Careful where and what you click. Every keystroke you make is evidence.
If you’re not comfortable with being spied on every time you open a window, I highly suggest you spend some time with this brilliant article by John Naughton in The Guardian. I would say that it is an eye-opening exploration of our lost privacy, but that would not provide the proper emphasis needed.
Naughton dives into deep waters with his look at THE AGE OF SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Harvard Busines School professor, Shoshana Zuboff. The book explores the emergence of surveillance capitalism and its implications for individuals, society, and democracy in the twenty-first century.
Zuboff provides much needed historical context for what we are dealing with as a society and as individuals today:
Surveillance capitalism was invented around 2001 as the solution to
financialemergency in the teeth of the dotcombust when the fledgling company faced the loss of investor confidence. As investor pressure mounted, Google’s leaders abandoned their declared antipathy toward advertising. Insteadthey decided to boost ad revenue by using their exclusive access to user data logs (once known as “data exhaust”) in combination with their already substantial analytical capabilities and computational power, to generate predictions of user click-through rates, taken as a signal of an ad’s relevance.
Operationally this meant that Google would both repurpose its growing cache of
behaviouraldata, now put to work as a behaviouraldata surplus, and develop methods to aggressively seek new sources of this surplus…As click-through rates skyrocketed, advertising quickly became as important as search. Eventuallyit became the cornerstone of a new kind of commerce that depended upon online surveillance at scale.
I’d like to repeat a key sentence from above: “As investor pressure mounted, Google’s leaders abandoned their declared antipathy toward advertising.” Let’s not gloat or get lost in the details here, but it’s worth noting how advertising overcomes all, even the prickliest of anti-advertising nerds.
Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of OgilvyUK, is my favorite thinker in the ad biz at the moment.
Let’s hear him on the economic irrationality in anti-advertising thinking.
It is not that businesses do not know that advertising creativity works. No, deep down in their hearts, people in business know perfectly well that advertising creativity works. It’s simply that they do not feel comfortable with the fact that it does. It messes with the map of the world they hold in their heads. They would rather pretend that their success is attributable to efficiencies, economies of scale, cost-cutting or any MBA guff than to think that it might be due to psychological factors.
Is The Clickfest Even Advertising?
The ad business that I and tens of thousands of practitioners know is built on persuasion, not digital gamesmanship and outright trickery.
Google and Facebook can call themselves “advertisers,” and the mainstream press can fall in line, but that’s stretching the definition to the point of distortion. Here is a more accurate description: Data predators who use invasive techniques to make massive, often wrong, assumptions about what motivates people to buy and to believe.
Renaming the bad business practices is a good first step. But it’s going to take a long legal and public perception journey to remedy this ill. “Demanding privacy from surveillance capitalists,” says Zuboff, “or lobbying for an end to commercial surveillance on the internet is like asking old Henry Ford to make each Model T by hand. It’s like asking a giraffe to shorten its neck, or a cow to give up chewing. These demands are existential threats that violate the basic mechanisms of the entity’s survival.”
In other words, the tech behemoths must be forced by law to change their business models.
From Brussels With Love
Americans largely drove the inception and adoption of the Internet, but the American political establishment is woefully unprepared to manage this threat to our people and our democracy. Europe is where the work is now being done to regulate and reign in the darkest of digital forces.
Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, is the world’s most important tech regulator. “The digital technology industry can no longer be allowed to shape itself. We are way beyond that,” she said.
It’s unclear yet what shape the new European enforcement will take but it may not bode well for the big U.S. technology companies that have landed in Vestager’s crosshairs. She has already opened three antitrust cases against Google, including one that resulted in a record 4.3 billion euro ($5 billion) fine for forcing cellphone makers to use the internet giant’s software on Android phones. Another 2.4 billion euro ($2.8 billion) penalty was punishment for manipulating shopping search results.
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