« | Home | Categories | »

You Are the Product

Posted on September 8th, 2017 at 10:03 by John Sinteur in category: News -- Write a comment

[Quote:]

Whatever comes next will take us back to those two pillars of the company, growth and monetisation. Growth can only come from connecting new areas of the planet. An early experiment came in the form of Free Basics, a program offering internet connectivity to remote villages in India, with the proviso that the range of sites on offer should be controlled by Facebook. ‘Who could possibly be against this?’ Zuckerberg wrote in the Times of India. The answer: lots and lots of angry Indians. The government ruled that Facebook shouldn’t be able to ‘shape users’ internet experience’ by restricting access to the broader internet. A Facebook board member tweeted that ‘anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?’ As Taplin points out, that remark ‘unwittingly revealed a previously unspoken truth: Facebook and Google are the new colonial powers.’

So the growth side of the equation is not without its challenges, technological as well as political. Google (which has a similar running-out-of-humans problem) is working on ‘Project Loon’, ‘a network of balloons travelling on the edge of space, designed to extend internet connectivity to people in rural and remote areas worldwide’. Facebook is working on a project involving a solar-powered drone called the Aquila, which has the wingspan of a commercial airliner, weighs less than a car, and when cruising uses less energy than a microwave oven. The idea is that it will circle remote, currently unconnected areas of the planet, for flights that last as long as three months at a time. It connects users via laser and was developed in Bridgwater, Somerset. (Amazon’s drone programme is based in the UK too, near Cambridge. Our legal regime is pro-drone.) Even the most hardened Facebook sceptic has to be a little bit impressed by the ambition and energy. But the fact remains that the next two billion users are going to be hard to find.

That’s growth, which will mainly happen in the developing world. Here in the rich world, the focus is more on monetisation, and it’s in this area that I have to admit something which is probably already apparent. I am scared of Facebook. The company’s ambition, its ruthlessness, and its lack of a moral compass scare me. It goes back to that moment of its creation, Zuckerberg at his keyboard after a few drinks creating a website to compare people’s appearance, not for any real reason other than that he was able to do it. That’s the crucial thing about Facebook, the main thing which isn’t understood about its motivation: it does things because it can. Zuckerberg knows how to do something, and other people don’t, so he does it. Motivation of that type doesn’t work in the Hollywood version of life, so Aaron Sorkin had to give Zuck a motive to do with social aspiration and rejection. But that’s wrong, completely wrong. He isn’t motivated by that kind of garden-variety psychology. He does this because he can, and justifications about ‘connection’ and ‘community’ are ex post facto rationalisations. The drive is simpler and more basic. That’s why the impulse to growth has been so fundamental to the company, which is in many respects more like a virus than it is like a business. Grow and multiply and monetise. Why? There is no why. Because.

  1. I think this is a good analogy: “Facebook and Google are the new colonial powers.” And make no mistake it is not just the current developing countries that are being colonized. Facebook and Google already tell people what to think, directly, or as a proxy of a Russian clique. Once they have all the behavioral data they can start shaping individual behavior. Governments and other companies will be at the mercy of the big five data holders. Trump already allowed ISPs to deep inspect all individual Internet users to collect as much data as they want while the NSA is not allowed to keep track of simpler data (on USA citizens). The big five can move the data on all people to whatever jurisdiction they like to do what ever they want with it. What is going to stop them from constricting the world population for ever more riches? Moral? I hope something is going to stop them, but I doubt it will be public outcry.

previous post: Obama response to rescission of DACA

next post: Stand up who HASN’T been hit in the Equifax mega-hack – whoa, whoa, sit down everyone