Silicon Valley Season 6: Information Sovereignty

Silicon Valley’s 6th season continues the technologically subversive vein illuminated in previous seasons and ends consistent with Mike Judge’s hilarious free falls from short lived pinnacles of success.

SPOILERS BELOW!

Silicon Valley‘s first episode makes it clear to the audience that they will not stray from confronting polemic issues. The opening scene shows Richard Hendricks, founder of Pied Piper, in a government hearing arguing for the benefits of a decentralized internet. It is impossible for one not to immediately think of the recent scandal involving Facebook’s misuse of user data and Mark Zukerberg appearing before the government when seeing this mirrored scene in the show.

The significant difference, however, is that Zuckerberg defended Facebook for its practices sharing user information with 3rd party companies without consent, while Hendricks argues for user control over data. He daringly challenges the tech monoliths that are Facebook, Amazon, and Google in his speech and proclaims in liberalistic rhetoric that an internet controlled by the people and for the people is democratic and the only way to subvert the tech “kings.”

Profits and Moral Dilemmas

Taken from Episode 2 of Silicon Valley Season 6

Success is never long-lived in Silicon Valley though, so issues quickly arise after the speech is given. A video game company using Pied Piper’s Network secretly archived user conversations without Hendricks knowing. Hendricks, bound to his moral high ground, apposed the video game company’s practice even though it was Pied Piper’s most valuable asset.

Hendrick’s morality is also called into question though, in his response to Galloo Games; he utilizes the Pied Piper technology to analyze the data and systemize by keyword in order to blackmail the CEO of Galloo Games, who coincidentally bugged himself in the process of collecting user data. The blackmailing fails, however, as investors in Galloo Games overlook the CEO’s morally questionable acts in favor of perceived profits from exploiting the player base. The proposed exploit by the development team at Galloo Games adds ads in real-time as players speak into their mics; mentioning pizza re-skins a nearby building in the medieval world to a Domino’s storefront.

The utilization of people’s microphones in the background to cater to ads is not something particularly new in this day and age. I am sure you have had a conversation with someone about something and found that when you go to search it on google or amazon that it appears to magically appear before your eyes with the entering of a few letters. While users can turn off personalized ads on Google, targeting never seems to fully go away. With elections coming up, Google has even amended its policies towards political ads; political advertisers will no longer be able to direct ads based on public voter registration records indicating affiliation. They still have access to our age, location, gender, and what content we view online, so it’s not like Google is making that much of a move.

Morality over Profits

Taken from Episode 5 of Silicon Valley Season 6

While Hendricks acts questionably immorally in blackmailing the CEO of Galloo Games, he promptly has an opportunity to redeem himself in the following episode. He ends up turning down a billion dollar investment because the man who proposes to invest in Pied Piper inherited his fortune from a grandfather with ties to the Chilean dictator Pinochet. The implications of denying such a large sum of money can not be ignored. You can ask yourself, would you have been able to say no with that kind of money at stake? Regardless, Pied Piper is shown to be a virtuous company at its core.

Gavin Belson, Hendricks’s long time rival and foil contrastingly epitomizes a lack of morals. He ironically launches a manifesto called “Tethics,” asking all tech companies to sign and promise to make “best efforts” towards achieving ethical practices. The words in the manifesto are essentially empty and don’t tie companies to action. Companies like Amazon claim to provide workers with safe conditions and living wages, but workers suffering mental and physical trauma under the extreme pressure of maximum efficiency attempts to unionize illustrate Amazon’s empty speech.

Written by: Nils Ljungquist

Nils Ljungquist