Case Studies - Forming An Advisory Board
Two case studies of processes that tech companies have gone through to form advisory boards are Google's Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC) and Facebook's Safety Advisory Board.
GOOGLE'S ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY EXTERNAL ADVISORY COUNCIL (ATEAC)
- In March of 2019, Google announced the formation of a new external advisory board, termed the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), with the mission of helping the company monitor and navigate its use of AI, particularly within the context of ethics.
- More specifically, the ATEAC was viewed as an "independent watchdog" which would help regulate how Google engaged with AI in a practical business setting, however the advisory board had no "set agenda" and no authority to "completely veto projects."
- Additionally, the ATEAC was comprised of eight members with expertise on a variety of subjects including psychology, foreign policy and computer science.
- Although Google provided no details regarding its selection of advisory board members, news media hypothesize that decisions were made, in part, to appease various lawmakers and political interests.
- Notably, Google moved forward with creating the ATEAC following a series of controversies related to its activities surrounding AI, including Google's engagement in the US DOD drone program Project Maven.
- Specifically, in response to significant internal and external criticism, Google terminated its relationship with Maven, created a new set of AI Principles and, ultimately, formed the ATEAC to help "fend off controversy."
- However, just one week after forming the ATEAC, Google dissolved the advisory council, citing the "current environment" as preventing the council from functioning as intended.
- The dissolution of the board is widely viewed as a response to immediate internal and external criticism that the board included Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James, a political conservative who had previously made public "anti-LGBTQ" remarks.
- In particular, a petition entitled "Googlers Against Transphobia and Hate" was circulated following from the news, which called for Ms. James' removal and received 2,000 signatures.
FACEBOOK'S SAFETY ADVISORY BOARD
- In December of 2009, Facebook announced the formation of a new advisory board, termed the Facebook Safety Advisory Board, with the mission of helping the company improve user safety as well as set an example for safety practices throughout the internet.
- The advisory board is comprised of Common Sense Media, ConnectSafely, WiredSafety, Childnet International and The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), five "internet safety organizations" based on North America and Europe, who effectively serve as "consultants" for Facebook on matters related to online safety.
- More specifically, the board reviews "existing safety resources," develops new resources and collects and interprets best practices related to safety and the internet.
- Additionally, members of the Safety Advisory Board receive a $25 thousand annual honorarium and must sign a non-disclosure agreement with Facebook, but have no formal accountability for Facebook's policies or actions.
- Notably, Facebook moved forward with creating the Safety Advisory Board as the subject of online safety became an increasingly "hot-button" issue.
- Prior to forming the advisory board, Facebook had established agreements with 49 state attorney generals to improve online protection for kids from predators, partnered with MTV on the "A Thin Line" campaign against cyberbullying, participated in the Internet Safety Technical Task Force and partnered with the National Crime Prevention Council on creating safety content, among other safety-related efforts.
- Although Facebook had consulted previously with external organizations regarding safety practices, the creation of the Safety Advisory Board was viewed as a mechanism to "formalize the relationships" and "gather more feedback."
- Successes of Facebook's Safety Advisory Board since its formation include the creation of a new Safety Center of online safety resources as well the release of "A Parent's Guide to Facebook," which helps parents guide their children in using social media.
- However, Facebook's Safety Advisory Board has also received criticism for the fact that half of its Safety Advisory Board has financial ties to Facebook, with The Family Online Safety Institute, for example, potential influenced by the fact that a Facebook executive is on the company's board.
- Additionally, members of the advisory board, who do not officially speak for Facebook, have been known to speak publicly about Facebook and online safety.
- Most recently, a former advisory board member stated before Congress that Facebook had ignored "concerns from advisers" about data privacy "for years," resulting in additional controversy and criticism for Facebook.
For the purpose of this analysis, credible and relevant articles, reports and other resources that were published prior to 2018 were used to provide additional context into Facebook's Safety Advisory Board. Given that the Facebook Safety Advisory Board was created in 2009, it seemed both reasonable and prudent to leverage resources created at the same time or thereafter to provide insight and discussion related to the advisory board.