Archives July 17, 2018

Facebook is not alone in making everyone’s data available for whatever purpose

Most companies that trade in the sale and manipulation of personal information are private and beholden to few rules other than the bare minimum of those they establish themselves, to avoid scrutiny and be able to say “we told you so” if an angry individual ever comes calling. Even if a consumer is aware their data is being passed around, their ability to control it once it’s out there is virtually nil: if they request it be deleted from one data broker, it can simply be bought back from from one of several gigantic firms that have been storing it, too.

It is an open question what the actual effect of Cambridge Analytica’s work on the presidential election was, and what the outcome might have been without its influence (most references to its “psychographic” profiling in The New York Times’ story are appropriately skeptical). It would be hard to say without a lot more cooperation from the company and Facebook itself. But the leak by one of its researchers is an incredibly rare glimpse into a fairly routine process in an industry that is so staggeringly enormous and influential, not just in politics but in our personal, day-to-day existence, that it’s difficult to believe that it is anything but a mistake. But it isn’t, and wasn’t, a mistake. It is how things happened and are still happening every day.

The story of how the Electronic Frontiers Foundation became so EFF’d up

EFF has taken millions in funds from Google and Facebook via straight donations and controversial court payouts that many see as under-the-radar contributions. Hell, Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s foundation gave EFF at least $1.2 million.

But the reason for EFF’s silence on the Facebook surveillance and influence scandal goes deeper—into the business model of the internet itself, which from the outset has framed user privacy as being threatened by ever-imminent government censorship, as opposed to the protection of users and their data from wanton commercial intrusion and exploitation. Put simply, the lords of the internet care very little about user privacy—what they want to preserve, at the end of the day, is their own commercial license against the specter of government regulation of any kind.

All watched over by machines, Surveillance Valley

Google building military drones, Facebook watching us all, and Amazon making facial recognition software for the police, need to be understood not as aberrations. Rather, they are business as usual.

Much of the early history of computers, is rooted in systems developed to meet military and intelligence needs during WWII – but the Cold War provided plenty of impetus for further military reliance on increasingly complex computing systems. And as fears of nuclear war took hold, computer systems (such as SAGE) were developed to surveil the nation and provide military officials with a steady flow of information. Along with the advancements in computing came the dispersion of cybernetic thinking which treated humans as information processing machines, not unlike computers, and helped advance a worldview wherein, given enough data, computers could make sense of the world.

Survival of the Richest

Taking their cue from Elon Musk colonizing Mars, Peter Thiel reversing the aging process, or Sam Altman and Ray Kurzweil uploading their minds into supercomputers, they were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape…

Digital ads are starting to feel psychic

It seems like everyone these days has had a paranoiac moment where a website advertises something to you that you recently purchased or was gifted without a digital trail. According to a new website called New Organs, which collects first-hand accounts of these moments, “the feeling of being listened to is among the most common experiences, along with seeing the same ads on different websites, and being tracked via geo-location,” reports The Outline. The website was created by Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne, two Brooklyn-based artists whose work explores the intersections of technology and society…