Blog Archives

Want to Heal the Internet? Ban All Collection of User Data

I’ve been commenting on the cancerous disease that’s taken control of the Internet– what Shoshana Zuboff calls Surveillance Capitalism–for many years. Here is a selection of my commentaries:

800 Million Channels of Me (February 21, 2011)

The New Facebook Buttons: Promote, Despise, Abandon (November 1, 2012)

How Much of our Discord Is the Result of the “Engagement” Advert Revenue Model of Social Media? (October 24, 2017)

Are Facebook and Google the New Colonial Powers? (September 18, 2017)

Hey Advertisers: The Data-Mining Emperor Has No Clothes (September 15, 2017)

The Demise of Dissent: Why the Web Is Becoming Homogenized (November 17, 2017)

Should Facebook, Google and Twitter Be Public Utilities? (March 5, 2018)

Should Facebook and Google Pay Users When They Sell Data Collected from Users?(March 22, 2018)

The Blowback Against Facebook, Google and Amazon Is Just Beginning (April 27, 2018)

How Far Down the Big Data/’Psychographic Microtargeting’ Rabbit Hole Do You Want to Go? (April 25, 2018)

If you’ve followed any of my analyses, it will come as no surprise that I’ve concluded the only way to restore the health of the Internet is to ban all collection of user data. That’s right, a 100% total ban on collecting any user data whatsoever.

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How Far Down the Big Data/’Psychographic Microtargeting’ Rabbit Hole Do You Want to Go?

Maybe you’ve seen a notice like this when you log into your Facebook account: did you read it carefully? Please read the one I received:

Protecting Your Information
We understand the importance of keeping your data safe, because we sell it for billions of dollars to anyone with cash. We are making it easier for you to believe that you control which apps you share information with.

You can go to the Apps and Websites section of your settings anytime to see the apps and websites you’ve used Facebook to log into. You can also remove the ones you don’t want connected to Facebook anymore. None of this makes any difference in how much data we collect about you, but we understand it makes you feel better to maintain the illusion of control.

Wait a minute–you didn’t get the same notice that I did? What’s going on here? You mean Facebook, Google, et al. can tailor not just adverts and content to each user, but the messages they feed us?

Welcome to the wonderful world of ‘Psychographic Microtargeting’ in which buyers of data harvested by Facebook et al. tailor the “product” being delivered– marketing, political campaigning, narratives, etc.– to individuals based on a Big Data/AI analysis of the data collected on the individual and tens of millions of other users.

Here is GFB’s exploration of this rabbit hole:

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Connecting the Dots of Big Data, Soaring Corporate Profits and Trade Wars

Let’s connect the dots between these two comments from longtime correspondents: the first is on the model of collecting and selling data (Big Data), and the second on trade:

GFB:

“If I had a lot of money, would I want to do:

A) –invest in the exploration forbidding areas of the globe for oil reserves with a 50/50 chance of no results
–negotiate leases for the areas of the planet I want to extract oil in and have to negotiate with corrupt and unstable governments
–Pay for the oil extracting and transportation infrastructure
–deal with the fluctuating market values – which may make my whole investment worthless

OR

B) set up a low cost trap that has millions of people handing me for free, and with their acknowledged permission, their preferences, tastes, beliefs, and aspirations . . . which I can re-sell at almost no cost to a long list of buyers, with a price that I can set as I have the data.

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Should Facebook and Google Pay Users When They Sell Data Collected from Users?

It’s not exactly news that Facebook, Google and other “free” services reap billions of dollars in profits by selling data mined/collected from their millions of users. As we know, If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold, also phrased as if the service is free, you are the product.

Correspondent GFB recently asked, why aren’t Facebook et al. sharing a slice of the profits reaped from users’ data with the users who create the data?Given the enormous data processing capabilities of these tech giants, it’s certainly not a technical issue to credit each user a micro-payment when the data they create and thus “own” (since the creator of any digital product is by rights the owner of that product, including data sold to marketers) is sold.

Is the presumption that the collector of users’ data “own” that data via the collection process false, legally and ethically? Teams of attorneys may well be employed to support this claim on legal grounds, but what about the ethics of this data-mining of the many to profit the few with the means to collect and sell the data harvested from users?

Now that the ethical foundation of all these tech giants has been revealed to be nothing but shifting sand, it’s a line of inquiry worth pursuing. In some ways it parallels the situation in biomedicine: if a private-sector corporation harvests a particular genetic variation from an individual, do they “own” the variation because they detected it, or does the individual whose tissue/blood was harvested retain some ownership?

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Is Profit-Maximizing Data-Mining Undermining Democracy?

As many of you know, oftwominds.com was falsely labeled propaganda by the propaganda operation known as ProporNot back in 2016. The Washington Post saw fit to promote ProporNot’s propaganda operation because it aligned with the newspaper’s view that any site that wasn’t pro-status quo was propaganda; the possibility of reasoned dissent has vanished into a void of warring accusations of propaganda and “fake news” –which is of course propaganda in action.

Now we discover that profit-maximizing data-mining (i.e. Facebook and Google) can–gasp–be used for selling ideologies, narratives and candidates just like dog food and laundry detergent. The more extreme and fixed the views and the closer the groups are in size (i.e. the closer any electoral contest), the more profitable the corporate data-mining becomes.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the data-mining gets all the important stuff wrong. As correspondent GFB explains, oftwominds.com was identified as “propaganda” by data-mining, which concluded that any site that posted content that wasn’t pro-Hillary was automatically propaganda:

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