This charity wants to cure or kill Big Tech – Wired.co.uk

Posted: October 15, 2021 at 8:53 pm

Foxgloves are among the most poisonous plants found in nature. Theyre also the basis for a lot of heart medications a duality that has earned the plant the description kill or cure. That ability to kill or cure is what led a group of lawyers to choose the name for their new project: a charity dedicated to taking on algorithmic injustice, data harvesting and the ever-growing dominance of Big Tech.

We want to make the use of technology fair for everyone, not just for a privileged and powerful few, explains Cori Crider, one of Foxgloves founders and directors, in a smooth Texas drawl. The scale and nature of the way states and companies use data power over all of us needed to be exposed and some people, actually, just needed to be sued.

Crider and fellow directors Rosa Curling and Martha Dark joke that they begin almost every interview with the same line; that theyre not interested in technology, but power. And that cuts to the core of how they see this as a societal problem, not a technical one. Foxglove aims to prove that tech giants like Facebook, Uber and Google arent different from other corporations and need to face the same regulations, and maybe pay some tax too, Crider says.

Sometimes, it feels that holding global technology giants to account is a nearly impossible endeavour. Whats implicit is that the law doesnt apply to these giant companies. But that isnt so, says Crider. Actually, the cases weve brought demonstrate that there's a lot of good old standard 'beef and liberty parts of the British common law that have been a really important part of [reining in Big Techs power].

Despite having just five employees, Foxglove has been making some huge strides in its battle. They filed a court case that helped force a government U-turn on last summers A-Level results algorithm. They also managed to use lawsuits to force the government to abandon a planned 23m contract to handle NHS patient data to big data giant Palantir. Theyre also in the process of taking Facebook to court over its treatment of outsourced content moderators, who they say are often underpaid and given no support as they filter through everything from child pornography to graphic violence, with many reporting suffering from PTSD.

The way these workers are treated means Facebook doesnt have to recognise the true cost of moderating their platform, because they dont do it properly, explains Dark. Well, we have been working to clean up the digital sweatshops factory floor. By being a non-profit reliant on donations from the public, Foxglove says its able to take on more consequential, and thus risky, cases than those pursued by profit-driven law firms and to win them, too. We never seem to get to court anymore, the government keeps giving in to what we ask, says Curling.

Interestingly, the trio were first brought together by the War on Terror, as they fought against the shady technology underpinning drone strikes, or for the rights of detainees illegally sent to Guantanamo Bay. Years later, over a rainy wine in Brixton, Dark and Crider decided to pick their next fight with the misuse of technology by government and unaccountable corporations. In June 2019, Foxglove was born; Curling, who worked with Crider while a solicitor for Leigh Day, joined soon after.

If you ask what the Guantanamo detainee has got in common with the Facebook content moderator, on one answer it's not a lot, explains Crider. On another answer it's that theyre at the absolute bottom trying to deal with a giant, impervious system that has decided for its own political imperatives to squash them.

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This charity wants to cure or kill Big Tech - Wired.co.uk

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