Foxgloves are among the most poisonous plants found in nature. They are also the basis of many heart medications – a duality that has earned the plant the nickname âkill or cureâ. This ability to kill or heal is what led a group of lawyers to choose the name of their new project: a charity dedicated to fighting algorithmic injustice, data collection, and the ever-growing dominance of Big Tech.
âWe want to make the use of technology fair for everyone, not just the privileged and powerful few,â says Cori Crider, one of the founders and directors of Foxglove, in a Texas drawled voice. âThe extent and nature of how states and businesses are using the power of data over us all needed to be exposed – and some people, in fact, just needed to be brought to justice. “
Crider and fellow directors Rosa Curling and Martha Dark joke that they start almost every interview with the same line; that they are not interested in technology, but in power. And that goes to the heart of how they see it as a social issue, not a technical issue. Foxglove aims to prove that tech giants like Facebook, Uber and Google are no different from other companies and face the same regulations, and âmaybe pay taxes,â Crider says.
Sometimes it feels like holding the global tech giants to account is almost an impossible endeavor. âWhat is implied is that the law does not apply to these giant companies. But that’s not the case, âCrider says. âIn fact, the cases we have presented demonstrate that there are a lot of good old ‘beef and liberty’ parts of British common law that have been a really important part of [reining in Big Techâs power]. “
Despite having only five employees, Foxglove has made huge strides in its battle. They filed a court case that helped force the government to turn around on last summer’s A-Level results algorithm. They also succeeded in using lawsuits to force the government to drop a planned Â£ 23million contract to manage NHS patient data to big data giant Palantir. They are also now suing Facebook for its treatment of outsourced content moderators, who they say are often underpaid and receive no support as they filter everything from child pornography to graphic violence, many. reports of PTSD.
âThe way these workers are treated means Facebook doesn’t have to recognize the real cost of moderating their platform because they’re not doing it right,â says Dark. “Well, we worked to clean the floor of the digital sweatshop factory.” Being a non-profit organization reliant on donations from the public, Foxglove claims it is able to take on larger, and therefore risky, cases than those pursued by for-profit law firms – and to take them on. also win. âWe never seem to go to court again, the government keeps giving in to what we ask,â says Curling.
Interestingly, the trio were first brought together by the War on Terror, as they battled the shady technology behind the 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 choose their next fight against the misuse of technology by irresponsible government and corporations. In June 2019, Foxglove was born; Curling, who worked with Crider while he was a lawyer for Leigh Day, joined him soon after.
“If you ask what the Guantanamo detainee has in common with the Facebook content moderator, on a response, that’s not a lot,” says Crider. “On another answer is that they are at their lowest, trying to cope with a giant, impervious system that has decided that its own political imperatives are crushing them.”