Tag: Google (page 1 of 12)

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.


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

Internal Google comics

I discovered these comics, made over several years by someone who worked at Google, via Hacker News. The one below I thought was a fantastic roast of the kind of ‘leadership’ I’ve seen at a few organisations.

Source: Goomics

No more simplified URLs in Chrome

On balance, I’m pleased that this ‘experiment’ is being put to rest. Although I’m for simplifying needlessly-complex aspects of the web, my previous work on web literacy would suggest that there’s a certain amount of knowledge and understanding people need to be able to have to read, write, and participate on the web effectively.
Example of domain showing instead of full URL

At the time, Google said that the reason for running the experiment was that showing full URLs makes it harder for non-technical users to distinguish between legitimate and malicious (phishing) sites, many of which use complicated and long URLs in attempts to confuse users.

Showing only the domain name was considered a good way to remove the extra chaff from a complex URL and only leave the core domain visible in the URL bar.

If users wanted to view the full link, they could click or hover the Chrome address bar to reveal the rest of the page URL.

However, despite its good intentions, the experiment never sat well, with both security experts and end-users alike, who often complained about it when Google silently enabled it on some browsers to gather usage statistics.

Source: Google abandons experiment to show simplified domain URLs in Chrome | The Record