Surveillance Capitalism

Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff calls it “surveillance capitalism.” And as creepy as Facebook is turning out to be, the entire industry is far creepier. It has existed in secret far too long, and it’s up to lawmakers to force these companies into the public spotlight, where we can all decide if this is how we want society to operate and — if not — what to do about it.

Schneier on Security – Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

To a Future…

If you’re on Facebook, you are living on Mark Zuckerberg’s bounty.

This is of course a choice you are free to make. The problem comes when, by living in conditions of such dependence, you forget that there’s any other way to live—and therefore cannot teach another way to those who come after you. Your present-day social-media ecology eclipses the future social-media ecology of others. What if they don’t want their social lives to be bought and sold? What if they don’t want to live on the bounty of the factory owners of Silicon Valley? It would be good if we bequeathed to them another option, the possibility of living outside the walls the factory owners have built—whether for our safety or to imprison us, who can say? The open Web happens outside those walls.

Reading the recent reporting on Facebook’s data breach, I returned to this thoughtful essay in The Hedgehog Review by Alan Jacobs. There’s not much of it, if any, I find myself in disagreement with; and in the suggestions he makes towards becoming ‘a citizen of the open Web’ it feels quite useful and significant.

Reluctant Gatekeepers of the World

[Spotify] has struggled to make money due to the harsh economics of music streaming: Spotify and other music streaming companies pay the majority of their sales back to the big music labels to use their songs. It reported an operating loss of €378m in 2017, compared with €349m in 2016.

In a letter to investors, founder Daniel Ek alluded to ambitions beyond simply piping songs into smartphones, citing a vision to become a “cultural platform” where artists can “break free” of the constraints imposed by gatekeepers such as record labels and traditional radio.

Spotify files for unconventional IPO (FT sub only)

Two things:

  1. If Spotify struggle to make money, it must be really difficult for the musicians and bands;
  2. In his book To Save Everything, Click Here, Evgeny Morozov writes about Amazon’s ‘forays into publishing’:

If Amazon’s dream of a world without gatekeepers becomes reality, then the company itself will become a powerful gatekeeper [… it] might be a reluctant gatekeeper, but it’s a gatekeeper nevertheless (p. 171).

As Daniel Ek espouses the same line as Jeff Bezos, but with ‘record labels and traditional radio’ in place of ‘traditional publishing’, it’s not too outlandish to feel Morozov’s conclusion about Amazon can be applied to Spotify too.

Can You Hear Me, Elon Musk?

This week, in their ongoing quest to put movie stars on the moon, Elon Musk’s SpaceX sent a car into space. I over simplify I know, perhaps misunderstand the motives, but the why and wherefores are not my primary concern here. My concern is the music.

It was reported the car’s radio was set to play “a David Bowie soundtrack on a loop”. I’m guessing here, but did ‘Space Oddity’, along maybe with ‘Starman’, make up that entire soundtrack by any chance? I like David Bowie. In fact there’s a nice documentary currently on the BBC iPlayer about him. And I like ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Starman’. But let’s mix it up, let’s broaden the range, let’s make it even odder.

I already offered up a while back one song to play, which amazingly hasn’t yet (to my knowledge) been taken (literally) up. Nevertheless, in a moment of optimism, I’m suggesting another:

Can you hear me, Elon Musk? Can you heeeeaaaaarrrr me?

 

Reading: To Save Everything, Click Here, Evgeny Morozov

A Waiting Game

Yes, it’s early stages, but it seems VAR is having the effect of delaying play and frustrating fans, managers, players and pundits. As the decisions made with VAR were correct ones (in the end) the general tenor after the game appears to have been one of hopeful (naive?) optimism: “It does need some tweaking,” said Danny Murphy; “It’s going to take a while for them to get it right,” said Dion Dublin.

My question is: where’s more time or tweaking going to get you? You can refine as much as you want; you can talk to the rugby associations; you can maybe show the decisions on-screen in the ground; but it does not change the fact (and please point out if I’m missing something here and this is not the case) that stopping the game takes time.

For good or for bad VAR is here to stay (and the Pacey Winger, in response to this Guardian piece, highlights one very good reason why this will be: money), so really the only considerations are how long it takes for those involved in the game – the fans at the ground and at home, the players, the playing staff, managers etc. – to get used to the delay; and can this delay be merged into the game, but so as not to leave it a poorer experience, accepted only because it contains “correct” decisions; but to leave it, and the many elements that make a game exciting, relatively unscathed, and even, hope against hope, better? I’m cynical but, taking my cues from Dublin and Murphy, trying to be optimistic.

 

Reading: How To Think: A Guide For The Perplexed, Alan Jacobs

 

Cricket review system / VAR

People who think technology [the cricket review system] is going to lead to a mistake free world are very wide of the mark. What are you going to get is a different argument about a more highly refined type of mistake. And it’s going to come down to scrutiny of inches and millimeters of a television screen, rather than a judgment made out in the middle. So, all we are getting is a displacement activity where contentious decisions are being moved from the field off the field. You are never going to get to a mistakes free world or a controversy free world – Ed Smith (55m 29s into programme)

Personally, I think it’s a good thing that we can never completely eradicate out those contentious decisions. I think sport needs them. But Smith’s point is worth thinking about after the first competitive club match in England using VAR (Video Assistant Referee) technology was played last night (Brighton v Palace).

In cricket the scrutiny of those inches and millimeters on a tv screen takes time, but the game and crowd have managed to accommodate this and so the delay contributes a certain tension to the game. Whether similarly, in football, those off-pitch decisions that take time and slow the pace of the game down (I can’t see how they won’t) add to the overall excitement of the match or detract from it remains to be seen.