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Thieves of Experience: How Google and Facebook Corrupted Capitalism (lareviewofbooks.org)
234 points by exejeezus 38 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 208 comments



"Anyone who tries to remove a pre-installed Google app from an Android phone, for instance, will likely be confronted by a vague but menacing warning: “If you disable this app, other apps may no longer function as intended.” This is a coy, high-tech form of blackmail: “Give us your data, or the phone dies.”

They're bluffing. Turning off Google Drive, Google Duo, Google Gmail, Google Play Movies and TV, Google Play Movies, Google Play Music, Google Play Store, Google Keep, Google Maps, Google Photos, and Google YouTube doesn't do anything other than turn off those user-facing apps. Google Play Services is the only one that affects other apps. Then install F-Droid and install open source replacements.


Don't overestimate the customer.

"I don't like Google Maps and I deleted it. Now I can't see the map! Fix it now!"

"I see. There are competing map services available."

"That's not the map I want. I want the map!(Google Maps)"

"You can use a browser."

"Browser? What is it? I simply want to use map!"

"If you really wan to use the Google Maps from the app. Then you have to install the app called Google Maps"

"I don't understand you! Speak English! FIX IT! FIX IT!"


Had a friend working in first level support. He told me stories once in a while. And it sounds pretty close...

From our point of view it sounds idiotic. Even sometimes narcissistic. But in there world it makes sense, because they have no idea how those two actions connect.


I convinced my 60-year-old parents to get themselves landline internet since they had been sharing a really small mobile data allowance. The landline enabled them to have things like Netflix. They had owned a smart TV for years with no internet...

Anyway, mum calls me up because she's having issues with getting Netflix to work on her TV. After a bunch of troubleshooting trying to help her over the phone, I asked her to reinstall the Netflix app. She goes silent. She didn't have the application installed, she had been trying to run Netflix on her tv by using an internet browser to go to the Netflix website and watch shows that way.


Ironically, there is no technical reason for this not to work, just that Netflix doesn't support HTML5.


> I don't like Google Maps and I deleted it. Now I can't see the map!

i mean, is it common for a user to hold contradictory thoughts like that?!


Most of the abstractions used in computing are objectively quite complicated. Filesystems are a classic example - to understand a filesystem practically someone has to be able to imagine a tree structure, which they will never see laid out in one spot. A lot of ordinary users aren't going to be up for that, I don't think that is a skill called upon outside of computing.

In the case of "deleting Google maps" I'd suggest many users probably operate by remembering a recipe of actions they need to take to get a result, of a form "see this" -> "do that". If they aren't regular computer users, it is easy to see how the fact that some of those steps are in a context that we call "Google Maps" could escape them. They probably aren't comfortable with the idea of programs (especially if someone has told them that programs are separate from each other; because as an axiom that it is sometimes violated). Google Maps isn't labeled inside the app, so if they don't already know what it is they aren't going to figure it out.

In short, yes users are going to believe contradictory things. Just because Hacker News users all know the common abstractions by heart doesn't make them obvious to everyone.


I see you've never worked a helpdesk. :)

(Depressingly, yes. PEBKAC is the most common diagnosis and people get really angry about it.)


What technicians don't realize is how often PEBKAC is located at the programming station.

Developers surprised by users lacking a mental model of the operating system, who follow HIGs without understanding why they exists, or who never see how their applications are used, are prone to build applications that kill by a thousand paper cuts.

It doesn't help that people skills are moved to a separate discipline and not taught as part of the essential CS curricula.


For those curious:

PEBKAC == "Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair",

means you, the user, are the cause of the issue, not the hardware or the software


For those who prefer a slightly more pleasant looking acronym, there is also:

PICNIC == "Problem In Chair, Not In Computer"


I like that better. That said, imagine the office:

— "It's PICNIC again, guys"

groans all around


We had PICNIC back in the day in the UK too, plus "ID ten T" often went on the notes.

ID10T


some car mechanics say that it is a problem of the piece/part located between the driving wheel and the driver's seat.


Yes, not least because technicians are really bad at building context. Telling people to delete stuff to protect their privacy without providing a clear alternative that delivers equivalent functionality is a good way to upset them.


The google intent system makes it easy for apps to call other apps. Things like location -> map. Or need an barcode scan -> scanner pops up. Need an email -> email client pops up. Click on a movie and youtube or netflix pops up. So sure, people may think "I'll never need that apps" without realizing that it breaks opening that kind of file/website/link.

The bindings between intents or filetypes and the apps that open them is a rather common support issue across numerous platforms.

For whatever reason it's pretty common for users to think ... "I'll never need excel on this computer", but then be rather irate when they can't open an excel attachment.


How are those contradictory? I get rid of my dictionary, my other books still work.

I, personally, understand the shortcut. Do you want to not break stuff or educate consumers? One of those sounds really expensive.

I mean, it’s a clever threat. I think it overestimates people at their most angry. A rational person wouldn’t break stuff. An irrational person will double down on their belief that you broke other stuff.


My mother: Fix my login for the retirement accounts.

[I start to explain how she keeps messing up the browser saved passwords.]

Never mind that! Just fix the login!


Ever spoken to a user?


Yes, 100% and much worse.


This is sad, true, hilarious, and depressing all at the same time!


And then spend a significant amount of my free time maintaining my phone. This is not a realistic recommendation for a non-technical phone user who just want their device to work.

(I'm not just tossing this out there, I put Cyanogen on a Nexus 5 for a while.)


This is how so many developers ended up on OS X.

They wanted bash and the command line, but they got tired of dicking around with their machine all day.


Exactly! I made the same calculation 8 years ago, though now the cost Apple hardware has me reconsidering a PC with Linux for my next personal laptop.


Come to the dark side. It’s glorious (with maybe one or two minor issues).


> one or two minor issues

Don't be fooled. By minor he means "Yes, the kernel panics on boot, but the kernel did load."


Nothing like that at all.

It boots completely fine to a blank, black screen with no errors at all.

Completely minor. Just need to set a few kernel options to make it work properly.


If you use grub, it's easy to switch to the previous one.


The only major issue I've experienced is if you need the latest Nvidia drivers and CUDA. The odds are, if you just go and follow the sanest-seeming instructions you can find to install the drivers needed, your OS will no longer boot to desktop. If you do manage to install, the next kernel update will break the drivers and you're left with a black screen and hazy memories of how to fix it.

There are ways to get it to work, of course, but for any distro I've used, before you've dealt with this a few times, it's not obvious which set of instructions will both result in usable drivers and not break upon kernel update. I now have a "how to install Centos 7" document that I'm still not sure is actually 100% correct.


It's a much different era than 8 years ago. I've been using Linux as my main OS for 4 years now and it's been very stable. Mind you I bought hardware that I knew would work well and did a lot of upfront work with configuration, but now its all automatic.


I've got it to work on hardware I bought previously. No problems on an older Dell laptop, some hassles on a PC with two AMD graphic cards.

Linux comes with strings attached. On the other hand I had to deal with Win7 issues as well (such as the Windows Updater hogging up 50% of the processor) which weren't easy to fix either. In hindsight, it's on par. On Linux, it's easy to switch to a previous kernel, I like that really. And I use timeshift before critical updates.

The only concession I did, was to buy an HP printer recently because of HP's support on Linux.


This is true as well. I'm on the same boat. Next time that an upgrade is due I'll have to do a more serious due diligence.


So true. I used to be a gentoo user, then fedora and arch, all in my laptop. It was fun to tinker with it but eventually you have other stuff to do and just need a laptop that works. Now, I won't say every time cuz even OSX has glitches but rarely (for my use cases anyways).


Why not Ubuntu or Mint? These generally work out-of-the-box.


Disabling the Google apps hasn't lead me to need time maintaining my phone. Disabling Play Services and Play Store makes things a hassle, but stuff like Google Drive or Google Play Music doesn't.


Right? I thought endlessly tweaking and optimizing my computing environment was super fun in my 20s and took some sort of craftsman like pride from it in my 30s. Now that I'm nearly 50 I am no longer very impressed with the cost/benefit ratio and just find it an annoyance.

I love that there are opensource alternatives to many commercial products, but I am sad at the relatively low quality of coherence and interoperability of applications.


This is a disclaimer and a speed bump for people who don't know what they're doing, who will mess with stuff and then forget what they did.

When you make products for the hundreds of millions of people who barely know anything about technology, such things are necessary.


Disabling Play Services will prevent many "store" marketed apps from installing/working, i.e., execution will stop and the user will get those ridiculous coercive or cryptic messages. F-Droid apps will of course work fine. However at least on the phones I have tried one can disable Play Services, disable the Play Store, and Google Maps will still work. No Google account needed.


How much tracking does Play Services do on its own?

Is https://microg.org/ a suitable substitute?


I ran MicroG recently and for many cases it works but there are still places where it's lacking. For example it doesn't play nice with taxi apps. Notifications and such work just fine though, as does Google's own Play Store.


It's prerelease, so still needs a lot of work.


yep play services is the one thing that ties it all together and is the crucial part of gapps and the minimum of gapps installs.

i have used custom rom without googles stuff(including services). i was fine for my use case as i do not rely on google for my workflow.


Some services could have dependencies. On Samsung devices you could kind of break the launcher/os in some parts by disabling apps and services that you think are unneeded.


I'm a bit torn on this - for a long while, I saw Google as trying to promote "the right way" of doing things, and only getting frustrated and doing it themselves after handset manufacturers and cell providers kept doing it wrong. I mean, was the original Nexus anything other than "look everyone, this is how it SHOULD be done, but we have no interest in actually being the ones to do it"?

That doesn't deny that Google has done a lot I'm not comfy with - but I feel like had these other players done the right thing and not refused to update OSes, if they had embraced open APIs, then Google wouldn't even have been tempted to do some of the particular evils the article discusses.


My CEO in the mobile video space explained the rise of smartphones to me very simply: economically, it was about transferring ownership of the customer from the carrier to the device manufacturer. Apple doubled down and broke the established mold by demanding ownership if carriers wanted their devices. Google whose entire house of cards is based on the web advertising model, had to respond. They responded by providing a near-enough software stack they could "open source" to create enough noise and lower-cost competition in the market to ensure Apple was not able to dominate. They did this well. But do not mistake their motivation: it was dollars all the way.


This is so true. Even on iPhone. I was recently traveling abroad and lost my debit card so I cancelled it. I had a credit card for the remainder of my travels but I wanted to wait to replace my iTunes/App Store payment with my new debit card number instead of my credit card. Well when Apple tried to run my disabled debit card for my monthly fees (Apple Music, extra iCloud storage space, etc.) the card didn't work and the app store was basically bricked on my phone until I updated my payment method. I couldn't even download the free updates to the free apps on my phone until Apple got their $8 from me. I'm generally a big fan of Apple and I think they usually try to do right by customers but it's appalling that a company is able to hold such an important personal device hostage without any warning over an insignificant infraction.


Not sure I see the problem, you can still access everything you've paid for to date, I think it's fair. If you were to leave stuff with a storage company and let payment lapse, they would hold it as collateral until you paid.


The problem I see with it, is the parent is claiming their app store access was entirely bricked.

The physical storage company holds your stuff - and eventually liquidates it - because you're paying to rent that space and your stuff is inside of their physical property. You aren't paying monthly rent to access the app store when you buy an iPhone, that's supposedly free to access (the parent mentions not being able to even update free apps). Apple bricking access to the app store changes that equation, they're proclaiming by doing that that the app store isn't always free to access as a baseline.

Apple is certainly within their rights to go that direction as a business. However, I'm certain that's a very different value proposition than what nearly all iPhone buyers think they're getting when they buy their very expensive phone (ie they expect free, unencumbered access to the app store as a minimum offering whether they buy any other Apple services or not).


Is it possible to use the iOS app store without ever entering a credit card, i.e. only using free apps?


> If you were to leave stuff with a storage company and let payment lapse, they would hold it as collateral until you paid.

You're right, it's a legal lien, but with absolutely none of the consumer protections we would require of any other business.

Using your storage company example, they can't just arbitrarily hold someone's possessions hostage the second they don't pay. There's a legal process that must be followed to place a lien against someone else's property.

The storage company can't do anything until a payment is at least 15 days late. They also have to send a written notice to the customer of their intent to place a lien (in the form of locking the customer out) against the property and notify the customer of the exact date the lien will go into effect. The effective date has to be at least two weeks out from the date of the written notice to the customer.

Would we allow an automobile financing company to repossess a car the day after a missed payment? What about a mortgage company foreclosing on a house? Of course not. But Apple can ostensibly cut off someone's app store access, and their access to free apps and updates to applications they already have a license to use, instantly and without prior notice. Not even the government has that kind of unchecked power over an individual's personal property.


This sounds totally insane for someone who never bought a single smartphone app.


They really did it to prevent Microsoft from doing this. Apple just ended up being the real threat. Another company with the ability to lock down access to the web and Google was (and is) an existential threat to Google.


the most random thing ticked me from Google good toward Google evil yesterday when I discovered an Android app can choose whether or not youre allowed to take a screenshot. (I'm normally iOS but have a Pixel 2 for testing)

Apps imo should not have that control. It's my phone. I should be able to capture what I want. I shouldn't need to get out another device to take a picture of a bug or record a transaction for safe keeping.

That Google chose that solution struck me as heading down a Black mirror like path. I can imagine it won't be long before AI will decide if you can even take a picture of something. Someday we'll augment our eyes and they'll decide what we're allowed to see.

In their defense apparently they were trying to prevent background apps from spying on your screen. They just chose the wrong solution IMO. A solution I think will end up having far reaching consequences as a precedent of control.


I agree, but this battle has already basically lost because of DRM requirements for streaming video: I don't think you can take a screenshot of a Netflix or Amazon Prime video on any platform.


Just tried it. It's perfectly possible to take a netflix screenshot on windows.


I don't think it's too hard on Windows...


Hmm, my impression is that they will only play video if you have a secure connection from the graphics card to the screen. So, unless you have access to a HDCP stripper, I don’t think there’s any way to tap the video stream.


This is wrong. It's perfectly possible to screenshot your netflix stream.


You can use the built-in DVR in Windows intended to record games to record Netflix with audio....


"won't be long before AI will decide if you can even take a picture of something." - Haven't some drone makers already started adding gps coordinates of places you can not fly / take picture at?

So it appears this has already begun, and the database of off-limits places / things of the machines you think you direct has already begun, and will certainly grow larger.


Wait until it costs more to have your self-driving car go through wealthy neighborhoods.


> In their defense apparently they were trying to prevent background apps from spying on your screen.

I have heard from several blind people that this is also Google's excuse for the horribly broken Android accessibility.


I think it's a big mistake to blame Google and Facebook. They are just the latest symptoms of a long term trend. I think the real corruption started sometime in 70s or 80s when it became acceptable to declare that a company has no other obligations than to their shareholders.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Friedman and the Chicago School of economics are the nexus of the change you're describing.

If you're sort of liberal, it's a real mind bender to listen to Milton's speeches on YouTube. It was the first time I really felt exposed to the philosophical core of the various negative things I thought were random externalities of 'capitalism'


Any in particular you can recommend?


I guess ending compulsory military service, safety inspecting our food and opposing entirely state-controlled education systems are the negative core of capitalism then. Who knew.


I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with any expressed opinions on Friedman, but it's interesting to see someone criticized by political opponents on both sides who fundamentally misunderstand everything he said and stood for. This persisted through his whole life and obviously after his passing as well.

At his core, Friedman was fundamentally about a person's right to choose the direction of their own life. That's it -- really all you have to understand about the guy.

The GOP seems to love Friedman right now, even though they don't understand him and that makes him an easy target for the opposition. In truth his arguments were fundamentally no different from his oft-adored 'liberal' peers: Henry Simons, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich von Hayek. Economic freedom is essential to attain political freedom.


Econonomic freedom is not essential to attain political freedom, or "essential" here is fuzzy, or whatever is being called economic freedom here, and whatever is being called political freedom here, has probably suffered a terminology contortionism. Mind you, I am not a fan of unnecessary rhetoric patrolling, for example, if someone says "Bezos built AWS" I think is ok, I understand perfectly that the commenter wanted to say that he gave the order to the employees to build it, not that it built it with his own hands. But some things can be toxic, when unintentionally reverberated.


except, "my freedom ends where your freedom begins", so there are limits. And if we translate that to the real world all kinds of sticky "conflicts of freedom" emerge, especially between businesses and society.


That's what all the lords and kings used to say. "This freedom nonsense is too tricky for you all to manage yourselves, let us hold on to it and take care of it for you."

Freedom is a messy thing. It not only needs to be used carefully, but nurtured. Misuse of it does not mean we should have less of it.


...That is more than I've read in the history books.

What you typed out here means nothing. It gives no clarity on where the border is between my freedom in my sphere of influence and your freedom in your sphere of influence. Saying "use freedom carefully" gets us nowhere unless we've already agreed to a set of principles such as "your freedom shouldn't restrict my freedom". And when that messy conversation has begun it leads on to "how can we make sure you adhere to that principle" and suddenly you've created a society and government.

"Moar freedom!" is a platitude. Unless freedom is limited (and we can argue all life long about what those limits should be) all you end up with is "might makes right". That's certainly not a society I want a part in


That's very dangerous what you are saying right there. It is more then obvious that your freedom to walk in my street's block, to exist(your freedom), depend directly on the limitation and curtail of my freedom to shoot you with my shotgun. Your freedom is killing my Total and Absolute freedom. Do you want to give me Total freedom?


You don't have the freedom to shoot people with your shotgun.

Framing an argument for freedom as an argument for anarchy, as an excuse for curtailing freedom, is exactly what my comment was railing against in the first place.


My take on it is that he really speaks out of both sides of his mouth. He's all about a person's right to choose the direction of their own life, but he's also for completely disrespecting human life if it increases shareholder value.

He spoke in generalities, and for anything he said, if he was ever confronted about the negative consequences, he'd quickly blast out some contradicting generalities.

The only consistent thing was what we've come to call the Chicago School of economics, which is basically responsible for the present style of capitalism we all enjoy.


Capitalism surely has its shortcomings, but the reason we rely on it to maintain societal stability is because the shortcomings of its competitors are orders of magnitude greater. The same as one might choose one software stack over another.

This is usually why the socialists and other marxists stay quiet about their beliefs in discussions like this while they heap criticism on criticism.

Tangentially, the thing that most of us who 'get things done' for a living have learned though is that people who offer criticisms and no solutions don't end up getting to stick around very long.


For someone so pro-freedom he had plenty of nice things to say about mass-murdering Augusto Pinochet and his fascist Chile. Seemed he was pro-tyrant as long as it was a pro-free-market tyrant.

Friedman and Hayek are two idealogues that I believe civilisation will look back very unkindly on.


Which sage, prophet, satirist, poet, con artist, whomever had their ideas faithfully represented, properly understood once they were discovered?


How many actually understood properly there own ideas? Have a few good years and do some great writing and I bet one goes back and reads it over as a refresher every once in a while. Good to refresh the mind on what everyone is making such a big fuss about.


Or the concept of corporate free speech, person-hood and "too big to let fail."


Freedom is assembly and freedom of speech add up to freedom of group speech, including unions, political groups, ethnic groups, and so on. I don't know why corporations would be special groups without that right.

But, yeah, corporate personhood and bailouts need to be revisited. It's too bad that we need to have a functional policital culture to make any significant changes like that.


I own some Apple stock. I don’t influence in any meaningful way how Apple spends its money. I don’t influence in any meaningful way their corporate policy. The owners of Apple, save for a few individuals, don’t have a real say in how Apple uses its freedom of speech. Apple is not a group of people coming together in the same way political organizations are and Apple/Google/Exxon, etc. have far more money to send on political speech than any other organized group of people.


> I don’t influence in any meaningful way their corporate policy.

And donating $15 to AARP doesn't give you any meaningful influence over its positions.

> The owners of Apple, save for a few individuals, don’t have a real say in how Apple uses its freedom of speech.

But that's mostly true of any consumer-level involvement of any very large organization. It doesn't matter if it's Apple, Greenpeace, or the Libertarian Party.

> Apple/Google/Exxon, etc. have far more money to send on political speech than any other organized group of people.

Probably, but while money is helpful to getting your message out, it's not the only important things. Worse funded candidates beat better funded opponents. If anything, incumbent advantages seem more important and worrisome.

But with a more principled perspective, there isn't a mechanism by which free speech rights can be curtailed just because someone is especially resourced. If so, shouldn't we also criticize white collar professional societies for doctors, lawyers, realtors, and the like? They're much more capable of lobbying than associations of dishwashers (as if kitchen staff had time and energy for that).


A company is not an organization of people who come together to exercise their free speech. This is especially true of large corporations. Large corporations are controlled by a few individuals and those individuals have at their disposal large sums of money. They have an outsized influence on the political process in a system that does not cap their ability to spend on political purposes. A company ought not have any free speech rights. It’s not a person and indeed is not a single individual. The free speech rights of employees and directors of a company are not in any way curtailed by limiting the ability of a company to influence the political process of a country.

As I stated in my previous post the amount of money at a large corporation’s disposal far exceeds that of any other organization of people who come together to advocate on their behalf. Professional societies of doctors can’t come close to the amount of money that Apple or Google have at their disposal. The difference in money between the dishwashers and doctors is dwarfed by the difference between doctors and Apple.

Countries like France and Germany are generally considered free and yet their corporations don’t have free speech rights and are limited in what they can do in terms of political spending. Before Citizens United most Americans considered America a free country and yet corporations weren’t considered to have the same free speech rights as humans. It’s been recognized by most people that money greatly influences elections and policy. Hence societies concerned about becoming oligarchies tend to have strict controls on political spending by a single individual and corporation.

A corporation is not at all like a professional society of doctors or of any other group of people. It’s a matter of magnitudes of scale and differing purpose. We used to have laws against one company owning too much media and yet we felt free at the time. I’m not going to convince you to change your mind on whether or not corporations should have free speech. I’m just pointing out that corporations are, indeed, not like a professional society of doctors.

A professional society of doctors is free to have a rule that members must pledge to be of a particular religion. Can a company have that rule? A company is not a group of people coming together for the purpose of influencing policy or expressing their free speech.

I almost forgot to mention another thing to consider. Apple is owned in part by people living in other countries. Most people of a given country don’t want their politics unduly influenced by people who don’t live there.


Citizens United is a conservative non-profit organization, formed expressly to influence policy. Examples of a for-profit company engaging in free speech would be the New York Times Company, or Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11.


I meant Citizens United as a reference to the Supreme Court case not to the specific entity in that case. The effect of the cas was that corporations in the U.S. have free speech rights.


Citizens United overturned a recent law. People were calling the law unconstitutional when it passed. And nobody serious says the New York Times doesn’t have free speech rights. That has been protected by previous rulings.


Most people did not have a problem with McCain-Feingold. Some people did. The effect of Citizens United is that corporations have the same free speech rights as humans. This despite the fact that Citizens United (the entity) is not a for-profit corporation. One has to look at the effect of the ruling since it’s effect is quite broad in scope and not just at the specifics of the case.

Most free societies have limits on what corporations and organizations can spend on political campaigns. This was true of the U.S. too until recently. Until recently the belief that a nonhuman should have the same free speech rights as a human was bizarre. It’s still considered bizarre in just about every other nation in the world. I suppose this is another example of American Exceptionalism. What other people could have been brave enough to grant the same free speech rights humans have to non humans!

There are serious people who believe that the New York Times has rights when it comes to printing news. Many of these same serious people believe that the New York Times should not have the right to spend its profits as they see fit on whatever political campaigns/parties/candidates it wants to.


The New York Times has spent the last two years of its front page on a political campaign.


> A company is not an organization of people who come together to exercise their free speech.

Except for news companies, entertainment companies, education companies, advertising companies, companies that place advertising, and companies whose interests need to be represented to elected officials and the public, sure.

And think of it from the other side. If the New York Times gets special free speech rights for journalistic reasons, who decides that they qualify as special? Does the government get to decide what counts as journalism? There's no mechanism for that either.

As to international concerns:

- Many of the things I mention (like deciding who gets especially free speech) are broad concerns, not ones specific to the U.S.

- Because of the principle of freedom of association, people from other countries are free to stay away from companies or countries, at least to the degree their governments allow that freedom.

It's fair to be concerned that corporations have negative impact at times. But large companies also use free speech to promote social, health, and environmental causes all the time. We don't complain about pink ribbon campaigns, global warming awareness initiatives, partnerships with nonprofits, sponsorships of publicly produced content, and other corporate speech like that.


Disagree. Those companies exercise their owner's or editors' free speech. The rest of the large organization are functionaries with severe limits on their speech, like at any other corporation.


I've yet to hear a fair mechanism for making those kinds of distinctions in objective courtrooms instead of in subjective editorial pages and message threads.

Every group has processes, rules, and norms for deciding how to produce and distribute content.


The New York Times is not an organization of people who came together to exercise their free speech rights. Its employees are there, primarily, to work. The product they sell is information/entertainment. This product does not change the goal which is to make money and does not change that it’s not an organization of people who came together to exercise their free speech rights.

It used to be the case that media had a special set of regulations regarding their ownership and how large they could be in terms of expansion. That is effectively no longer the case. The government, by the laws it enacted, has the authority to regulate media companies. Well, they used to. Society through it’s leaders gets to decide these things, for the most part. There are limits on what can legally be done by the government. Thanks to the Supreme Court that limit has been greatly expanded. The fact is that until recently few people held the belief that corporations should have the same free speech rights as humans.

Should Toyota, a foreign corporation with presence in the U.S., have the ability to influence American elections the way that a professional society of American doctors has? Allowing corporations to have the same free speech rights as humans is quite bad and will have long term bad consequences for the country.

Until Citizens United corporations didn’t have the same free speech rights as humans. This idea is a recent phenomenon. It’s unique, I believe, to the U.S. The U.S. is not the only “free” country in the world. This ought to suggest to you that perhaps something is strange with the notion of a corporation having the same free speech rights as a human.

I wish the protectors of corporate rights were as vigilant when it came to the rights of humans. But this isn’t the case in the U.S. so I’m in favor of companies not having speech limits in the U.S. for the same reason that I voted for Trump. The U.S. deserves the mess it is in. Let the road to serfdom be an easy one to navigate!


You can sell your shares if you think Apple is spending money that is not good for making its shareholders more money. You selling shares will have non zero impact on the market price of Apple shares.


The shareholder still has no input if the only option is to sell. In the same spirit a country could tell its citizens that they should leave if they don't like it here.


Leaving a country is a lot harder than selling some stock.


But suggestions are equally effective in terms of outcomes. Both suggestions are equally pointless which is maxxxx’s point.


And Apple can have COMPLETELY open books for transparency if they choose to donate or fund political advertising and/or support. Individuals have rights. Corporations are a bargain for limited liability and should have limited rights as a result.


I see you missed the entire point of my post.


Corporations exist to limit the liability of owners, in particular to decrease risk to owners. Given that owners of corporations are given such special treatment, it makes perfect sense that such an organization does not inherit the rights of the citizens that are protected from the results of the corporation's actions.


Yes. And recall that, in the US before that late 1890s, only public-interest corporations were legal. Because that was the tradeoff for the ability to arbitrarily concentrate capital, with limited-liability. If a corporation violated its public-interest charter, it could be dissolved.

But then the railroad corporations got big and rich enough to buy off Congress and the Supreme Court. They got human rights before women did ;)


Corporate personhood cuts both ways. If a corporation doesn't have free speech rights or any of the rights of a person, does it have legal obligations? Can it be sued? Can it enter into a contract and be held to it's terms? The ability of courts to hold corporations accountable under the law and the constitution, in the United States, also relies on the notion of corporate personhood.

The notion that people do not lose their legal and constitutional rights when acting collectively seems to me to be a very dangerous one to want to revoke, and it's not obvious to me that any legal right granted by a specific law should entail any unstated or implicit revocation of any other such rights.

Newspapers are corporations. Do they have no right of free speech? OK so you could start carving out all sorts of technical exceptions, but that way lies madness and a bonanza for the legal profession at little benefit so far as I can see.

Finally as to limited liability, as I understand it limited liability corporations are generally subject to additional taxes as a cost of their liability privileges and that seems to me to be a practical and proportionate arrangement.


All corporations have limited liability, the limits vary as do the requirements. The fact is, they only exist because the government permits them and assigns these rules, there's no practical reason that non-living entities cannot be restricted in exchange for those benefits assigned. Except now it would take a constitutional amendment to overcome supreme court precedent.


What that means in practice is that corporations that are friendly to the establishment can say whatever they want, and those that oppose the establishment are subject to prosecution.


Evidence? This was a relatively recent decision. If what you say is true, there should be mountains of relatively recent evidence for it in the US. Otherwise you're just promoting a groundless personal theory.


This is human nature. Chelsea Manning got prosecuted, while all the other leakers don't. People with bumper stickers are more likely to get pulled over. Look at what European countries do to crack down on speech.

McCain-Feingold was only law for under a decade.


There is already limited liability of the whole in lieu of personal rights... there doesn't need to be any reason to restrict rights of corporations beyond any typical group.

Assembly is fine, but as far as I'm concerned, any organization that accepts donations for political purposes should be required to have open books, outlining where donations come from, and not allowing donations from foreign sources, including international conglomerates.

That's just where I stand... I go very far on personal liberty, and the ability to form groups with public receipts, but that's where it should end.


Worth reading even for those who already read the NYT review, as it nicely explains the timeline of how we got into this situation.

Fully agree that Google and Facebook are mainly to blame. As an example, Google's success in surveillance and pacifying critics through open source trinkets almost definitely convinced Microsoft to try its hand at the same game. And now the two biggest operating system developers are spying on their so-called customers.


Do you see Google and Facebook as equals in terms of badness?

Honestly, I’ve always perceived Google as less insidious than Facebook. To me FB is more in your face, channeling your behavior. Google seems more passive and delivers more utility.

What am I missing?


Google has far more reach online than FB. The risks and harms with FB are largely social. Google is scary because of the type and amount of data they have and the amount of influence they have over the direction of the internet.

Both companies scare the hell out of me but for different reasons.


I can see that. Google seems to have adult management, while Facebook seems to have a more... immature model.

I don’t see how you can be Google without being scary.


Google is the Internet's black hole, sucking everything in. So massive that it bends everything towards it. And imo that's all it takes to be evil, being so powerful that you will always get your way.


Google's surveillance system has more reach that Facebook's. Both are extensive, but it's pretty common to find webpages that contain no facebook tracking but do contain google tracking. In fact it's pretty rare to find websites that don't contain any google tracking. And I can avoid Facebook's gaze by using email, but if I use email almost inevitably somebody I want to email will be using gmail, meaning any messages sent necessarily go to google.

Then you've got the Chrome problem.


Or android problem. Or google docs problem, .....


In my view, Google is far worse. The company took entire internet and bent it to its advantage. It has monopolized search and delivery of information, and it has monopoly on digital advertising. It’s actually destroying creation of content online, because there is no money left to creators, such as journalists, bloggers, etc. There is a reason why The Guardian has donate button under its articles: it’s one of the many outlets that is struggling because of the unethical black hole called Google.

PS I just came back from CES as a journalist. Tried to get in touch with Google folks, and they are literally behind the walls, unavailable for interviews. It’s all hush hush. Security at Aria suites where they were present. No access whatsoever. Their main booth at LVCC was staffed by temps hired in Las Vegas, whose only job was to jump and shout Hey Google! Truly dystopian.


When were "journalists, bloggers, etc." ever making money by creating content online? I don't think Google has anything to do with them having a big problem doing this successfully.


Journalism is a profession, and a very important one.


Can you back that up instead of repeating a slogan? I happen to largely agree with you but just saying “X is good” leaves out a lot of details with regard to what is X, how is good defined, etc


For the importance to hold true, the profession as a whole must solve the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gell-Mann_amnesia_effect


Wow, when statement that journalists are important is downgraded, we truly live in dystopia.


Even if you agree with the statement, it was a meaningless reply to the question asked.


Journalists are professional and have to be paid. And they are not being paid, because Google is an unethical business. And that's why your local newspaper is struggling and why content is not created on internet and why there is no VC investment in the media and content. That's the answer.


You still have not explained how Google is responsible for the failure of online newspaper business models. If google did not exist, what would these newspapers be doing differently that would keep them profitable?


It's downvoted because the statement, while true, was irrelevant to the question at hand.


Journalists are important. My sardonic quip was not aimed at saying they aren't, but that they are suffering from a structural defect in how we currently implement news, leading to a quality control issue, manifesting as the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect. If I'm aiming at any entity, it is probably a capitalism that has stalled its progress in the past near-half century at gradually obsoleting itself (which I hold should be prescriptively the real goal of capitalism).

Embedded as journalists are within a capitalist system, they must earn sufficient capital to live upon. Or find alternative means of support, like some form and/or degree of self-sufficiency. Really good journalists seem to be uber-networkers of a sort: they have a highly-honed networking skill cutting across many societal boundaries unlike most networkers, and seem to mostly not parley that network into a monetizing scheme to retain their impartiality. But that impartiality seems to come at a cost too steep for many to pay.

This leads to a vicious cycle. Structurally, the most proven way to currently get advertising income (primary business model supporting most journalism) is essentially create click bait content, or maintain some form of distribution monopoly (Elsevier-like, Bloomberg-tie-in-like, or Clear Channel in US radio) or distribution oligopoly (old newsprint companies). The Net is eroding the latter two delivery channels, driving more journalists towards facile coverage at best, crude exaggeration at the median, outright sensationalist falsehoods at worst.

This gives a short- to medium-term boost to advertising income, but erodes factual coverage, at the worst moment possible: just as civilizational complexity is accelerating. Long-term, I'm seeing the echo chamber tendency many have talked at length about here (I hypothesize as technology exposes more people to more of the Gell-Mann effect, more notice, and they start to turn inwards on news sources to defend themselves? dunno.). There are some nuggets of gold out there, but they're very difficult to find. Confounding this is good journalism with actionable information on complex topics is expensive as hell. Good journalism these days sometimes is mistaken as buy-side analysis, which doesn't help (capitalism is blind to many issues that buy-siders don't cover).

It also doesn't help that there are many instances where journalists actually analyzing an issue of great substance get their friends and families threatened (which costs even more money to defend against) and in many cases are outright killed [6], or like Assange, relentlessly persecuted by the resources of a nation-state or large corporate powers.

So the easy way out for many "news businesses" seems to reward low-effort, high-volume content, and as a byproduct we experience the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect. Quipping about it is my exasperated, tongue-in-cheek response to what I perceive as a highly complex, interconnected set of problem spaces.

We've discussed the "good journalism" conundrum many times here on HN [1] [2] [3], and various aggregation platforms [4] [5] have been proposed, but the problem to me seems to be much larger than "journalists aren't paid enough", or "where has all the good journalism gone to". To even start on "the journalism problem", I suspect we have to admit the tough truth that the current status quo as envisioned, implemented, supported and championed by various elites around the world is simply not delivering progress for significant sectors of civilization. Aggregate measures are improving, but trotting that out is cold comfort for those affected. Sure, The Net might be great and snazzy, but in the meantime journalism as a profession appears to be slowly bleeding to death.

Don't look to me for any solutions though, I'm just an outside bystander missing the old, incisive writing in newsprint I grew up with and see in newspaper morgues at libraries, and I have zero interaction with journalism as a profession or business. I'm just stabbing in the dark here at what the problem even is, and welcome others who operate on the business side to shed some light.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5324429

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15786802

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18743272

[4] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11343822

[5] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15451602

[6] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15489312


Any and every for-profit business in the internet space would/does "bend the internet to its advantage" as far as it possibly can, limited only by its competency and influence.

There's nothing particularly wrong with that. The onus is on society/government to set boundaries.

Google is pretty scary - but imagine a world where google never existed and instead companies like AT&T, Comcast, or even Microsoft had filled that market void instead? (And guess what? They are all trying desperately to get there.)


Not the parent commenter, but wanted to chime in on this – it’s two different evils / bad… however I feel that google is more bad because they have spent years trying to convince the world they are good and trustworthy, many people have come to believe that ‘googling it’ is truth – and yet there is so much censorship with google that many people will not find the truths they are seeking.

At least with fbook it’s fairly transparent – we are cramming ads down your throat, and people are sharing shit that is not necessarily true but it makes you feel the ‘others’ are bad, and your tribe is better, and we make it easy to like and share.

There are many other reasons for the bad things these companies do that could weigh in on who is worse for the world, who is worse for democracy, etc -

Sure facebook might be able to cause more damage to more people more quickly – easily being weaponized and helping people spread dangerous messages around the world, it’s fairly transparent that it’s random fake people being fake, and advertisers are trying to sway you to do things you would not be doing otherwise.

however Google is more evil, as it purports itself as the arbiter of truth – yet it hides so much from the world and is opaque in so many ways, the truths it shows are not counter balanced by others who have similar access to show the other side of whatever story.

Google is unfair to it’s users and webmasters. Thing is, many people may never know it. That is more badness imho.


Google is hard to escape, Facebook you can just not use.


Personally I think Facebook is beyond saving. They are toxic for democracy, their core business is invading people's privacy and I wish they go bust as soon as possible.

Google on the other hand ain't that bad. They do deliver a lot of value, they have some extraordinary products. They are also pretty unlucky in business (most of their products are failures plain and simple).

I think that for Google it is just a phase and they will soon wake up and realize that being part of surveillance capitalism is harming the company and diminishing its value.


> Google seems more passive and delivers more utility.

Google delivers no utility beyond the companies that it acquired, and its monopolies due to size and control over so many handsets allowed it to push out the competition that would force it to improve what it does offer.

Youtube and Maps, at least, have a worse, more intrusive interface than they did 10 years ago. It's completely a subjective statement, but for me their search results are far worse in comparison to 10 years ago, and in obvious ways, like every link on the first 5 pages of any search trying to sell me something or repeating the same wikipedia copy.

To estimate the utility of Google, you have to compare it to the ecosystem that you would expect to have existed if Google didn't exist, not to the ecosystem you would expect if search engines, streaming video lockers, and an alternative to iOS on mobile didn't exist.

The only two nice things that google ever did for me was 1) count backlinks to give me better search results, and 2) create a culture of less intrusive ads through their monopoly power. The SEO people killed innovation 1), and google pretended that they were going to use magic AI to beat them but secretly gave up. 2) would have been done anyway by the rise of the adblockers, and google ruined all goodwill by innovating on a culture of intrusive tracking and behavior monitoring and profiling on the internet that has become a threat to its very existence.

Facebook is just filling a need that governments should be filling: providing an organized way for individuals to communicate with each other over the internet. Extracting rents is what companies do when they take over functions for absentee governments. Facebook doesn't seem to care much about what is outside facebook, other than how it helps them extract more rent from the people inside facebook.

Google is actively spreading over everything, and making it worse.


a need that governments should be filling: providing an organized way for individuals to communicate with each other over the internet

This is bizarre and wrong. The purpose of the internet is communication. If it exists, communication does. It supports a multitude of communication modes with varying levels of "organization" (whatever you mean by that), and none of them rely on government to function. Of those that have seen improvements (e.g., better spam filters for email), none of those improvements have come from government.

Of course, Facebook is just about the worst of all the modes of communication supported by the internet, so if you like how bad that is maybe you really just hope government could make it worse...


Google collects far more personal data than FB. The one thing that saves them from all the backlash that FB faced is that they don't seem to share those data with 3rd parties.


> Fully agree that Google and Facebook are mainly to blame.

Let’s not ignore the complicity of their users. You can live without Google and Facebook.


> Let’s not ignore the complicity of their users. You can live without Google and Facebook.

How, when your work place often requires that you use their products? They expect you to be on Slack, then you got to have a phone and laptop and use the company blessed authentication portals (also handled by Google and the likes) to log in.

And not just work, also simply living in your city will require it. Who calls a cab by voice anymore? At some point I am sure there will be no way to do it. I have never seen a cab radio device in my city for many years.

Not to mention that your friends will have you in their contacts, images, comments and emails, which are hosted on Google and FB whether you like it or not.


There was no informed consent; users were completely failed by both governments and journalists.

Governments didn’t think any of this was important until recently. By the time they did, Silicon Valley outspent wall street 2:1 on lobbying in the US.

Most journalists found understanding technology boring and difficult (beyond eagerly regurgitating spec sheets) and have little interest in understanding businesses beyond reporting a citable stock-price fluctuation. Most of the reporting during the ascent of surveillance capitalism has simply been “look at the boy genius nerds! A tshirt in the boardroom!”.


I m sure if the book is as described, it's going to be very popular with the HN crowd, however one has to wonder if what is claimed is true. If the ability to mold the behaviors of people has increased , then why were people spending a lot more in the 1920s for advertising than they are now[1]? Why did online ad spending surpass TV only in 2017, and TV advertising keeps rising as well[2]? If anything, the conclusion is that the effectiveness of ads has dropped , so publishers like google have to scrape the bottom of the behavioral barrel to make it through. Also, even for google, the bulk of advertising income is from search results, not from 'evil' behavioral tracking.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_advertising#/media/...

2. https://www.smartinsights.com/advertising/online-ad-spend-ov...


Because in 1920 one ad reached less people and required more effort to produce and competition now is fierce so prices had to drop?

The stats you show does not have all that much to do with ease of convincing someone and could be explained by millions other ways.


so you think the market is wrong about the value of advertising? if you have tried online advertising perhaps you know how terribly inefficient it can be.


Low price means a lot of competitors and cheap to be made. High price means expensive to make or scarcity.

Market is right, but price has little to do with how easy it is to convince people. Mineral watter is cheap and it is not because it is not valuable. It is because there is ton of it and if you sell it expensively, I will buy cheaper one.


this isn't about the price of ads however, but about the total amount spent on advertising compared to gdp


That chart doesn't necessarily show what you're suggesting. Even if we throw out the giant dip during WWII, the "trend" seems to be completely swallowed by the volatility. Why assume that we're seeing anything other than a random walk? If there were some underlying "reason", why would it have to be "the effectiveness of ads"?


I believe, but cannot prove, that systemic fraud has soured many on digital advertising.


I’m a bit concerned about how much data Google has on me and I do think Apple is genuinely more concerned about user privacy. But what’s the difference in practical terms really? Google uses my data to target ads at me but doesn’t actually give any of my data to its ad-buying customers. Apple doesn’t do this but is obliged to turn over my iCloud data to the government with a subpoena. Since this is really the scenario we should be most concerned about and since all tech companies are required to comply with the law it seems to me that the only way to have any meaningful online privacy is to not use cloud services from any vendor.


Depends on what you are worried about. The book (if I understand the review correctly) is concerned not just with loss of privacy, but with how your personal data can be used to modify your behavior.

Quoting from the review:

> “The goal of everything we do is to change people’s actual behavior at scale,” a top Silicon Valley data scientist told her in an interview. “We can test how actionable our cues are for them and how profitable certain behaviors are for us.”

So both Google and Apple vacuum up your data, and both are required to comply with lawful governmental requests, but only one of these companies makes money from your data by selling your attention to those who would modify your behavior. (For now).


I honestly don’t believe Apple is much more concerned- I think they’ve seen the negative sentiment towards FB and Google and have decided to seize the moment by highlighting that they are a hardware company, which they’ve always been. It’s easy to preserve privacy when you make most of your money selling luxury hardware.


> "they are a hardware company, which they’ve always been."

I don't really buy this. If it were true, they'd have no reason not to open up more of their software. Why not take the Hack out of Hackintosh, distribute the OS freely and let anybody run it on whatever hardware they please? The answer is obvious: their software drives purchases of their hardware. People buy Apple hardware because they desire Apple software. You'll be hard pressed to find somebody who buys a macbook but then primarily runs Windows on it.

It's not a matter of Apple "hardware company" or a "software company" that's important here, in this context. It's Apple being a "hardware or software or both" company, while Google and Facebook are neither hardware nor software companies. They're advertising companies.


Apple's growth must now come from services since the phone cycle is peaking. And the selling point they promote is privacy


It really speaks to the great improvement of the human condition, that the big complaint about the top companies of today is that they are showing us personalized ads, rather than burning the earth or poisoning babies.


You say that like top companies aren't doing either of those things anymore. They are very much doing those things.


Good point. It’s almost as though the tendency of activists to punch up at The Man du jour results in their own priorities reconfiguring in opposition. Seems a little myopic to me. Maybe we should be celebrating these companies for finding a way to generate economic growth by increasing the efficiency of the economy, instead of putting more carbon in the atmosphere or enslaving people.


It's funny what you say here, but the truth in what you say actually makes it more sinister if we consider that many of these personalized ads are paid for by companies that are poisoning the earth and babies.

(assuming that bayer and johnson and johnson may have given fbk or big G money for ads at some point, and perhaps companies that make plastic or pump poison into the ground and water to extract gas, other companies that use plastic, etc)

To think that these 'top companies" make it easier to use data to change an ad slightly so that it sways the opinion of open group of people one way and another group another - and get be put right in front of someone's eyes at the moment they are feeling down or researching something else -

This kind of propaganda power is indeed saying a lot about the improvement of the well educated and powerful humans of today.

As to the "great improvement" of humans today.. I'd say a majority are being influenced, and it's more often about extracting money from the majority than it is to personalize in a do-no-burn, let's-un-poison kind of way.


The complaint isn't that they are showing us personalized ads, it's that you can't participate in modern society without sacrificing a ton of privacy or being incredibly inconvenienced.


Does “sacrificing privacy” mean something other than “seeing personalized ads”? What’s the difference?


Yes, it means having all of your data available for any criminal or civil court case. It means that any data breach will likely also include details about your life that you would like to remain private. Sure, it's not abused by the government right now but what happens in a regime change? What if that regime hates black people or homosexuals or muslims? So yea, it means a bit more than being shown personalized ads. How'd that Ashley Madison leak go? How about the OPM hack? How about Equifax, where's my SSN at now? Who knows my credit score? Then it also goes to conversations that used to be private. Mark Zuckerberg started deleting all his old conversations on Facebook, but how many of our chats, blogs, conversations, and comments are going to linger on?


"Sure, it's not abused by the government right now" - actually I think it has been by many governments many times.

There has been some push back on occasion, (facebook wanting to withhold data against the NY AG looking for insurance fraudsters with pm data?) and in some cases the gov has backed off, a few times the courts made them back off some (the dreamhost site visitors data requests from sessions and co?) -

There are many more examples, however I agree with your comment and I think that in general most people are unaware of massive gov overreach with data requests at the moment, so most would say the data is not being grossly over used / abused by (the US) gov right now.

However that could change quickly, just as the cambridge analytica made people start to question some things with private companies use / abuse.


You may think it's just personal ads, but ones and zeroes have a tendency to spread far and wide https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/nepxbz/i-gave-a-b...


Yeah, IMO that’s also a lot worse than what people are going after Google/Facebook for.


> Without permission, without compensation, and with little in the way of resistance, the company seized and declared ownership over everyone’s information.

No, Google has permission - it's given when you click I Agree in Android, or when you sign up for a Google account, or when you continue to use a website that has a 'terms of use' page.


in reality the permission was given the moment that people buy the phone. Nobody is going to realistically buy a phone and then deny the terms. TBH the idea that users consent because they click a button is bogus unless something like money is at stake.

I think they should try adding warning signs to phone packages, like they do in cigarettes, "tracking inside" , and see how this affects consumer choices.


In reality the permission was given the moment that people buy the phone.

Not for Google. Permission is given when you agree to sign up for a Google account. Google tries to trick you into signing up by using a dark pattern. Just click "Later", then remove the signup app. I've been doing that for years now on Android phones.


And with compensation too. Barter is compensation.


People on these discussions should stop playing these games of ignorance or shifting blame to the user and acknowledge the pervasive industry wide culture of data collection, open deception and fraudulent help messages deployed ie 'can we do x with your data to provide a better experience' conveniently forgetting to mention the full scope and what else they are doing with the data. This is fraud.

If you think users are so stupid then why even play these games? There are no regulations, no one cares about user privacy and everyone's sold out, fair enough but being 'coy' about it makes a mockery of informed discussion.


>Many people, it seems clear, experience surveillance capitalism less as a prison, where their agency is restricted in a noxious way, than as an all-inclusive resort, where their agency is restricted in a pleasing way.

The possibility that a free, democratic publishing platform increases the agency of the average citizen is not permitted here.


I don't find surveillance affects my agency. My decisions on how to live aren't affected by whether I believe someone is watching me. I'll say this as clearly as I can:

I like targetted advertising and I like these companies knowing things about me that I don't even know.

The best example I can provide is my USB powered hand warmers. I do a lot of study at night and early mornings during winter. My desk is in a very large area and to keep my fingers warm enough to type I needed to warm the entire area. Facebook served me an add for USB powered hand warmers that now save me a significant amount on my power bill in the colder months.

Disclaimer: 10 years in the military, where you have no rights. You sort of become accustomed to people wanting to control you.


I like what you are pointing out here, however I think in what the quote is describing is true, in that google and facebook are censoring and moderating many things and increasing the visibility of engaging to the particular user things, is (unfortunately) restricting in a pleasing way.

however I think what you are pointing out is important, and I'd like to think that we are educating people to question what they see and hear, and that if they were surfing the whole web of the world, not the censored google view or fbook view - they indeed they would be able to increase their agency and continue to do so in many ways, rather than being restricted to a particular prude groups view of what advertisers may be comfortable with.


> The possibility that a free, democratic publishing platform increases the agency of the average citizen is not permitted here.

One day the trolls / bots / advertisers will find out that a lot of well paid influential engineers regularly read HN, and that will be the end of it.


The notion that any of those platforms is democratic is laughable. They are heavily censored for starters, among other things because they were cesspools of manipulation (hello election manipulation scandal!) and bullying/violence (hello Myanmar genocide!).

They're also intentionally filtered at the behest of the owners themselves and tuned to elicit user dependence on the platform.

Their cost is just hidden, they're not free.

So this possibility is permitted for about 5s, the time required to think about it a bit and then reject it as totally unrealistic.


>The notion that any of those platforms is democratic is laughable.

They are democratic as publishing and research platforms because every citizen has equal access to them, subject only to a device and internet connection. Only 20 years ago, the ability to publish and spread an opinion was heavily restricted by your power and financial status. With the exception of countries with good public libraries (a small minority of the world) the same was true of libraries. You're comparing to a non-existent utopia, not actual universes that have ever existed anywhere.


It's not a corruption of capitalism, it's just capitalism. They found a market, they sell on that market. They dominate that market.

That's capitalism, no need to make up a new term.


Not sure why you're being downvoted. I upvoted you. Those were my exact thoughts when reading. It appears to paint a rosy view of capitalism. As if some pure and moral capitalist rules were in place and they were 'corrupted' by evil Google and Facebook. I also wish we took some responsibility in this whole thing. We've let those companies grow by using their products and services, many times even knowing the personal data they mine. I don't think it's entirely their fault.


Most westerners, and certainly visitors to this site, have spent at least the past 30 years in the assumption that neoliberal capitalism marks, as Fukiyama spouted in 1989 as the wall came down, “the end of history”. It’s becoming difficult to recite why this claim was taken for truth but there was a reason it felt that way.

It’s more than just admitting we are wrong. We also have to find a way out, and there isn’t one unless we all do it together.

You’re exactly right that we urgently need to move beyond the blame and recognize it’s up to all of us to get out of this mess.

Historical trajectories point to 2 possibilities for the United States: denialism followed by Fascism, or a miracle followed by socialism (of some degree). The miracle is a shortcut through the contradiction Upton Sinclair articulates: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."


>Under the Fordist model of mass production and consumption that prevailed for much of the 20th century, industrial capitalism achieved a relatively benign balance among the contending interests of business owners, workers, and consumers.

Capitalism is like the presidency, as soon as the new iteration comes along, everybody looks wistfully back to the previous administration.

>Enlightened executives understood that good pay and decent working conditions would ensure a prosperous middle class eager to buy the goods and services their companies produced.

Should I laugh or cry at this? Where were these enlightened executives when...oh, yeah, they were asking governors to call out the national guard to roll out machine guns on flat cars and shoot striking strikers and burn their family's tents.

>This is not to suggest that our lives are best evaluated with spreadsheets.

If they were spreadsheets, the implication would be that someone human would eventually look at them. But the whole point is to abstract such away from the human.

I forget where I read it, but someone who studies these things, presented that during the middle ages, the so-called trial by ordeal was really about doing two things, [aka the touching, for example, of a hot iron the accused's arm or palm and then bandaging and seeing if it was healing or pussy after a set number of days] wasn't about belief in some supernatural judgement but a way removing both God and man from the need to make the decision. Really, have we gotten so far away from that?

Also, people downplay Foucault, but I think more and more that might merely because of how topical he is, even after all this time. The panopticon has become unclothed from its steel-and-concrete body to be reborn transcendent.

>A less tendentious, more dispassionate tone would make her argument harder for Silicon Valley insiders and sympathizers to dismiss.

Considering where this article is from (and thinking of Wallace Stegner, who was supported by the CIA in regards to the Iowa Writer's Workshop to attack communistic and other such anti-capitalist elements) I can't help but recall a passage in one of Stegner's own books on writing praising the dispassionate, which, along with 'show don't tell' were expressly promulgated to prevent and inculcate writers from undesired politics (and that isn't a joke[1]).

[1]https://www.uipress.uiowa.edu/books/9781609383718/workshops-...


Years ago I thought it was the government that was destroying the internet and the open frontier of human communication. Over the last 10 years I've understood it to be the google and facebooks of the world that have a vested interest in command and control of internet consumers all the while training a new generation to think, act and do it their way.


Google and Facebok didn't corrupt capitalism, they embody it.


It seems as thought cause and effect are reversed here. It’s really capitalism that corrupted Google and Facebook:

> In Google’s early days, Page and Brin were wary of exploiting the data they collected for monetary gain, fearing it would corrupt their project. They limited themselves to using the information to improve search results, for the benefit of users. That changed after the dot-com bust. Google’s once-patient investors grew restive, demanding that the founders figure out a way to make money, preferably lots of it.


> Surveillance capitalism’s real products, vaporous but immensely valuable, are predictions about our future behavior

Enough of the juvenile hyperbole. Facebook nor Google sells future predictions of users. Facebook’s customers are advertisers. They sell ad placement. Thats a fact, not an opinion or analysis. Why should anyone take criticisms of Facebook seriously from people who don’t understand how Facebook even makes money?

They sell ads. There is nothing wrong or illegal about showing ads on a website.


Maybe they do more than "sells future predictions" - but I think what you are quoting is still basically true.

Sure some ad sales are simply general feel good branding, some ads may be to get more data for use years later, however many of the ads I have run with both fbk and big G were in fact using their predictions of the future.

search term "dentist open saturday" - predicting a future dental visit.

realtor Portland - predicting future buying or selling of property.

yes their customers in which they can take money from are advertisers, and the product they are selling is the fbook user and google user, often predicting a future choice, and offering us a chance to influence for the right price.

The more they know about their product (the end user) like zip code, the more valuable sometimes.

There are sometimes issues when ads on a web site are illegal, and many more times when an advertisement is right or wrong is not so black and white but depends on many other factors.


Here’s my version:

On the surface the media is about keeping us informed.

But the incentive structure of media companies means that media’s real product is fear, write headlines and sell sensationalism in order to hook readers and sell subscriptions.

When co-opted by governments they sell control of the zeitgeist, sometimes we call that propaganda.


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Slavery predates capitalism, it’s definitely not a consequence of it.

In fact, since slaves can’t be consumers, capitalism works as an incentive for freedom.


> "In fact, since slaves can’t be consumers,"

That's not broadly true. It might be true in some limited contexts, but it's not true when you consider the broader picture of slavery throughout human history.


I think the example alludes to the fact that the Atlantic slave trade was grown mainly by companies, not government.


Surveillance exists with or without capitalism too, nevertheless we do analogical complain about capitalism being corrupted by it. Why the difference?

Having slaves was profitable. A lot profitable. The only capitalist incentive for freedom was that north laborers did not wanted to compete with slaves. Competing with slaveholders sux, because slaves are cheaper and free men social status goes down if he do slaves like work. The rest of anti-slavery arguments had zero to do with "slaves will consume" nonsense that is absurd contemporary construction.

Once the other guy own slaves, his competitors have to buy slaves on their own, because free people require more salaries. So if you don't use them, your company won't be able to compete on price. That is how market makes slavery more and more common, assuming there is enough slaves available (either by transport or breeding) and no laws to prevent it.

Slavery existed for long. However, there were not that many societies where slave ownership was that large part of wealth and livestyle.


Ancient Rome was around 30-40% slaves, though there were many different kinds used in addition to chattel slavery (various forms of indentured servitude, etc), so it's hard to make clear comparisons.

However, the Roman empire wouldn't have existed in it's highest form without slaves. They were integral to the economy.


I remember reading that the Greeks or Romans would probably consider today's average wage earner a slave. Interesting to ponder about.


Check Jonathan A.C. Brown's forthcoming Islam and Slavery (October 8, 2019) for a very detailed treatment of that question (Note that I checked the drafts of his book that he posted on his academia profile).


There are important difference among others ability of wage earner to leave without being beaten or killed for it. Feudal system gets closer to it and it is still not the same thing.


I am not sure what exactly does that prove or show? Once there was slavery somewhere we can not talk about how slavery evolved and got big elsewhere?

Since it was in Rome, it was not profitable in south? Or which of my points is invalid by slavery being in Rome too? Julius Caesar basically committed genocide and that is Rome, therefore we should not analyse origins and philosophies of contemporary genocides?


Surveillance can exist without capitalism and capitalism can exist without surveillance but this conversation is about the effect of both coexisting in a symbiotic relationship.


I don't see the connection between slavery and capitalism. It seems to me slavery is distinctly anti-capitalist because slaves do not compete in the labor market.


Slavery is orthogonal to capitalism.

Slavery is the belief that humans can be owned as property.

I suppose if property ownership is part of capitalism, then they have this slight connection, as communism is the abolishment of property ownership, and therefore, slavery would be impossible under communism.


The usual argument is that slavery is not market-efficient in an industrial economy, and, on the other hand, capitalism inevitably leads to an industrial economy, thus killing slavery in the process.

It's a contested theory, though.


The introduction of the mechanical cotton gin induced a very sharp rise in demand for slave labor in the American South. Mechanizing the processing of cotton created an increased demand for picking cotton, a process which had not yet been mechanized.

Maybe if people had waited a few more years for the mechanization of cotton picking, this would have corrected itself. Or maybe not. Maybe further mechanization would have created other opportunities for the use of slave labor.

My point is, "more industry = less slavery" is an oversimplification.


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The OP is fairly opaque in their acceptance of socialist ideas- perhaps if you disagree enough to comment the very least you could do is provide some substance.


I don't expect substance from Hacker News capitalists, they're the type of people who buy into the whole "if it's legal, it's ethical" stance of SV tech companies like Google and Facebook. I expect down votes and logical fallacy when I spout my pinko commie drivel here.


I'm a counterexample to your statement about Hacker News capitalists. I certainly don't consider Facebook's behavior ethical, even if it is legal. But I also think democratic societies with capitalist economies have been the best of a lot of bad options. The human race has not yet designed any better system as far as I can tell. You seem to be picturing mostly the libertarian types, but there are lots of other shades of capitalism. I would consider myself a moderate capitalist: someone who sees the value in capitalism but feels it needs to be regulated.


If you're not the client, you're the product.

Then think about how much do you pay for google and facebook services.


How much do people pay to use Linux or DuckDuckGo? This statement is parroted so much and adds so little to every discussion.


Aren't you the product on DDG? Like they still sell ads and do marketing. Just less invasively than Google.

An argument could also be made for Linux, that the users are the product. Like why does all this development get done on Linux? Because people use it. Why do companies choose Linux on their servers? Cause all the users that know it.

Sure, you're not getting exploited on these platforms, which is awesome, but the users are still valuable to each of them.


I'm not arguing whether or not those services actually "make you the product", I'm just railing against this annoying rhetoric that "being free" in itself somehow makes a service exploitative.


I think it's important to remind people of this, but to add more examples and to mention the alternatives as well.

I agree that something being free does not always equal "its exploiting you" - however that does not discount the importance of remembering that a free service likely has ulterior motives compared to a premium service - but not always of course.

I remind myself and others about how free services are likely to change eventually so don't end up 'all in' on a free service as things can change when the company changes or gets sold or goes premium or whatever.

eg - people that built a business using an fbook page that saw the friend feeds change got screwed. News businesses that added fbook share this stuff to their pages to later find fbook putting more pressure on them than google..

When a video converting / hosting plugin was released for wordpress I had to pipe up and ask what the monetization plan was for this new thing - as it would not be tenable to have unlimited video hosting without ads or data sharing and other limits in the future..

When people do not think about these things, it's easy to take advantage of a free service and depend on it, sometimes at the expense of otherwise good competition - only to find later that vendor lockin is evil and can turn exploitative - even at times when the original creators intent was not to do that.

Even in those cases where you are not currently being exploited, you can still indeed be the product, if nothing else other than "our app has 100,000 users so we can have a value of..."

If people thought about this more, they would ask about exporting their data before signing up for a service, for continuation of service for example.

This kind of selling of users is more often with free services, but can also occur with paid services (many banks sell your info by default and only limit it when you opt out, and they still charge you fees for accounts for example)

However a service you pay a fee to like spotify perhaps? needs to be more careful about taking care of their primary customers (subscribers) so long as there is competition and all.

Sorry the rhetoric is annoying to you, it would be nice if people really understood this and thought it through.


Nah, this sounds pithy but isn't true:

Facebook needs you to like them so you voluntarily come back. You are the customer. “You are the product” misunderstands the business.

(https://twitter.com/pt/status/979092827522048000)


What if the "customer" is trained through gamification and other psychological tricks to come back? I hated Facebook and still had the muscle memory of <ctrl>+<t> face <tab> <enter>. I still do that sometimes after I've seen the logo or name even though I don't have an account anymore.

It's like, do you go back to the sugary foods cause they're so healthy and you love them, or are you low key addicted? I don't really consider that a healthy customer relationship.


I think you’re getting at a great paradox of humanism: in a society where the customer is always right, one person one vote, and authenticity comes from the self... what if there is no such thing as a true self and we’re just a grab bag of needs and fears glued together with a hasty narrative?


Terms of Service are really out of control, and probably need a democratic checkup. One cannot sign away constitutional rights, which means somewhere there is a line to draw.

When is a company abusing it's first amendment rights and dangerously coercing behavior, a la "yelling fire in theater"? At scale, this doesn't have to be explicitly extreme or violent to have actual extreme or violent effects.

When is it going too far against illegal search, by using technology that transcends physical, or psychic, boundaries?

When, really, have they crossed over your right to privacy, by accurately inferring very personal and private details you didn't share, from details you did?

I wonder what would happen if people flipped the script. Send Google a letter, stating your new ToS: "Your continued use of my data is $legalese, and if you don't reply with "no thanks", you agree to remit $dollars to me Monthly." If they don't respond, this is your new operating agreement.


> "When is a company abusing it's first amendment rights and dangerously coercing behavior, a la "yelling fire in theater"?"

I really wish people would stop using that example. That standard of free speech is obsolete, and it comes from an abhorrent case where a draft protestor during WWI was arrested for telling people to dodge the draft. "Yelling fire in a theater" was used to justify upholding his conviction. It's a deeply immoral standard of free speech.


Fair editorial suggestion, no doubt. Will change to 'yelling "terrorists!" on a busy day at Disneyland'.

H/e, that the example was used to uphold an immoral conviction does not make it an "immoral standard"; it makes the jury immoral people; "...fire!" is basically a metaphor at this point, an easy-to-abstract notion for when the first amendment will not defend you.


"Fire in a crowded theater" came from the SCOTUS justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., not a jury.

"Yelling fire" in this case was a metaphor for "opposing the draft."


> That standard of free speech is obsolete

What is the modern example/standard?





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