Tag: Big Tech (page 1 of 4)

Big Tech companies may change their names but they will not voluntarily change their economics

I based a good deal of Truth, Lies, and Digital Fluency, a talk I gave in NYC in December 2019, on the work of Shoshana Zuboff. Writing in The New York Times, she starts to get a bit more practical as to what we do about surveillance capitalism.

As Zuboff points out, Big Tech didn’t set out to cause the harms it has any more than fossil fuel companies set out to destroy the earth. The problem is that they are following economic incentives. They’ve found a metaphorical goldmine in hoovering up and selling personal data to advertisers.

Legislating for that core issue looks like it could be more fruitful in terms of long-term consequences. Other calls like “breaking up Big Tech” are the equivalent of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Democratic societies riven by economic inequality, climate crisis, social exclusion, racism, public health emergency, and weakened institutions have a long climb toward healing. We can’t fix all our problems at once, but we won’t fix any of them, ever, unless we reclaim the sanctity of information integrity and trustworthy communications. The abdication of our information and communication spaces to surveillance capitalism has become the meta-crisis of every republic, because it obstructs solutions to all other crises.

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We can’t rid ourselves of later-stage social harms unless we outlaw their foundational economic causes. This means we move beyond the current focus on downstream issues such as content moderation and policing illegal content. Such “remedies” only treat the symptoms without challenging the illegitimacy of the human data extraction that funds private control over society’s information spaces. Similarly, structural solutions like “breaking up” the tech giants may be valuable in some cases, but they will not affect the underlying economic operations of surveillance capitalism.

Instead, discussions about regulating big tech should focus on the bedrock of surveillance economics: the secret extraction of human data from realms of life once called “private.” Remedies that focus on regulating extraction are content neutral. They do not threaten freedom of expression. Instead, they liberate social discourse and information flows from the “artificial selection” of profit-maximizing commercial operations that favor information corruption over integrity. They restore the sanctity of social communications and individual expression.

No secret extraction means no illegitimate concentrations of knowledge about people. No concentrations of knowledge means no targeting algorithms. No targeting means that corporations can no longer control and curate information flows and social speech or shape human behavior to favor their interests. Regulating extraction would eliminate the surveillance dividend and with it the financial incentives for surveillance.

Source: You Are the Object of Facebook’s Secret Extraction Operation | The New York Times

Platform power and infrastructure

John Naughton writes notes that we need to describe a fourth kind of power alongside compelling us to do something, stopping us from doing something, or shaping the way we think.

Image by fabio on Unsplash

The great unsolved problem of our time is how to deal with – and where necessary curb – the unaccountable power of these giants. The first step on that road is to reach a collective understanding of what kind of power they actually wield. And for that we need a taxonomy. In an earlier era, the political theorist Steven Lukes proposed one. There were, he said, three kinds of power: the ability to compel people to do what they don’t want to do, the ability to stop them doing something they want to do and the ability to shape the way they think. This last one was useful in addressing the power of influential media owners (Rupert Murdoch, for example) in the old media ecosystem. But although it still applies in some ways to social media, it’s less useful for the networked ecosystem we now inhabit; we need another category.

“Platform power” is one possibility. The tech giants all possess it to a greater or lesser degree. In Apple’s case, for example, it owns and controls two important platforms – ie, software systems on which other agents can build businesses: they are the operating systems on which its devices run and its app store, which decides what apps are allowed on Apple devices. Google owns several platforms – a search engine and its associated advertising marketplace, the Android mobile operating system, YouTube and Google cloud services. Facebook (whose holding company is now rebranded as Meta) also owns several – Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp; Twitter owns, er, Twitter; Amazon owns its marketplace and cloud services; and Microsoft owns the Windows/Office platform and a fast-growing cloud service, Azure.

Source: How can we tame the tech giants now that they control society’s infrastructure? | The Guardian

Microcast #091 — Arguing in circles

Overview

An eclectic mix of articles in today’s microcast, covering everything from teens and tech to Fediverse functionality.

Show notes


Image via Pexels

Background music: Shimmers by Synth Soundscapes (aka Mentat)