also teased AT&T over the move in a short video on Twitter.
didn’t realize it was this easy, brb updating pic.twitter.com/dCmnd6lspH— T-Mobile (@TMobile) January 7, 2019
British Airways planes are parked at Heathrow Airport in London on Jan. 10, 2017. (Frank Augstein/AP)
Joerg Lamprecht, chief executive of Dedrone, a San Francisco-based start-up that works to detect malicious drones, said air travel professionals are still working to determine who is responsible for what when it comes to drones. “Airports have a lot of red tape,” Lamprecht told Kolodny. “This is a new issue. Who is in charge, who controls the airspace, who is the one that should be providing drone detection? Who has the authority to manage this and to intervene — is it federal police, local police, someone who owns the airspace?”
An attendee wears a HTC Vive virtual reality headset at CES 2019 show on Jan. 8. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
— More technology news from the private sector:
The Google logo at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., on July 19, 2016. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
The court, which often follows the advice of the advocate general, usually rules within two to four months, Reuters reported. “The fundamental right to be forgotten must be balanced against other fundamental rights, such as the right to data protection and the right to privacy, as well as the legitimate public interest in accessing the information sought,” Szpunar said, according to Reuters.
— More technology news from the public sector:
The Facebook log-in page is viewed in Washington on Oct. 11, 2018. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
The study analyzed user behavior in the months that preceded and followed the past U.S. presidential election and found that sharing false articles was relatively rare overall. “Users who identified as conservative were more likely than users who identified as liberal to share fake news: 18 percent of Republicans shared links to fake news sites, compared to less than 4 percent of Democrats,” the Verge reported. “The researchers attributed this finding largely to studies showing that in 2016, fake news overwhelmingly served to promote Trump’s candidacy.”
— More tech news generating buzz around the Web:
— Samantha Segall, who was vice president of government affairs at Leidos, joined the identity management company CLEAR as senior director of government relations, according to a news release from the company.
— Kyle Laughlin, who was a senior vice president at Disney, joined Amazon to lead the company's Alexa Gadgets division, TechCrunch reported.
— News about tech incidents and blunders:
A bug that anyone can easily exploit in Google makes it easy to kick out manipulated search results that look entirely real. The search manipulation bug was documented by Wietze Beukema, a London-based security specialist, who warned that a malicious user could use this bug to generate misinformati…
— Today in funding news:
- CES technology show in Las Vegas.
- The Washington Post hosts a live event titled “Transformers: Artificial Intelligence.”
- The Brookings Institution hosts a discussion titled “How China and the U.S. are advancing artificial intelligence” on Jan. 14.
Just a few weird tech products we saw at CES 2019:
One mother's struggle as the shutdown grinds on:
Cable news had some thoughts on Trump's border wall speech:
Source: The Washington Post