Australian mining billionaire Twiggy Forrest has declared war on Google and Facebook, announcing plans to pour millions into some of tech's biggest critics

Twiggy has just declared war on big tech. (Leon Neal, PA Images via Getty Images)
  • Andrew Forrest will provide $20 million in initial funding to establish a ‘Global Tech Impact Network’.
  • Run out of some of the globe’s most prestigious universities, it will draw together and promote the work of Google and Facebook’s most prominent critics.
  • The initiative’s aims are “tackling lawlessness, empowering workers, and reimagining technology”.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

In a true battle of the titans, an Australian mining magnate has decided to use his considerable fortune to stick it to the world’s biggest tech companies.

Fortescue Metals founder and one of Australia’s richest people, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest is stumping up an initial $20 million to pull together a veritable ‘A-Team’ of Facebook and Google’s academic opponents.

The so-called ‘Global Tech Impact Network’, funded via Forrest’s philanthropic arm the Minderoo Foundation, claims it will focus on “tackling lawlessness, empowering workers, and reimagining technology”.

“We need a massive uptick in education and governance to wrestle with the very real harms caused by the tech sector,” Forrest said, announcing the initiative.

Forrest would know all about that personally. His image, and that of other prominent Australians, was used in a cryptocurrency scam circulating on social media that encouraged unwitting victims to “invest” in a scheme Forrest purportedly endorsed. The stories were, of course, fake with the fraudsters making off with the money.

A spokesperson at the time revealed that Forrest had engaged social media platforms on an “executive level” and encouraged them to take proactive steps to prevent such instances of fraud. It now appears with this initiative Twiggy has taken things somewhat into his own hands.

Run out of global universities including Cambridge, Oxford, New York, and Western Australian, the network will bring together some of the tech giants’ biggest adversaries.

Take NYU professor Meredith Whitaker, a key organiser of the walkout of 20,000 Google employees in 2018 in protest of the company’s military contracts. She’s since left the company, noting on her way out, “I’m committed to the AI Now Institute, to my AI ethics work, and to organizing for an accountable tech industry — and it’s clear Google isn’t a place where I can continue this work.”

Or Australia’s own Julia Powles who has been lifting the lid on all the sneaky ways Google and Facebook use their long reach to hoover up personal identifying data of users.

Or how about academics Sarah Roberts, who literally wrote the book on how tech giants use sweatshop labour to moderate online content, and Safiya Umoja Noble, who revealed how racism was embedded in search engine tools.

“We were ahead of the curve – both of us had to advocate that these phenomena were even
occurring,” Roberts said. “That was the baseline – prove that these things are true, and we
fought that battle for many years. Now – with this network and its resourcing – we can strengthen our individual work collectively, and accelerate impact beyond what any of us thought was possible.”

Forrest will now help fund their ongoing work and that of other big tech adversaries via Minderoo’s tech initiative arm, looking at ways to reimagine the world of tech.

“With this initiative, we took a good look at work being done globally on the social and ethical implications of digital technologies,” Minderoo Foundation research chair Fiona David said.

“We felt what was missing was support, amplification, and connectivity between key experts and activists, who have been unflinching in their ongoing analysis of developments in an industry with unmitigated power and are an engine room of ideas for reform.”

It’s the latest part of a giant effort from Australia to keep Google and Facebook in line. The federal government is still working through its Digital Platforms Inquiry with the aim of curtailing the power and influence of big tech.

Whatever his motivation, Twiggy now wants to join that fight.

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