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If we want technology that isn’t beholden to advertisers, we have to pay for it

Time Well Spent founder Tristan Harris says it’s time for an “organic movement” in tech.

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Tech companies design their apps and services to addict you, because more engagement = more advertising dollars. Time Well Spent founder Tristan Harris says the time to wean those companies off of ads is now.

“When it’s free — how much are we paying for our Facebook accounts? Nothing,” Harris said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “It means that while they want to benefit us, that’s not who they’re beholden to. They’re beholden to the advertiser.”

He called for “market intervention” to correct those priorities and make tech companies value their users’ time, and said the best form of intervention would be “something like an organic food movement for the tech industry.”

“Let’s charge more for something that’s actually good for people, or aligned with people’s interests,” Harris said. “But that gets into a whole other conversation, admitting parts of the product today are not aligned with people’s interests.”

He likened that admission to the tobacco industry’s attempts to develop a “safe cigarette,” which were scuppered because releasing such a product would make it more obvious that “normal” cigarettes are unhealthy. Most tech companies, he noted, won’t admit to themselves that their products can have negative effects on people’s lives.

However, he praised efforts such as Google Contributor, a currently defunct service that allowed Google users to pay to outbid advertisers.

“It turns out that people actually value their own attention more than advertisers do,” Harris said. “Once that’s made clear and there’s a way to see that — would you pay $7 or $8 a month for a version of Facebook which is entirely aligned with helping you live your life and get rid of fake news? There’s no place for Facebook to say, ‘Hey, would anybody pay? Would 10 million people pay?’”

“I hate to invoke the slavery metaphor, but it’s almost like a self-purchase agreement,” he added. “You’re basically saying, ‘I’m going to pay whatever I’m worth to you as an attentional slave, I’m going to pay to have the ad-free version.’”

You can listen to Recode Decode in the audio player above, or subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

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