Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The problem isn’t just Cambridge Analytica or FB, it’s “surveillance capitalism” (opendemocracy.net)
112 points by sus_007 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 30 comments

Here is how I think about surveillance.

Suppose your boss decides they want to run a quiet experiment on you.

They tell you to install an employee clock-in app on your personal phone and that you will be paid for your commute time if the app runs in the background.

Access to GPS, other sensors, etc. are required to install.

The privacy policy tells you that your privacy is important to your boss, and that your data will only be used for analytics purposes and will only be processed by third parties for viewing and juicy gossip purposes.

Your boss then can see in real time on his laptop what shops you go to, what time you go to sleep, what worknights per month you go to a bar. Where you go on your weekends.

If this feels a bit bad, then it shows your data has value to you.

(Replace boss with -coworker, -aquaintance, -online corporation(s)... )

I believe what we should be developing instead is the software that provably generates semi-random paths and inputs to the phone's accelerator API that fake your true location.

that possibly could be easily detectable... it might be better to have hardware switches that would allow you to disable all sensors individually whenever you want some privacy... there are many sensors on my phone that I never need but possibly could leak some information, yet I can't disable them... Also, I just installed an app on my phone that didn't require any permissions, yet the company was able to send me a text message... Android permissions suck a lot, still.

Sounds like a new phone company that focuses on this design

But no one at Facebook is personally looking at your data, it's automated and the employees don't have access.

Is there an independent audit of this claim? Similar things happened at Uber and we have nothing but Facebooks word for it.

I take it that not every employee has access. No employee having access seems unbelievable.

Well right now it's a requirement of GDPR, which they claim to follow. No one has confirmed it so far, but they should. Employee having direct access would be a serious breach of security that has to be reported to authorities.

Can anyone give me an idea of how valuable a person's personal information really is? I know companies are willing to spend a lot of money on this data, but I'm not yet convinced that that's rational. What are some examples of attempts to measure, for instance, the amount of advertising power gained by mining personal data? Does it turn out to be very lucrative? Or is it just trying to get an edge on the competition in an advertising race-to-the-bottom?

An individual person’s data is not worth much to anyone (commercially I mean; personal surveillance is a separate matter).

An aggregation of lot of people’s data could be very valuable in certain circumstances.

E.g., if you could identify all the people who were close to being ready to purchase a house, that’s highly valuable to realtors and lenders - but they can still only expect to covert a single digit percentage (or <1%) of that group, so the data is only ever valuable in large aggregated sets.

So the answer is, it depends on a lot of factors.

I've actually run those ads, the aggregated data is worthless. It was almost on average with putting up a billboard, or running ads in the newspaper. Facebook was completely worthless for specifically targeting that example you mentioned. Google...spend a ton of money trying to Target cheap and more expensive keywords. You know what works for real estate.. Call every expired MLS home every morning. Online advertising for real estate is pointless bullshit. Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia are quite frankly all low quality and insanely expensive for advertising. And yet incredibly innacurate.

If an agent is only converting less than one percent they won't last more than 6 months.

> Can anyone give me an idea of how valuable a person's personal information really is?

Rough lower bound: Alphabet's market cap is around 900 Billion, FB's market cap is around 500 Billion. Both of their businesses are driven by selling ads based on people's personal information. There are around 7 Billion people on the planet. That's about $200/person for everyone on the planet.

Let's go with those numbers (which are probably high by an order of magnitude, but let's go with $200/person anyway). That's the value of my info to them.

What about putting a fair value on the services we ostensibly get in return. Worth $200? $200/year? More, less?

And how about putting a value on the financial impact should my data get into the "wrong hands" and I experience something like identity theft?

Without having some idea of the other values we're not really in a position (as individuals) to decide whether this is a fair trade.

Google revenue from advertising is a little more than 100 billion per year as far as I know. I am not sure by how many people this should be divided to get a value person.

It's more than that. I went out for dinner earlier, and if they had just given me random food, there's a good chance I wouldn't have eaten there again, but I gave them my personal data so they were able to prepare a meal targeted specifically to my preferences.

I actually wasn't very comfortable with the information I had given them. I went to a shoe store right after, and the salesman was like "Is there anything I can help you find?"

I told him "Yes, but I'm not going to say, I've had it with giving up my personal data so you surveillance capitalists can make money off of me."

The shoe salesman directed me to the athletic shoes, which he knew were popular based on past user data he had aggregated, but that wasn't even what I was there for, I wanted dress shoes. What an idiot that guy was.

All these capitalists requiring us to give up our data just so they know what to sell us. The world has gone haywire, I say.

It seems a little backwards, doesn't it?

I am going to try so hard to sell you something that you didn't know you wanted that I am going to look over the obvious... simply to ask what I wanted.

Nice try, Mark Zuckerberg.

You're really clutching at straws with this one.

-One can predict the social ants behaviour spending enough time observing them! -One can predict the social human being behaviour spending enough time observing them!

=>The only simple difference lie into not using the knowledge and data acquired about the ants to change what is their behaviour!

That's what science gave to industry without any scientist from any biological field felt ashamed about! I feel ashamed about!

I have a theory that aggressive profiling and targeting is a losing game for most merchants.

In short, you're only a potential seller to any given customer for a small fraction of time. No amount of improved profiles and clever messaging will expand that window meaningfully, because you only have a modest product line. You're going to spend a fortune building a profile that's not meaningfully better than just advertising on a few manually targeted platforms.

I will argue it might have value for a few mega-shops-- the Amazons and Walmarts of the world. Many customers are basically always in the window of "ready to buy something from them", so the value in profiling comes in selecting which thing to advertise to you.

The value of that data in the form of advertisements is usually about how much you stand to gain by selling them something, and how likely you think you are to convert them.


The odd thing in my opinion is that internet advertising is shit. It was shit in the late 90s and hasn't improved in 20 years. It's astounding these ad companies collect so much information.

Thanks for stealing private information on me and leaking it while not actually utilizing it in a useful way. It's pretty pathetic.

>Can anyone give me an idea of how valuable a person's personal information really is?

I argue it's more valuable than just cash.

The recent happenings involving James Gunn and Sarah Jeong (tl;dr old social media presence haunting people) are undoubtedly going to impact more people. I honestly suspect that people born around '95 (think 6th-8th grade when Facebook picked up) will face serious career issues based on things they've said in the past. Imagine being able to shut down a political career with a few screenshots from ten years ago, whether they're out-of-context comments on a video or jokes that aged poorly, or a video of someone doing a dumb party stunt.

What freaks me out is that the questionable things we say when we're younger and don't know better may never go away, and might ultimately be used as a suppression tactic to be sold to the highest bidder.

The weaponization of social media ultimately buys control.

There is no legitimate use for so much surveillance. I dare anyone to prove me wrong by listing 3 reasons.

I've been asking myself where's the red line? It's useful for businesses to know how many people are passing by their shop, how many enter the door, how many daily purchases are there. They have NO business in recognizing people as return customers unless the aim is to provide BETTER service.

Online surveillance is automation of profiling with aim of extracting more money. Detecting price-sensitivity, insecurities, cognitive biases. Totally anti consumer.

The word "capitalism" is totally redundant and rather shows the authors bias.

> ‘Surveillance capitalism’ was the term coined in 2015 by Harvard academic Shoshanna Zuboff to describe this large-scale surveillance and modification of human behaviour for profit.

‘Advertising capitalism’ was the term coined in 2018 by dandare to describe this large-scale advertising and modification of human behaviour for profit.

‘Fashion capitalism’ was the term coined in 2018 by dandare to describe this large-scale fashion industry and modification of human behaviour for profit.

‘Tourism capitalism’ was the term coined in 2018 by dandare to describe this large-scale tourism industry and modification of human behaviour for profit.


I still fail to see how all of this is a problem when people give out their data VOLUNTARILY?

Because they don't know they're giving out their data voluntarily, or don't understand the repercussions.

In some idealized notion or legal fiction everyone might at all times be perfectly aware what they're signing up to, the reality is much messier.

Virtually no one reads the fine print, because it's obfuscated. If you have bad eyesight and are not computer literate (a good portion of the population) you will most likely not even be able to read the TOS on the average webpage. Most people have no idea what "cookies" are, or what "GDPR" means. Even if they did, there's a huge opportunity cost to doing so. [1]

Then there's network effects.

When enough people do something, it becomes a norm. I have been required by many state institutions to go through private networks whenever I need to administer something online. Yes, ones that use tracking, because they have some private/public agreement. Likewise, if everyone around a person uses Facebook, and they use it to organize their social life, then they will expect that person to do the same -- it's collectively cheaper for them than it's expensive for the individual.

I've been surprised by the amount of times I've gotten texts "oh you aren't coming"? To some event I never even heard about, because apparently everything goes through Facebook nowadays. "My cell? Just search me on Facebook."

[1] http://techland.time.com/2012/03/06/youd-need-76-work-days-t...

Don't confuse tracking cookies with people opening social profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter posting their lives on the internet publicly in written, audio and visual formats. It is false to say that people don't know they're giving out their data when they're consciously doing so.

> It is false to say that people don't know they're giving out their data when they're consciously doing so.

That's missing the point, it's about the data they're unconsciously giving out. For example, my parents did not know that their Android phone could silently track their location. And even the stuff they do consciously put out often comes with strings attached.

Many sites embed Facebook and Google trackers, which I learn only after visiting the site. I'd say that this is not exactly voluntarily.

They don't fully understand what they are doing because it's all a bit abstract and has no analogy in daily life. Well, maybe some guy (let's call him Zark Muckerberg) following you around watching you is a good metaphor.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact