GOOGLE AND FACEBOOK ARE 1984 SPY BASTARDS
An entire library of articles about Big Tech is coming out these days, and I find that much of it is written so well, and the ideas in them so well expressed, that I have little to add. Except, I think I may have the solution to the problems many people see. But I also have a concern that I don’t see addressed, and that may well prevent that solution from being adopted. If so, we’re very far away from any solution at all. And that’s seriously bad news.
Let’s start with a general -even ‘light’- critique of social media by Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan for the Guardian:
Social media force us to live our lives in public, positioned centre-stage in our very own daily performances. Erving Goffman, the American sociologist, articulated the idea of “life as theatre” in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and while the book was published more than half a century ago, the concept is even more relevant today. It is increasingly difficult to live a private life, in terms not just of keeping our personal data away from governments or corporations, but also of keeping our movements, interests and, most worryingly, information consumption habits from the wider world.
The social networks are engineered so that we are constantly assessing others – and being assessed ourselves. In fact our “selves” are scattered across different platforms, and our decisions, which are public or semi-public performances, are driven by our desire to make a good impression on our audiences, imagined and actual. We grudgingly accept these public performances when it comes to our travels, shopping, dating, and dining. We know the deal. The online tools that we use are free in return for us giving up our data, and we understand that they need us to publicly share our lifestyle decisions to encourage people in our network to join, connect and purchase.
But, critically, the same forces have impacted the way we consume news and information. Before our media became “social”, only our closest family or friends knew what we read or watched, and if we wanted to keep our guilty pleasures secret, we could. Now, for those of us who consume news via the social networks, what we “like” and what we follow is visible to many [..] Consumption of the news has become a performance that can’t be solely about seeking information or even entertainment. What we choose to “like” or follow is part of our identity, an indication of our social class and status, and most frequently our political persuasion.
That sets the scene. People sell their lives, their souls, to join a network that then sells these lives -and souls- to the highest bidder, for a profit the people themselves get nothing of. This is not some far-fetched idea. As noted further down, in terms of scale, Facebook is a present day Christianity. And these concerns are not only coming from ‘concerned citizens’, some of the early participants are speaking out as well. Like Facebook co-founder Sean Parker:
Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, gave me a candid insider’s look at how social networks purposely hook and potentially hurt our brains. Be smart: Parker’s I-was-there account provides priceless perspective in the rising debate about the power and effects of the social networks, which now have scale and reach unknown in human history. [..]
“When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, ‘I’m not on social media.’ And I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be.’ And then they would say, ‘No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.’ And I would say, … ‘We’ll get you eventually.'”
“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'” “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”
“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” “The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”
Early stage investor in Facebook, Roger McNamee, also has some words to add along the same lines as Parker. They make it sound like they’re Frankenstein and Facebook is their monster.
The term “addiction” is no exaggeration. The average consumer checks his or her smartphone 150 times a day, making more than 2,000 swipes and touches. The applications they use most frequently are owned by Facebook and Alphabet, and the usage of those products is still increasing. In terms of scale, Facebook and YouTube are similar to Christianity and Islam respectively. More than 2 billion people use Facebook every month, 1.3 billion check in every day. More than 1.5 billion people use YouTube. Other services owned by these companies also have user populations of 1 billion or more.
Facebook and Alphabet are huge because users are willing to trade privacy and openness for “convenient and free.” Content creators resisted at first, but user demand forced them to surrender control and profits to Facebook and Alphabet. The sad truth is that Facebook and Alphabet have behaved irresponsibly in the pursuit of massive profits. They have consciously combined persuasive techniques developed by propagandists and the gambling industry with technology in ways that threaten public health and democracy.
The issue, however, is not social networking or search. It is advertising business models. Let me explain. From the earliest days of tabloid newspapers, publishers realized the power of exploiting human emotions. To win a battle for attention, publishers must give users “what they want,” content that appeals to emotions, rather than intellect. Substance cannot compete with sensation, which must be amplified constantly, lest consumers get distracted and move on. “If it bleeds, it leads” has guided editorial choices for more than 150 years, but has only become a threat to society in the past decade, since the introduction of smartphones.
Media delivery platforms like newspapers, television, books, and even computers are persuasive, but people only engage with them for a few hours each day and every person receives the same content. Today’s battle for attention is not a fair fight. Every competitor exploits the same techniques, but Facebook and Alphabet have prohibitive advantages: personalization and smartphones. Unlike older media, Facebook and Alphabet know essentially everything about their users, tracking them everywhere they go on the web and often beyond.
By making every experience free and easy, Facebook and Alphabet became gatekeepers on the internet, giving them levels of control and profitability previously unknown in media. They exploit data to customize each user’s experience and siphon profits from content creators. Thanks to smartphones, the battle for attention now takes place on a single platform that is available every waking moment. Competitors to Facebook and Alphabet do not have a prayer.
Facebook and Alphabet monetize content through advertising that is targeted more precisely than has ever been possible before. The platforms create “filter bubbles” around each user, confirming pre-existing beliefs and often creating the illusion that everyone shares the same views. Platforms do this because it is profitable. The downside of filter bubbles is that beliefs become more rigid and extreme. Users are less open to new ideas and even to facts.
Of the millions of pieces of content that Facebook can show each user at a given time, they choose the handful most likely to maximize profits. If it were not for the advertising business model, Facebook might choose content that informs, inspires, or enriches users. Instead, the user experience on Facebook is dominated by appeals to fear and anger. This would be bad enough, but reality is worse.
And in a Daily Mail article, McNamee’s ideas are taken a mile or so further. Goebbels, Bernays, fear, anger, personalization, civility.
Facebook officials have been compared to the Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels by a former investor. Roger McNamee also likened the company’s methods to those of Edward Bernays, the ‘father of public’ relations who promoted smoking for women. Mr McNamee, who made a fortune backing the social network in its infancy, has spoken out about his concern about the techniques the tech giants use to engage users and advertisers. [..] the former investor said everyone was now ‘in one degree or another addicted’ to the site while he feared the platform was causing people to swap real relationships for phoney ones.
And he likened the techniques of the company to Mr Bernays and Hitler’s public relations minister. ‘In order to maintain your attention they have taken all the techniques of Edward Bernays and Joseph Goebbels, and all of the other people from the world of persuasion, and all the big ad agencies, and they’ve mapped it onto an all day product with highly personalised information in order to addict you,’ Mr McNamee told The Telegraph. Mr McNamee said Facebook was creating a culture of ‘fear and anger’. ‘We have lowered the civil discourse, people have become less civil to each other..’
He said the tech giant had ‘weaponised’ the First Amendment to ‘essentially absolve themselves of responsibility’. He added: ‘I say this as somebody who was there at the beginning.’ Mr McNamee’s comments come as a further blow to Facebook as just last month former employee Justin Rosenstein spoke out about his concerns. Mr Rosenstein, the Facebook engineer who built a prototype of the network’s ‘like’ button, called the creation the ‘bright dings of pseudo-pleasure’. He said he was forced to limit his own use of the social network because he was worried about the impact it had on him.
As for the economic, not the societal or personal, effects of social media, Yanis Varoufakis had this to say a few weeks ago:
Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has claimed capitalism is coming to an end because it is making itself obsolete. The former economics professor told an audience at University College London that the rise of giant technology corporations and artificial intelligence will cause the current economic system to undermine itself. Mr Varoufakis said companies such as Google and Facebook, for the first time ever, are having their capital bought and produced by consumers.
“Firstly the technologies were funded by some government grant; secondly every time you search for something on Google, you contribute to Google’s capital,” he said. “And who gets the returns from capital? Google, not you. “So now there is no doubt capital is being socially produced, and the returns are being privatised. This with artificial intelligence is going to be the end of capitalism.”
Ergo, as people sell their lives and their souls to Facebook and Alphabet, they sell their economies along with them. That’s what that means. And you were just checking what your friends were doing. Or, that’s what you thought you were doing.
The solution to all these pains is, likely unintentionally, provided by Umair Haque’s critique of economics. It’s interesting to see how the topics ‘blend’, ‘intertwine’.
When, in the 1930s, the great economist Simon Kuznets created GDP, he deliberately left two industries out of this then novel, revolutionary idea of a national income : finance and advertising. [..] Kuznets logic was simple, and it was not mere opinion, but analytical fact: finance and advertising don’t create new value, they only allocate, or distribute existing value in the same way that a loan to buy a television isn’t the television, or an ad for healthcare isn’t healthcare. They are only means to goods, not goods themselves. Now we come to two tragedies of history.
What happened next is that Congress laughed, as Congresses do, ignored Kuznets, and included advertising and finance anyways for political reasons -after all, bigger, to the politicians mind, has always been better, and therefore, a bigger national income must have been better. Right? Let’s think about it. Today, something very curious has taken place.
If we do what Kuznets originally suggested, and subtract finance and advertising from GDP, what does that picture -a picture of the economy as it actually is reveal? Well, since the lion’s share of growth, more than 50% every year, comes from finance and advertising -whether via Facebook or Google or Wall St and hedge funds and so on- we would immediately see that the economic growth that the US has chased so desperately, so furiously, never actually existed at all.
Growth itself has only been an illusion, a trick of numbers, generated by including what should have been left out in the first place. If we subtracted allocative industries from GDP, we’d see that economic growth is in fact below population growth, and has been for a very long time now, probably since the 1980s and in that way, the US economy has been stagnant, which is (surprise) what everyday life feels like. Feels like.
Economic indicators do not anymore tell us a realistic, worthwhile, and accurate story about the truth of the economy, and they never did -only, for a while, the trick convinced us that reality wasn’t. Today, that trick is over, and economies grow , but people’s lives, their well-being, incomes, and wealth, do not, and that, of course, is why extremism is sweeping the globe. Perhaps now you begin to see why the two have grown divorced from one another: economics failed the economy.
Now let us go one step, then two steps, further. Finance and advertising are no longer merely allocative industries today. They are now extractive industries. That is, they internalize value from society, and shift costs onto society, all the while creating no value themselves.
The story is easiest to understand via Facebook’s example: it makes its users sadder, lonelier, and unhappier, and also corrodes democracy in spectacular and catastrophic ways. There is not a single upside of any kind that is discernible -and yet, all the above is counted as a benefit, not a cost, in national income, so the economy can thus grow, even while a society of miserable people are being manipulated by foreign actors into destroying their own democracy. Pretty neat, huh?
It was BECAUSE finance and advertising were counted as creative, productive, when they were only allocative, distributive that they soon became extractive. After all, if we had said from the beginning that these industries do not count, perhaps they would not have needed to maximize profits (or for VCs to pour money into them, and so on) endlessly to count more. But we didn’t.
And so soon, they had no choice but to become extractive: chasing more and more profits, to juice up the illusion of growth, and soon enough, these industries began to eat the economy whole, because of course, as Kuznets observed, they allocate everything else in the economy, and therefore, they control it.
Thus, the truly creative, productive, life-giving parts of the economy shrank in relative, and even in absolute terms, as they were taken apart, strip-mined, and consumed in order to feed the predatory parts of the economy, which do not expand human potential. The economy did eat itself, just as Marx had supposed – only the reason was not something inherent in it, but a choice, a mistake, a tragedy.
[..] Life is not flourishing, growing, or developing in a single way that I or even you can readily identify or name. And yet, the economy appears to be growing, because purely allocative and distributive enterprises like Uber, Facebook, credit rating agencies, endless nameless hedge funds, shady personal info brokers, and so on, which fail to contribute positively to human life in any discernible way whatsoever, are all counted as beneficial. Do you see the absurdity of it?
[..] It’s not a coincidence that the good has failed to grow, nor is it an act of the gods. It was a choice. A simple cause-effect relationship, of a society tricking itself into desperately pretending it was growing, versus truly growing. Remember not subtracting finance and advertising from GDP, to create the illusion of growth? Had America not done that, then perhaps it might have had to work hard to find ways to genuinely, authentically, meaningfully grow, instead of taken the easy way out, only to end up stagnating today, and unable to really even figure out why yet.
Industries that are not productive, but instead only extract money from society, need to be taxed so heavily they have trouble surviving. If that doesn’t happen, your economy will never thrive, or even survive. The whole service economy fata morgana must be thrown as far away as we can throw it. Economies must produce real, tangible things, or they die.
For the finance industry this means: tax the sh*t out of any transactions they engage in. Want to make money on complex derivatives? We’ll take 75+%. Upfront. And no, you can’t take your company overseas. Don’t even try.
For Uber and Airbnb it means pay taxes up the wazoo, either as a company or as individual home slash car owners. Uber and Airbnb take huge amounts of money out of local economies, societies, communities, which is nonsense, unnecessary and detrimental. Every city can set up its own local car- or home rental schemes. Their profits should stay within the community, and be invested in it.
For Google and Facebook as the world’s new major -only?!- ad agencies: Tax the heebies out of them or forbid them from running any ads at all. Why? Because they extract enormous amounts of productive capital from society. Capital they, as Varoufakis says, do not even themselves create.
YOU are creating the capital, and YOU then must pay for access to the capital created. Yeah, it feels like you can just hook up and look at what your friends are doing, but the price extracted from you, your friends, and your community is so high you would never volunteer to pay for it if you had any idea.
The one thing that I don’t see anyone address, and that might prevent these pretty straightforward ”tax-them-til they-bleed!” answers to the threat of New Big Tech, is that Facebook, Alphabet et al have built a very strong relationship with various intelligence communities. And then you have Goebbels and Bernays in the service of the CIA.
As Google, Facebook and the CIA are ever more entwined, these companies become so important to what ‘the spooks’ consider the interests of the nation that they will become mutually protective. And once CIA headquarters in Langley, VA, aka the aptly named “George Bush Center for Intelligence”, openly as well as secretly protects you, you’re pretty much set for life. A long life.
Next up: they’ll be taking over entire economies, societies. This is happening as we speak. I know, you were thinking it was ‘the Russians’ with a few as yet unproven bucks in Facebook ads that were threatening US and European democracies. Well, you’re really going to have to think again.
The world has never seen such technologies. It has never seen such intensity, depth of, or such dependence on, information. We are simply not prepared for any of this. But we need to learn fast, or become patsies and slaves in a full blown 1984 style piece of absurd theater. Our politicians are AWOL and MIA for all of it, they have no idea what to say or think, they don’t understand what Google or bitcoin or Uber really mean.
In the meantime, we know one thing we can do, and we can justify doing it through the concept of non-productive and extractive industries. That is, tax them till they bleed. That we would hit the finance industry with that as well is a welcome bonus. Long overdue. We need productive economies or we’re done. And Facebook and Alphabet -and Goldman Sachs- don’t produce d*ck all.
When you think about it, the only growth that’s left in the US economy is that of companies spying on American citizens. Well, that and Europeans. China has banned Facebook and Google. Why do you think they have? Because Google and Facebook ARE 1984, that’s why. And if there’s going to be a Big Brother in the Middle Kingdom, it’s not going to be Silicon Valley.
Attorney General Launches Probe Into Google’s Corrupt Business Practices
Investigation includes whether Google unfairly favors its content in search results
The Google logo is pictured atop an office building in Irvine, Calif., on Aug. 7. Photo: mike blake/Reuters
Missouri’s attorney general has launched a broad investigation into whether Google is violating the state’s consumer-protection and antitrust laws, a new front in the internet giant’s regulatory battles.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley on Monday said he issued an investigative subpoena to probe Google’s collection of user data, its use of other sites’ content, and its alleged manipulation of search results to favor its own services.
Mr. Hawley said his probe was in part prompted by a record $2.7 billion fine European regulators levied against Google in June for allegedly favoring its services in its search results.
“We’re concerned they’re engaged in a similar pattern of behavior in the United States,” he told reporters.
(More to Come)
Google and Democrats deny that Google is helping Democrats - but they are both the same entity
by Ben Howe
A couple weeks ago, I warned conservatives about Google’s entanglement with the Left, and the possibility that Google could provide data intelligence to Democrats. Not the usual consumer data that everybody uses, but a level of real-time behavioral data far beyond what Republicans could ever achieve using available consumer data. That concern was dismissed as a conspiracy theory by some people.
The question isn’t whether Google collaborates with Democrats, but how Google collaborates with Democrats.
We know that Obama campaign manager Jim Messina received personal mentoring on both technology approaches and management style from Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, his friend since the 2008 campaign. We know that Google employees overwhelmingly contributed to Democrats in the last cycle (and aggregate individual employee contributions outnumbered the company’s PAC contributions). We know that Google vice president and “chief Internet evangelist” Vint Cerf received a presidential appointment to the National Science Board following last year’s election.
Is it paranoid to believe that Google is deeply invested in helping Democrats? No.
Still, I decided to take a deeper look at the connections between Google and the Obama campaign.
Jim Messina called on Google’s Eric Schmidt, Apple’s Steve Jobs, and Hollywood’s Steven Spielberg for their advice on building an organization. Schmidt gave Messina what turned out to be an invaluable piece of advice:
Messina said Google Chairman Eric Schmidt gave him simple advice: “You do not want political people, you want smart people who you are going to draw what you want and they’re going to go build it.” So Messina went out and hired someone to head the data department who had never worked on a campaign before.
What better pool of talent to draw from than Schmidt’s own company? Schmidt himself certainly wasn’t shy about being deeply involved with the campaign. He even helped himself to the first slice of a cake, purchased by Obama campaign Dev Ops Director Scott VanDenPlas, emblazoned with “Don’t F*ck This Up.” Schmidt later told Bloomberg Businessweek that the Obama campaign was the “best-run campaign ever.”
Google’s Schmidt also personally visited OFA’s Chicago HQ, where he spent time with OFA Chief Technology Officer Harper Reed and OFA Engineer Mark Trammell – Schmidt is the guy with the official OFA lanyard with photo in the mom jeans sitting on the table in the photo below, Reed is in the background by the smiley face, and Trammell is on the far right with the Santa Claus Starter Kit™ beard:
Michael Slaby, OFA’s Chief Integration and Innovation Officer, was a panelist (PDF) at left wing (of course) activism conferences at Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA, which should not be surprising since he was also the chief technology strategist for Eric Schmidt’s venture capital fund, TomorrowVentures LLC. Call me crazy, but I’m guessing their paths have crossed a time or two, and that their conversations have probably had quite a bit to do with politics and policy.
Obama’s impressive data team also boasts a large number of high-profile connections to Google, starting at the top with Rayid Ghani, OFA Chief Scientist. Not only has Ghani keynoted an address at Google Research Labs, according to his online CV (PDF), but he also spoke this month at his grad school alma mater Carnegie Mellon University in a lecture series sponsored by – you guessed it – Google. Ghani’s former department at Carnegie Mellon boasts seven alumni on Google’s payroll on their website.
Ghani’s role on the Obama campaign was to direct Project Dreamcatcher, which used “text analytics to gauge voter sentiment” about issues and speeches. I wonder how he came up with that idea? Could it have been in talking with Katharina Probst, Senior Software Engineer and Tech Lead at Google, who, according to her own site, is “working on new features for Gmail and Gmail Ads?” (Google is currently facing some heat over how it exploits Gmail user data for advertisers – but they would never exploit user data to help the Obama campaign, right?)
Probst and Ghani not only went to undergrad at the University of the South and grad school at Carnegie Mellon University together, but they have also co-authored two refereed journal articles together and presented four conference papers together. Something tells me their paths have crossed a time or two, including while Ghani was on the campaign.
Many Google employees personally volunteered for Ghani’s team – the question for conservatives is what exactly did they do? I bet Ethan Roeder, OFA Director of Data could tell us. Before joining the Obama campaign, Roeder was the Director of Data, Technology, and Election Administration at the Voting Information Project (PDF), a “Collaboration between Google, Pew Center on the States,” and the New Organizing Institute, according to Roeder’s LinkedIn profile.
Speaking of people at Google volunteering time and resources, I can’t imagine Catherine Bracy, OFA Community Outreach Lead, Product Manager, Tech4Obama Program Manager, and co-director of Obama’s San Francisco technology field office doesn’t have a direct line to some of the key decision makers at Google who would approve employee sabbaticals to work on campaigns. Bracy, according to her LinkedIn profile, was an administrative director at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, which receives millions in funding from Google.
Why does that matter?
Well, Bracy’s primary responsibilities at Berkman Center “included oversight of the center’s budgets and operations, fundraising, project management and event planning.” Ostensibly, she was involved in asking Google for the money it paid to support Berkman – what a great asset for a presidential campaign to have, huh? It was such a great asset, in fact, that Obama received over $719,000 in donations from Google employees, helping him on the path to an average 6:1 fundraising advantage over Romney from the Silicon Valley area.
And that kind of money advantage is, in fact, the direct result of Bracy’s work for the campaign, if Mother Jones has anything to say about it:
Bracy reached out to heavyweights in the Bay Area’s digital world, from Craiglist to Google, before helping to launch the Obama campaign’s San Francisco technology field office last March.
And The Atlantic reported last year that Bracy and others were considered to be the “stars” of several closed-door fundraisers targeting the technology community:
In late January, Goff, Reed, and Bracy hosted a fundraiser at San Francisco’s Founders Den, a SoMa working space and private club. Thirty dollars got donors into a panel reception, and $500 gave them access to a “small roundtable discussion” starting an hour and a half earlier.
The Atlantic report also notes “The Obama campaign wasn’t interested in commenting on this sort of thing.” THERE’s a big shocker….
Bracy also brags on her LinkedIn profile that she personally was responsible for recruiting over 100 volunteers from the Silicon Valley community for the campaign, and oversaw the development of 14 products. That list of volunteers may (or may not have) included:
- OFA Senior Software Engineer Justin Vincent, who was a software engineer at Google from March 2008 to July 2011
- OFA Lead Engineer Angus Durocher, who was the lead web developer for YouTube/Google from 2006 to 2010
- OFA Director of Voter Experience Anthea Watson Strong, who worked with OFA Director of Data Ethan Roeder on the Voting Information Project
Or maybe OFA CTO Harper Reed, who was besties with Schmidt, hired those guys. I don’t know.
It’s no surprise that Bracy consulted for Google on the Google Political Innovation Summit immediately following the 2012 election, or that she is now the International Program Manager at Code for America that, surprise, surprise, received Google Foundation funding in 2012.
Look, I’m not alleging that Google is buying drones, getting its policy people appointed to senior White House positions and then collaborating on official White House policy with their former colleagues through private email (Gmail) accounts, rolling over for the majority of subpoenas (not warrants) the Department of Justice issues them for user data, that those Department of Justice subpoenas and user data disclosures torpedo the aspirations of GOP 2016 presidential hopefuls, or that they’re tracking your browsing habits and reading your Gmail to make a buck while helping their friends in power.
All I’m saying is that, maybe when people from Google, or from Salon.com, which just happen to be owned by Robert McKay, Chairman of the left wing donor activist group, Democracy Alliance (along with, unsurprisingly, another former Google employee), deny that Google collaborates with Democrats, maybe we shouldn’t just take their word for it.