They're as evil as food companies marketing processed crap that makes us unhealthy and fat. It's the natural result of a free market economy where individual responsibility reigns supreme. Each of us has the choice to not use any of these products, but the products themselves are intentionally designed to exploit our human weaknesses.
Google, Facebook, et. al are just being good capitalists and exploiting a market. In some cases, they're inventing markets out of whole cloth by creating desires where there might otherwise be none.
I generally think this is bad, but I wouldn't say it's evil. Also, the ball is totally in our court to become more aware of these practices and how they affect us. We can decide to purchase other products with our attention, and if we do so, the free market will naturally adjust itself to our new consumer preferences.
We can also decide not to invest in companies that use this sort of emotional manipulation and guide the 'ol free market ship that way too.
My point being that none of this stuff exists in a vacuum. We're the ones who hand over our data and our attention. We can better educate ourselves and just stop doing that if we're smart and strong willed enough.
The counterargument is that these tools are necessary in this day and age to participate in public discourse. Market failure when people don't have choice.
Are they though? I'm perfectly content discussing things in person with my friends. Let's not give these companies more credit than is due. They made a fun addictive toy and now we're all having a come to Jesus moment about the implications of said toy.
Headline from earlier this year: Federal judge rules Trump's Twitter account is a public forum.
The question has also been posed pretty frequently lately in relation to concerns that have arose over partisan censorship.
Well sure, it's a public forum. That's fine. We've shown that something as weak as Twitter can be considered sufficient enough to be a public forum. But it doesn't show that Twitter or Facebook or any of these toys is necessary for public discourse.
We did just fine for thousands of years without them. If they go away, I doubt many will miss them.
"The president now uses Twitter... everybody uses Twitter... All 50 governors, all 100 senators, every member of the House has a Twitter account. So this has become a... crucially important channel of political communication." - Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan
Granted, that was a case about whether North Carolina could bar sex offenders from social media, but the implications are pretty clear.
We're a place where coders share, stay up-to-date and grow their careers.
We strive for transparency and don't collect excess data.