Alex Evis, Digital Rights Activist and Researcher
“We deserve to know the price before and after – whether it’s that of a banana or a t-shirt.”
Meet Alex Evis (he/his). Alex is a digital rights activist and researcher.
And a refugee from Wall Street: “I left a long career on Wall Street in 2017 with the goal of helping protect the institutions on which our democracy depends. After spending a year organizing businesses against the FCC’s Net Neutrality repeal [on behalf of the Fight for the Future campaign] I’m now investigating how to make value lost by consumers to nominally “free” Internet platforms more explicit. I’d love to join forces with an organization where I can put my hard-won program and risk management skills to work.”
Alex’s hobbies include “my two little girls and my big dog. Triathlons are my real vice.” You can follow Alex via Linked In or email him directly.
What Does He Do?
“My first career lasted nearly 18 years. I was a senior risk manager at Goldman Sachs. After leaving, I spent a year doing the grassiest of grassroots organizing at Fight for the Future. We created coalitions across the country to lobby representatives to vote to overturn the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order that repealed Net Neutrality. My focus was on small and medium-sized business owners. We won in the Senate, but lost in the House.”
“We deserve to know the price before and after – whether it’s that of a banana or a t-shirt.” This historical understanding of price transparency compelled Alex to take up his current project: “I am attempting to determine the true price users pay to use big platforms like Facebook and Google. People generally think in terms of privacy and the targeted advertising industry. But that’s just one part of the equation. There are other economic costs like the high cost of exclusion and the inequality embedded in the data economy. There are health costs. Misinformation and harassment are costly as well. There is a ton of work out there on each of these issues individually, my goal is to provide a more complete accounting and then to present it in such a way that will capture the attention of everyday users of these services. [That is the hardest piece.] Ideally, I’d also find work that matches the mission of protecting (small-r) republican institutions with my management skills.”
How Did He Get Into This Work?
Alex grew up in Toronto, where he was raised by a Renaissance dad, (doctor, lawyer, World War 2 veteran, and musician) and an artistic mother. While he “oozes privilege from every pore” (his framing) – having gone to Penn/Wharton, with nearly two decades at Goldman Sachs — he thought of himself as a libertarian conservative until Eric Garner: “I could no longer defend these people anymore. [Garner] was killed for being poor and selling loosies.”
If Eric Garner changed how he thought about the world, the Muslim travel ban changed how he acted: “I remember the moment exactly. It was Saturday, January 28, 2017, the day the chaos of the travel ban first hit. When I saw the lawyers camped out at airports helping the stranded families, I thought to myself, “These people are heroes,” and I wanted to be like them. I went for a run and had a shower. My hands turned cold and I had a panic attack. I thought, “I can’t push paper for millions of dollars a year.” I resigned the next day.”
Post-Goldman Alex leveraged his network, enabling an introduction to the Fight for the Future campaign.
“Two realizations led me from general outrage to digital rights. The first is that even though specific policies matter in the short run, the real danger comes when the institutions through which we make policy decisions — separation of powers, voting rights, reasoned debate — begins to crumble. The second realization is that the future of those institutions is on the Internet, so that’s where the fight has to be waged.”
How Did He Come To Civic Hall?
“I was referred by an acquaintance (Rob Underwood at FINOS – the FinTech Open Source Foundation), and then came to the recent State of the Internet event. I thought it was great and I thought membership was excellent value.”
What is He Reading/Watching/Listening To?
“I keep a copy of Choices, Values and Frames by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky on my desk at home. It’s the seminal work on how terrible we are at making decisions. The Daily Stoic by Holiday and Hanselman takes two minutes a day and helps me focus on what I can control. Finally, if you’re not watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Schitt’s Creek then your life is not as rich as it could be!”
What Is His Ask of Civic Hall?
Alex was up at Columbia two weeks ago attending a conference on media and technology. And he was having none of their empty rhetoric with the frequent chorus: “We as a society need to decide how we will address this issue.”
Of the presenters, who were a mix of academics and local entrepreneurs: “They don’t know the answers themselves. Even if they think they know – they don’t have the skills to try and make that answer happen. Not just intelligence and understanding of the issue. It’s… it’s organizational management skills. It’s money, it’s drive, and the desire to leave their very cushy jobs as professors at Columbia.
A community like [Civic Hall] … we are the ones who are going to have to drive. And create specific solutions and implement them.”
Ask: “I’m pretty new to this! I need friends and contacts to guide my research and to help me find a place to use my skills.”
Alex is waiting to hear if he’s advanced to the third round of a fellowship that would enable him to spend the next year on his project. If that doesn’t work out, he’ll be looking for other funding opportunities or a full-time job.
Offer: “I managed multi-year projects with hundreds of people globally.” From his years on Wall Street, Alex has extensive expertise in program management, business strategy, communications and risk management.