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.

Technology

Technology is a term that encompasses volumes. Think of it like food. A person who criticizes McDonald’s is not “anti-food;” and a person who criticizes Google is not “anti-technology.”

Many of us live our lives surrounded by a rich assortment of technologies, we undermine our ability to describe the world we live in and the world we want if we reserve the term “technology” for things containing microchips

Technological Resolutions for 2018, Librarian Shipwreck

 

 

 

 

Sold

What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality. Note that the company’s knowledge about its users isn’t used merely to target ads but to shape the flow of news to them. Since there is so much content posted on the site, the algorithms used to filter and direct that content are the thing that determines what you see: people think their news feed is largely to do with their friends and interests, and it sort of is, with the crucial proviso that it is their friends and interests as mediated by the commercial interests of Facebook. Your eyes are directed towards the place where they are most valuable for Facebook.

I’m left wondering what will happen when and if this $450 billion penny drops.

John Lanchester, LRB

I’m not so sure people don’t realise. And of those that do perhaps it’s just they don’t care or, more like it, is they don’t mind, have learnt not to mind? So two billion monthly users is not only Facebook’s biggest achievement to date, that is too.

Dead Ends

There was an article on AI in last week’s Sunday Times with the headline Robot wars: if we can’t beat them, let’s become them. It’s behind a paywall but some excerpts:

The truth is that Bob, Alice and Tay [AI programs) were straws in a wind that could, one day soon, blow humans off the planet

New machines could soon wipe out millions of jobs

As one technologist put it to me: “You can be confident your laptop isn’t going to strangle you, but it might with the help of your fridge.” We already know what the bad bots can do to our bank accounts

The article carries on in this vein. The writer, Brian Appleyard, does briefly offer up a counter view through Luciano Floridi but concludes:

Maybe he’s right. Or maybe one day soon our cars and fridges or future Bobs, Alices and Tays, talking gibberish, hating feminists and supporting Hitler, will decide that we’re just getting in the way

This type of article (it just so happens to be the most recent one I’ve read, though it is probably the guiltiest) only leads to what Tom Chatfield – a writer whose even handedness when writing about technology I really like – calls the dead end of human vs machine panic. It’s a dead end because it doesn’t encourage conversation, or reasoning, it just serves to set people to anxiety and worry.

 

Money, Money, Money / Must Be Funny

I was left with this feeling that we are all still borrowing money we don’t have to spend on stuff we don’t need – we are still dancing on the deck of the Titanic

As voice-command purchasing is enabled as default on the Echo devices, some viewers’ Alexa units interpreteded Patton’s words as a command, resulting in a series of additional dollhouse dispatches

These two quotes are taken from the new issue of Delayed Gratification, a magazine which again I’d recommend. The first is from Laura Greenfield, a photo journalist, “who has spent 25 years documenting dept, the growth of consumerism and the rise, fall and rise again of the super-rich”; the second from a regular feature in DG, The butterfly effect, which in this issue shows how a derailed banking career in C19 Vienna led to the mass online ordering of dollhouses in January 2017.

Feature followed article and I felt the two quotes, by accident or design, highlighted and complimented each other nicely.