There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch: Google Edition
Also, this is so Sony.
Protected Media is regularly approached by companies offering to sell data or social graphs. Greiner always makes a point of asking the salesperson how the data they’re peddling was obtained and what’s in it. “Invariably, they can never answer me,” Greiner said, “which leaves me to believe that they’re very rarely asked where they get the data from.”
See also: Websites not available in the European Union after GDPR—that’s a long list.
My digital detritus isn’t quite as old as Chris Coleman’s—I lost a lot of stuff around 2001 to a hard disk crash—but I definitely have a lot of stuff on my current machine that could be chucked.
The novel Snow Crash analogized human minds to computer operating systems and suggested that they could be just as susceptible to bad code, like a mind virus. There’s a lot to like about the idea, but the book takes it very literally and has people’s brains being wiped and taken over by a mere brief exposure to a potent meme…which is ridiculous, isn’t it?
Maybe it would take repeated exposures to do that.
We’re doing the experiment right now. Facebook has these “content moderators”, a job farmed out offsite to groups of people who are required to view hours of atrocious content on a tightly regimented schedule built on the call center model. They don’t get to escape. Someone posts a video of someone being murdered, or of a naked breast, and they have to watch it and make a call on whether it is acceptable or not, no breaks allowed. No, that’s not quite right: they get 9 minutes of “wellness” time — they have to clock in and clock out — in which they can go vomit in a trash can or weep. It sounds like a terrible job for $29,000/year. And it’s having lasting effects: PTSD and weird psychological shifts.
I think part of the problem is that we treat every incident as just another trivial conversational transaction, yet that is the least worrisome aspect of social media. There are obsessives who engage in constant harassment, and this approach just looks at it instance by instance, which means the obsessive simply has to escalate to try and get through. It ignores the possible of planned maliciousness, where organizations use the tools of propaganda and psychological manipulation to spread damaging ideas. You check one of their memes, they simply reroute around that one and try other probes with exactly the same intent. No one can stop and say, “Hey, this is coming from a bot farm, shut it down at the source” or “This guy is getting increasingly vicious toward this girl — kill his account, and make sure he doesn’t get another one”. It’s all about popping zits rather than treating the condition.
As long as Facebook and Twitter and Google persist on pretending this is a superficial symptom rather than a serious intrinsic problem with their model of “community”, this is a problem that will not go away.
James Brown was right when he sang “It’s A Man’s World”… but it turns out that it’s woman who is nothing, or rather absent from data modelling.
A very long article by data analyst Apenwarr explaining how all the profiling in the world is for naught if your algorithms are useless, and how smarter decision-making upfront when designing your system (he cites Pandora as a good example), or even building a direct relationship with your customers, can often deliver better results.
On the one hand, there have been some very sketchy browser extensions (and a few reputable ones that either got taken over or hacked) found and purges from the Chrome App Store of late. On the other hand, the optics of this proposed change look really bad when you consider Google’s main business these days is advertising.
(Another reason why I switched over to Firefox, and won’t be going back anytime soon.)
Today we don’t need the Gestapo to force us to give up our personal data, we offer it up voluntarily to social media like Facebook or major US government contractors for the military and intelligence communities like Google. Many people offer their data up to maintain their social presence on the internet or merely for convenience. The standard reply to this is often “I don’t have anything to hide,” but that’s based upon the assumption of a government that respects personal privacy and doesn’t arrest people based on their political opinions, sexual preferences, or lifestyle choices.
If the Nazis had had access to personal data the same way that these corporate conglomerates do today, there would likely have been very few survivors of the persecution of people for their race, political stance, sexual preference or for the fact that they were somehow seen as physically or mentally handicapped. Add CCTV video surveillance and facial recognition software to the mix and there would have been next to no survivors. This isn’t some kind of alternate reality conjecture á la Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle, however. The abuse of data by the NSA has already shown what is possible in a supposedly constitutional democracy, and the slow slide of the US government into new forms of corruption in the last decades, culminating in the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president, leaves a bleak vision of a future that eclipses even the worst fictional visions of dystopia.
One of the main problems is that we don’t expect or receive protection of our personal data by default, and though the EU has already created such laws, as it stands right now you need to take extra steps yourself to reduce the amount of your data that can be exploited: quit Facebook; reduce using Google insofar as it’s possible (ie no email accounts); use browsers like Epic that don’t store your data, automatically delete all cookies and trackers, and hide your geolocation with a built-in VPN. But unless most of the population takes this step, which is very unlikely, or laws are put into place to guarantee personal data privacy by default instead of with a fair amount of extra effort, then most of the population is in the position to be commercially exploited and maybe, depending on how things go in our so-called constitutional democracies, persecuted in ways they can’t yet imagine.