When my Tech Congress Fellowship began, I idealistically hoped to make a meaningful impact on technology policy. Specifically, I wanted to create policies that centered the experiences of marginalized populations. After working as a product manager and reading the tech critiques of folks like Cathy O’Neil and Zeynep Tufekci, I felt a sense of urgency to tackle the ways that technology exacerbated the inequalities that exist in society today. And I had hoped public policy would be a place for me to explore these challenges.
But through supporting Senator Tom Udall, my understanding of technology policy became more nuanced. After the infamous Facebook hearing and the series of privacy hearings, I began to understand how complicated and challenging the task of legislating technology truly is. For example, many New Mexicans lacked adequate internet access. Therefore issues regarding broadband access were the highest priority.
In homes all over the state, students lacked access to the internet to complete homework assignments. However the internet is not some walled garden that children can safely explore. Throughout my year in the Senate, article after article detailed the lax privacy policies many kid-directed applications followed as well as the manipulative tactics that app developers often used for monetization. So our work became this careful balance between calling for more policies to expand broadband access while also demanding accountability from the apps that served children.
This careful balance is often at the core of technology policy conversations. How do we create policies that recognize the very real benefits while mitigating the adverse effects in consumers? There are no simple answers to the questions. As I understood more about how legislative tools like oversight letters, hearings and laws worked, I started to see how they needed to fit into a framework that also involved the technologists who are actively building the technology that are part of our everyday.
Product design and thoughtful product decisions could create an ecosystem where privacy and consumer protection are baked into how products work. As former FTC technologist, Latanya Sweeney said “Policy is written in code.” I realized that the highest impact I could have is to help product engineers make more intentional decisions about the policies they are writing in code. I’m excited to spend time doing that at Microsoft.