Apple and Facebook Should Not Commodify Pregnancy
Apple and Facebook have announced plans to pay for their female employees to freeze their eggs.
This, say the tech giants, will boost the performance of women in their employ.
The companies seem to be betting that women will devote themselves body-and-soul to the job in the present, knowing that their bosses have helped provide other options for their future.
In reality, the reverse is likely to be true.
Many women will likely see this as a thinly veiled attempt to get them to delay motherhood because, in the companies’ eyes, this will make them more productive in the short-term.
This offer will also be perceived as a direct challenge to the idea that women can balance highly productive jobs with family life.
It should also be considered a misrepresentation of the effectiveness of fertility treatments, with which there are no guarantees of success.
Moreover, this offer will and should be viewed as an attempt to commodify a vital part of the human experience.
Pregnancy ought not to be seen as a tradable commodity and babies should not be viewed as a workplace perk to be offered or denied.
Companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon, the Fab Four, have already convinced us to transfer much of our day-to-day experience to the app-sphere.
Our books, music, TV and movies are all digitised on their platforms. So are various forms of self-expression and communication, such as writing, corresponding and making phone calls.
What’s more, we increasingly rely on the digital space for shopping and conducting business.
Indeed, our work schedules are being totally reshaped through the use of remote working platforms. In many cases this is for the better, though some studies suggest that there are limits to the benefits of working remotely.
The CEOs of these and other tech giants do not invest big money in such things as constructing and maintaining Cloud computing networks because they are good humanitarians.
They do so because personal data is the new global currency.
The emergence of Big Data sees mega-computers analysing all the data collected from the many internet-connected mobile gadgets sprinkled throughout our daily lives.
Mobile phones, CCTV cameras, cash registers and facial detection cameras mounted in LCD monitors all provide valuable information about human habits, aspirations and movements.
The volume of this information, this Big Data, is being used to predict marketing trends, economic shifts, voting patterns and even the flow of traffic through our streets.
The worlds of politics, business, advertising, investment, town planning and law enforcement all benefit from Big Data processes.
The companies that own the Big Data hardware are making huge money on this trade in data about us.
In a sense, we are being turned into tradable commodities. This worrying trend is addressed in books by such eminent philosophers and ethicists as Michael Sandel and Debra Satz.
Dr. Satz argues that some things in life should not be for sale, that markets should be subject to clear limits. Dr. Sandel similarly writes about the need for markets that serve us as opposed to markets that define us.
The volume of saleable data will explode as we move further into the age of the Internet of Things - or, as some have it, the Internet of Everything. By 2025 the developed world may have as many as 50 billion micro-processors built into mundane everyday objects, each of theml sending and receiving information from the internet.
Most new technologies come with the exciting promise of huge potential benefits. The Internet of Things will revolutionise everything from how we buy and sell to how our physical comfort is regulated. It will change for the better many of the more prosaic of everyday chores.
It will also, however, breed vastly upscaled versions of today's Big Data technologies. Our personal choices will become even more saleable 'products'.
This will happen without adequate regulation, for legislation almost always lags well behind any growth in technological capability.
A public reaction to all of this will likely see the tech giants trying to sell us back our privacy, despite the fact that they’ve been culpable in its removal.
Some of the next big products from online companies will offer information brokerage, in the form of platforms or apps designed to help us better map and control who knows what about us online.
Companies like Apple, Facebook and Google already behave as if the information we list on their platforms belongs to them, rather than to us.
The European Court of Justice’s so-called Right to be Forgotten ruling, though arguably flawed in some respects, challenges that thinking. Yet some of the larger tech companies are already pushing back hard, recognising a potential threat to their lucrative trade in data.
Behemoths like Apple and Facebook need to understand that there are limits to our gullibility and we will not always be willing participants in our own commodification.