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Tech Companies Manipulate Our Personal Data (nytimes.com)
121 points by rafaelc 27 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments



"Data is the new oil" is such a concise phrase to provide context regarding the recent controversies of big tech.

If anything, I'd say data is more valuable than oil. For one it's "renewable", but also the insight that can be gathered from data gives it a level of reach that even surpasses oil (which is very versatile in its own right).

Data breeches are the new oil spills, the destabilizing by-product of burning fossil fuels has a lot of similarity to how the largest data brokers can disrupt entire industries, political systems, and neighborhoods.

Data is a target for geo-political actors, whether it be slipping spyware into network infrastructure or tracking your own citizens.

When we look back 100 years from now, I won't be surprised if the events that occurred during the mass commercialization of oil (anti-trust, regulation, military action, productivity gains, facilitation of developing economies) also occur due to data.


Technically, this is off-topic, but Daniel Yergin's book 'The Prize' is an excellent, page-turning, read on the commercialization of oil. If your hunch is right, maybe you could get a preview of the next 100 years by reading it. I might go re-read it.


Thanks for the recommendation, I've been looking for books like this to better understand today and what our future might look like. I'm currently wrapping up The Robber Barons by Matthew Josephson and it's a really solid read.


It's a little early to claim that data is more renewable than oil. Oil has been extracted vigorously for 150 years, with only moderate increases in difficulty. How can we predict the economics of extracting data 150 years from now?


They may have meant renewable in the sense that it is produced without requiring the consumption of a finite resource. Oil extraction is much faster then the rate at which it was generated, over millions of years.


I'd say "engagement is the new oil". As long as users keep scrolling, clicking & viewing the money keeps flowing :-/

Data without engagement is less valuable, unless you want to monetize it in less-ethical ways. For the time being, big tech companies aren't stooping to the level of outright selling user data, despite what critics claim.

And just like the production & consumption of oil, capitalizing on maximum user engagement produces some severe negative externalities—particularly in politics.


Perhaps engagement is paramount to the Facebooks of this world but data gathering is valuable to a much larger set of companies and nation states. Think health and location data - very useful to many industries that can better target their products and services to you outside of just clicking and scrolling through websites/apps for advertising dollars. I also would not discount companies using data in unethical or even illegal ways. There isn’t enough regulation and oversight yet.


"For the time being." Just wait until they start missing quarterly earnings targets.


Data is not renewable. When humans die the economy will die with them. Humans will die soon if we do not change how we produce energy. Why invest in data at all when the world as we know it is likely to not exist in 100 years?

Tech companies are simply the people routing mammoths off a cliff to keep the party going, consciously ignoring the idea that the food will run out soon.


Data is not more valuable than oil, unless you intend to start running a blackmail operation.

Most of the data collected by silicon valley companies is completely irrelevant to their or anyone else's business needs. It's just creepy. Kind of like the people who build such systems.


What you are calling blackmail here has been deemed legit for government agencies to do. Also countless instances of private companies misusing data have established a sense of acceptance in minds of people who no longer have will/energy left to fight it.


They all intend that. That's what I assume, for all intents and purposes.


> I'd say data is more valuable than oil.

None of the social network companies sell user data. They sell ad placement, and use user data to target the ad audience. Selling ads is not selling data. When I think of selling data I think of companies that actually sell data. Equifax or MaxMind, for example.

Oil and gas drilling alone are 2-3% of world GDP, which comes to about $2 trillion dollars. Facebook and Google make about $100 billion in combined ad revenue. I think it’s safe to say oil is probably 10x more valuable than social network advertising.

> Data breeches are the new oil spills

Comparing credit card fraud with ecological pollution and death?


You're taking a much narrower view than what I was going for in my comment. I never mentioned companies selling data and I never mentioned ad revenue either.

Data on its own is not that valuable, but it's a crucial commodity that when monetized generates value that I'd say are more valuable than oil. Companies are using data to optimize supply chains, reducing spending, generating value. Others are using data to recommend you products that you're more likely to buy, increasing profit, generating value. High quality data is the ultimate commodity, the insights derived from it can lead to much more value than oil, that's the main point of my comment.


I don't think they meant that LITERALLY data is as important as oil. Obviously ALL economic activity is predicated on energy. (Oil or otherwise.)

But data is still extremely important. I think it might be more analogous to say that data has become as important as finance. Without finance a lot of things grind to a halt. Without data, I'd argue, a lot of things would grind to a halt. (Maybe even more things would grind to a halt than if finance disappeared?)

But yes, without oil, (or, even better, without energy in general), everything grinds to a halt. It all stops.


> Comparing credit card fraud with ecological pollution and death?

It's an analogy, precisely because the general populace still doesn't understand how drastic the impact a data breach is, but they sure do understand what a duck looks like full of tar. Depending on what type of data breach it is (credit card, social, healthcare, etc) then yes the implications can be potentially dire.

Extreme, but plausible examples of "yes this means death and polluted environments too":

- Ransomware in a healthcare IT system that doesn't allow doctors to view patients data if they don't pay the crypto ransom

- Credit availability to someone paying for healthcare or some other life altering purchase but can't because their identity was stolen or credit score was impacted. Not to mention the emotional distress caused by bankruptcy (undue).

- Civil unrest resulting from data breaches used for manipulation/propaganda targeting reasons (see -> Brexit and 2016 presidential election)


An election is not civil unrest.


They are certainly monetizing data, even if they are not commodifying it. In addition there are many other streams of data being accumulated and monetized besides Facebook and Google (e.g. your supermarket value card and its ilk).


They monetize by selling ad placement. Advertisers get to choose who sees the ad based on segmenting the audience with user data. In no way does Facebook or Google package private data and sell it. Which is exactly what “sells user data” is meant to imply.


> None of the social network companies sell user data.

Twitter does [0] and it's worth noting that fb has considered it [1]. I think it's fair to say this may be more and more attractive as the industry matures and new avenues for marketing data emerge.

[0] https://www.marketwatch.com/story/twitter-earnings-growth-re...

[1] https://www.theverge.com/2018/11/29/18117582/facebook-six4th...


AFAIK all the information they sell is already available on the public web.


"Available on the public web" does not mean "freely accessible", otherwise you'd be able to scrape - or simply download - without getting blocked for ToS/AUP violations.


And media outlets like the NYT manipulate our opinions. An endless parade of articles written by non-experts with no incentives to get anything right, but plenty to keep the story going and traffic coming in.


[flagged]


>> you can see that they began to campaign HN specifically about two years ago

No, I can't see that. If your going to accuse people of things, please explain what you mean and furnish some evidence.

EDIT: It looks like your account is new. How do you know what was happening here two years ago? Did you change accounts or just lurk?


I can't remember who said it, but someone once compared the outrage over how tech companies use data to Yellowpages. There used to be this free book that had everyone's name, address, and phone number and the only way to opt out was to pay. This is much more egregious act than Google and Facebook; the only difference is the scale.

At least Google and Facebook only take what you give them.


Horrendous analogy. Yellowpages never tracked your real-time location, served hyper-targeted political ads, or tested emotion-manipulation on its readers.


All that stuff is private and is never disclosed to anyone without a court order; or at least that is supposed to be how it works.

Yellowpages told the public. That is the point.


Step away from the bong for a sec and reread what I just wrote.


> the only difference is the scale.

Well, no. But assuming for the sake of argument that were true; scale is important. Quantity has a quality all of it's own.


Surveillance capitalism is an interesting term to give the centralization of intelligence for the financial benefit of a few a name.

Historically it was the government that was pushing for surveillance for security reasons, now companies push surveillance (although not obvious to them and their employees?) for financial gain.


Actually, we're in a pretty good spot. Most the of the data is centralized, which makes the problem feasible to solve. I don't believe we've entered some Orwellian dystopia just yet; this is simply a growing pain. A bump in the road towards a society that is fully connected. These companies also have unlimited amounts of money to actually solve these problems, and the user base seems to be pushing them towards fixing the issues and stopping growth to retool.

All and all, I have a very positive outlook on the whole situation.


Good point! Now turn off all your privacy addons, Google up info on a disease or a new baby or engagement rings, and check out the ads you start getting


My personal opinion based on what I know.

Grouping these companies together as big tech and these brushing broad strokes isn’t helpful. It just seems like we’re picking the next bogeyman, sort of like how all the oil companies were grouped together, even though there were specific bad actors.

It distorts the real issues and almost emboldens the other side who now work collectively to dismiss you as a tin foil conspiracy peddler.

In my opinion, Facebook has some real issues with privacy and how they are able to legally provide a service that has taken the worst aspects of society and amplified them 1000x. Politics are more cancerous than ever. People have been murdered because of the misinformation and hate speech propaganda. Meanwhile, one of my best friends who works at FB as a senior engineer is convinced they’re changing the world for the better.

Amazon, for instance, has fueled massive inequality in the Seattle area. As far as I know, they’re not selling customer data, although from what I’ve learned, they combined technology with great ideas on how to skirt regulation.

My point being, a company like Amazon vs. Facebook - there are different issues. Grouping Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft together - its like the right wing conspiracy theories on how the Mueller investigation is a conspiracy funded by Soros, Obama, the Clintons, the Muslim brotherhood, and gays.

This isn’t helpful and it distracts from the real issues.


I think it's reasonable to group these companies together if you're talking about wide trends and are careful to be specific when talking about certain instances. It's not wrong to say that "big tech" has contributed to rising inequality, data privacy issues, disruption of labor, monopoly effects, etc.

The specific companies are not contributing to each effect but on aggregate its a valid method of analyzing the societal impacts of the industry.


I don't know man? That's a little high level.

In my neck of the woods, if I tell people, "Amazon treats their employees like crap." They get it.

If I say, "Google can track your location with android phones so don't bring your phone to see your weed man." They get it.

I can even say, "Facebook is full of Ruskies trying to influence the election." They'll get it. They'll know what I mean and everything that entails.

But if I come at the people in my small town with, "Big Tech is what drives wealth inequity by disrupting traditional labor markets and causing data privacy issues. Which, of course, concert to cause knock on effects in the larger economy." Yeah, that's the kind of post-graduate parrot-speak that makes them look at my mother disapprovingly for raising such a pretentious ass-hat.

I gotta agree with the guy using the throwaway account on this one.


One factor is the defense that "XYZ is doing it worse!". Microsoft justifies telemetry by pointing at Google. Amazon justifies 3rd-party sellers by pointing at Alibaba, and sponsored product ads by pointing at Google. Google says they are better at security than other adtech vendors. Each enables the other group members on a collective downward spiral. Where are the incentives for competing in a positive direction?


This is what I have gotten out of the various reviews of this book that have shown up on HN lately:

We, all of us, even the most rational and hard-headed, have buttons that can be pushed. Google and Facebook have gotten, and will continue to get, better and better at pushing our buttons, so that we will do things that may not be in our best interest. Advertisers have always tried to push our buttons, but never had access to the data, and the ML algorithms, that Google and Facebook deploy today. The datasets continue to grow, and the algorithms continue to improve. And no one is stopping it, and no one really knows how far it will go.


The title of the NYT review is "How Tech Companies Manipulate Our Private Data" but the title of this thread omits the word "How", reducing the title to "Tech Companies Manipulate Our Personal Data".


I didn't get much from the submitted NYT piece, even though I'm interested in this book. I think the Guardian's piece [1] on the book is better. It includes responses from the author to 10 posed questions.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jan/20/shoshana-...


Isn't this exactly the business model of news organizations like the NYT? People do stuff, they write it down for free and sell it to people. Nothing new under the sun.

"According to Zuboff, surveillance capitalism distinguishes itself from its industrial forebear as “a new economic order that claims human experience as a free source of raw material.” "


Network TV might be a better analogy, since it is free to watch as long as you are willing to sit through the ads.

The business model is the same as Facebook's: advertisers paying for the right to attempt to modify viewers' behavior.

The difference is that Facebook has much more information about the viewers, and much more control over what is shown to individual viewers, than TV networks ever did.

Everyone who has looked up "what Facebook knows about me" can tell stories about how wildly wrong some of Facebook's guesses are. However, unlike the TV networks or the NY Times, Facebook will get better with time. Will we get better at resisting its manipulations?


Good points - you could boil down the difference to the pre-existing networks was there were many different networks competing. Today there are only two that do most online advertising, facebook and google. For multiple reasons, facebook is the one that seems to be used to manipulate people, perhaps because it's not searches plus ads, it's more used to put people together and reinforce their opinions in small groups.

It's the ability to manipulate (reinforce, push horrible narratives) that causes the problem. Back in the usenet days of the 90s, it was exciting to meet people like me (programmer, geeky, interested in science, liberal, or whatever). There must have been people pushing racism, nationalism, everything is a conspiracy, but why didn't that cause the trouble we have today? Probably because it wasn't so ubiquitous.


> People do stuff, they write it down for free and sell it to people.

FTFY: People [in the public sphere] do stuff, they write it down for free and sell it to people.


Yet more anti-tech hysteria from the New York Times.


C’mon, this ain’t Kaczynski, you’re reading the damn article through a browser and computer and they are actively selling the data you make on their site. If anything, the new york times is pathetically and dogmatically pro tech.


God, I get sick of these articles on hacker news. The same regurgitated horse bleep.

This has become a meme around here to laud articles like this that use not so subtle words like "surveillance" and "manipulate" to suggest that something much more nefarious is going on here than actually is.

There are already adequate protections in place to deal with these issues. If you don't want to be tracked don't use Facebook or Google or use them and opt out of tracking. It's that simple.

We don't need these hyperbolic articles exaggerating the nature of this problem.

People have been collecting data on us before the digital age.

Credit Card Companies, Banks, and Credit Bureau's have long maintained profiles on us and sold them to partners.


I differ with you. Assuming, for sake of argument, data is not being scraped for nefarious purpose today then the time when it will be is not too far away. There are no protections in place as proved by multiple data leeks stories. There are no settings provided by tech companies that let use use there services in total anonymous way or without being a research subject. Do you think gmail will ever implement end-to-end encrypted email service ever?

We need such articles to remind people of what they are getting them-self into and encourage communities to build alternative solutions. Remember those few privacy settings provided by tech companies are result of such stories.

Data that was collected before on an average citizen is puny as compared to what they collect now.


> There are no protections in place as proved by multiple data leeks stories.

Are you referring to data breaches? Not sure what protections you think will prevent them.

> There are no settings provided by tech companies that let use use there services in total anonymous way.

Again, these aren't essential services that you have to use. You can use Google via Duck Duck Go if you like.

You can't use Facebook but you can use What's App if you want end to end encryption.

> Do you think gmail will ever implement end-to-end encrypted email service ever?

I believe they already provide a browser plugin for pgp encryption.

Full end to end encryption would probably require changes to existing email protocols.

> We need such articles to remind people of what they are getting them-self into.

This is a valid point, however the hyperbolic tone of these articles is off putting to me.

I think these companies are handling data in a responsible way.

A more rational conversation around the real risks of these data collection practices, the value of the data,and the exchange of this data for services would be more enlightening, IMO.

Too often these articles and the comments degenerate into X is bad and this bad without any nuance.

Also, as I have stated, it is very easy to not use these services.

> encourage communities to build alternative solutions

I'm all for this. What I am not in favor is asking the government to force these private companies to make these.

> Data that was collected before on an average citizen is puny as compared to what they collect now.

I worked at Credit Card companies a long time ago, and I wouldn't call the data they collected on people puny. In many cases these companies had access to every purchase a person made, every place they lived, their income, etc.

To me that is very sensitive information.

Again, I would like a rational conversation around how is the information that is being collective sensitive.

That might actually be more useful to people.


I believe privacy is a tragedy of the commons - individually nobody cares, because in each case there is a very small chance that the loss of privacy will have an impact on a life, but as society we give up on the idea of democracy. This is because of two things: First for democracy it is important that everybody can start to hold an office - but with the amount of data that google or facebook has now oit is so easy to smear anyone. Second there are also other ways to manipulate the public with this data.

In addition, if you are a US citizen then you can have hopes that there are or will be laws governing this, but for everyone else it is quite different.


> but with the amount of data that google or facebook has now oit is so easy to smear anyone

I think this problem won't go away even if google or facebook didn't exist. This is a fundamental problem of the internet.


I agree, but the problem is that people who hate "tracking" use the same terminology. You see them all over Hacker News.

To say "privacy advocates" are disingenuous is a huge understatement.


This title is rather click-baity, and so is the term "surveillance capitalism." There are plenty of alternatives to social media - email, SMS, phone calls, and even decentralized options. However, people continue to embrace "big tech" because it is convenient. Whether you want to admit it or not, these companies do plenty of good for people around the world.

I think the momentum of deleting our presence on these sites will continue to increase, but I also believe that it should be allowed to happen organically. Regulating this space without allowing people to realize its harmful effects and make the decision for themselves will only further polarize our society.

Edit: Since I'm being down-voted, I should clarify that I definitely support some level of intervention. I would prefer that to take the form of educating people on the importance of preserving their privacy.


>There are plenty of alternatives to social media - email, SMS, phone calls, and even decentralized options.

Someone didn't see the video[0] where the Facebook SDK, packaged into other apps, was sending all of the information plausible/possible back to Facebook - before the Terms and Conditions of the application could even be accepted.

The problem is far greater than you've perceived it to be.

[0] - https://media.ccc.de/v/35c3-9941-how_facebook_tracks_you_on_...


Any developer that uses the Facebook SDK has to agree to its terms and conditions. If you have an issue with this then you should avoid using applications that use the Facebook SDK.

How is it a problem with Facebook when they have released this software free of charge for any developer to use? Again, just like the Facebook website, it is a product that they offer.


Developer does not equal consumer. Just because the developer agrees to the terms and conditions of Facebook's SDK, it doesn't give Facebook carte blanche on the end-user's device - before the end-user has even agreed to the app's Terms & Conditions.

Also, how in the feck do you propose avoiding using apps with the Facebook SDK included? It's not as if such use is advertised by the apps, yeah?

From your argument, it's free, so why the feck should anyone complain? That's pretty banal: Trading subversive data practices for the cost of it being "free" should never have been an acceptable position for anyone to take, in the first place - no matter who it is.


> Regulating this space without allowing people to realize its harmful effects and make the decision for themselves will only further polarize our society.

I find that you can't make people adopt better habits and views on things (nevermind the fact that "better" is in the eye of the beholder). The best thing you can do is educate the person looking to be educated, because they'd be not only the ones looking for ways to improve, but also the ones far more open to new information. Otherwise, people remain stubborn, sometimes counteroffensively so.

That impulse – to be willing to learn of better ways to handle the world – gotta start somewhere. I reckon schools ought to have some sort of modern technology education, swift and fleeting as it currently is. Not learning the apps in itself, but navigating the nature of the Internet as a cultural phenomenon, in the way that people use it.

One thing they better learn early is that sharing personal information online might be harmful, and the effects may last well into their adulthood, whether they realize it or not. That it's not all bad, but they may want to remain careful about what, where, and when they share — not just for themselves, but for others, as well.


> There are plenty of alternatives to social media - email, SMS, phone calls, and even decentralized options.

I suggest watching Moxie Marlinspike's keynote for Defcon 18: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eG0KrT6pBPk


Such a great presentation that clearly highlights what's at stake in a way that's accessible to everyone and not just tech folks.


What’s the TL;DW?


If I had to pick TL;DW relevant to this topic, it's that the choice of platform is aggregate, not individual. If the vast majority of people stop communicating or interacting in one way and start doing it in another, it's not really a feasible choice to opt out anymore.

This is my own very clumsy summary. I strongly recommend watching the video, because Moxie is much better at explaining this than I am.


I don’t deny that these companies do some good, but we should look at the totality of their output, not focus on the few good things they do. I am having a hard time objectively saying these companies are a net good for society.

The existence of other communication mediums does not absolve Facebook and others of their role in consolidating the major communication mediums into their portfolio. A bunch of (mostly) white, male millennial Americans should not be controlling the worlds communication. And I say this as a millennial.

I don’t quite understand why people’s concern over Facebook centralizing and controlling communication for the entire world (and censoring it) is somehow hysteria or an overreaction.


> I don’t deny that these companies do some good, but we should look at the totality of their output, not focus on the few good things they do. I am having a hard time objectively saying these companies are a net good for society.

What about their efforts to diversify their (very well-paid) workforce? Helping connect families and friends living across the world, particularly during natural disasters or other emergencies? All of the research they have done and shared with the world at top conferences?

> The existence of other communication mediums does not absolve Facebook and others of their role in consolidating the major communication mediums into their portfolio. A bunch of (mostly) white, male millennial Americans should not be controlling the worlds communication. And I say this as a millennial.

Is it any different from any other major media organization that exists today?

> I don’t quite understand why people’s concern over Facebook centralizing and controlling communication for the entire world (and censoring it) is somehow hysteria or an overreaction.

I definitely think people should be concerned. I think that we should make an effort to make more people concerned. I just think that having the government impose restrictions on Facebook (because too many people enjoy the benefits I described above) might not be the best approach to this problem.


I would say they are a net good unquestionably, in fact, I have a hard time seeing what exactly the net "bad" should be based on.

Like everything in this world, everything has to be done in balance. Some people can't deal with alcohol and become alcoholics, some people can't deal with gambling and become ludomanics etc. but most people have perfectly fine and balanced relationships.

People can choose not to use these mediums and they do so. Every kind of progress goes through a phase of maturation where we learn about the positive and negative sides and adjust over time to it.

Social media is a reflection of humans and it will always amplify the negative sides as well as (luckily) the positive sides.


I don’t know how you expect that happen ‘organically’ when nearly nobody outside most of our little bubbles don’t even know that this is a problem. Regulation is pretty much the only way to really stop user data misuse, with the minor problem that the regulators don’t know what they’re doing (or don’t care).


> I don’t know how you expect that happen ‘organically’ when nearly nobody outside most of our little bubbles don’t even know that this is a problem. Regulation is pretty much the only way to really stop user data misuse, with the minor problem that the regulators don’t know what they’re doing (or don’t care).

Any regulators that impose sactions on Facebook are only doing so on behalf of those they really work for (corporate interests jealous of Facebook's success, most likely).

When I say organically, I mean this way! Keep having the discussion with as many people as possible. Delete your social media profiles and tell your friends and family why. Voice your concerns in person, print, and online.


So then we focus on fixing corrupt and/or useless regulators, which as a nice bonus of fixing a bunch of other issues too.

Deleting accounts and telling people why just disconnects you from those people that still use those services (speaking from experience). It doesn’t matter what you tell them. Even if they understand the situation nobody can connect the issue to any tangible negative effects on their individual lives, and nobody else is deleting their accounts (despite what the online echo chambers might lead you to believe). My grandma is not gonna stop using facebook and go to the trouble of email. My sister’s not gonna stop using instagram no matter what I or anyone else tells her. My colleagues are not gonna stop using GMail because it’s a pain to switch addresses and there aren’t any really clear alternatives.

And how many people even have someone in their social circle who will even talk about this?

And that’s before you consider the huge chunk of Facebooks user base which lives in third world countries where the only affordable way to get online is via cheap/free data plans which are heavily subsidised by facebook.

Pushing this problem onto consumers/users to find an ‘organic solution’ is dead in the water before you even start. You’re asking people to give up something which is super convenient and has no immediate tangible cost or negative effect on them personally. The organic solution is what is currently happening, and ignoring how badly this strategy fails is just going to make it worse.


Google runs my email and cell phone.


Is that a good thing or a bad thing?


I'm not incredibly happy about it.


The real problem is that people are selling this bullshit that the only alternatives are someone spying on you through your metaphorical bedroom window or you blindfold every company that interacts with you.

I don't want a world where I pay for everything. When I was a child, I used a whole bunch of ad supported websites that only existed because they were ad supported.

Everyone wants to coddle people and ensconce them in layers of paternalistic nonsense. FYI I would happily sell the private data I did then in exchange for the service I received a hundred times over.

Those forums and websites were the ones that led to me being what I am today. Even a ten cent fee would have crippled my ability to grow into what I'm today because I had no means to pay it online.

Enough with your bullshit. Let me be a goddamn person and give people things voluntarily so they can give me things voluntarily. Just stop inserting yourselves into every interaction I have with other people that's between the two of us.

Instead now everyone wants to create this environment where I can't sell my private data because it's a bloody adventure to try to invalidate my right to then delete myself immediately.

It's okay now because I make a half million a year and my kids will be fine. But the next me won't be so lucky.


> The real problem is that people are selling this bullshit that the only alternatives are someone spying on you through your metaphorical bedroom window or you blindfold every company that interacts with you.

There's a middle ground, called "regulation".

For many decades now there have been rules regulating advertisements ("commercial speech"), sources of addictive behavior (gambling, alcohol, cigarettes), and monopolies. It seems reasonable to propose that these rules should apply to Facebook and other "new media", to the extent that they are ad-supported, may promote addictive behavior, and may be monopolies.

Applying these regulations to the internet does not mean shutting down ad-supported websites, any more than they prevented ad-supported newspapers and TV stations from thriving back in the day.


Yes, but the dialogue has become unhinged. So many of the critics don’t want reasonable middle-ground regulation. They want to destroy these companies, or have the state take them over and operate them as a public utility. There is no measure of reasonable regulations that doesn’t strip Zuckerberg and Bezos of their wealth and prestige that will satisfy many critics.

There was a story yesterday about how Twitter had a bug on Android that toggled a setting by mistake and people were clamoring for heavy penalties, that this should be illegal, that these companies need to die in a fire. Over a simple bug that’s probably of a class that literally every developer on this site has made many times.

Reddit is even worse. Anything critical of these companies, no matter how minor or untrue, garners tens of thousands of upvotes and a pitchfork-wielding mob in the comments. Good luck trying to explain that we need reasonable regulation but that Mark will still be a billionaire running one of the world’s most valuable companies and getting richer off ads.


Sure, you can find extremists on both sides: the "nationalize Facebook" people, and the "nothing on the internet should ever be regulated" folks. Not having read the book under review ("Surveillance Capitalism"), I can't say whether the author is all the way over in the "nationalize" camp.

But currently, we need more regulation, not less, on internet companies whose business model is based on selling your attention to persuaders at a time when you are most vulnerable to persuasion. So although I don't favor nationalization, and I don't begrudge Zuckerberg his vast wealth, I want to see things move in the direction of more regulation, not less.

There is a slippery slope no matter where you stand, but yet, you have to stand somewhere.


I like that last sentence. Well said.


I'm not against regulation. I just want to ensure that it allows me to get a no-access-fee Internet when I want without screwing the guy giving it to me. That outcome is less desirable to me than the current state. The outcome that is more desirable to me than the current state is when opting out is easy, opting in is easy, and I can fairly give someone my data in exchange for a service for some duration of time.


Fully agreed. The part of GDPR that I don't like is that it doesn't let people and companies agree to the use of a service in exchange for advertising using their personal data. People should be allowed to decide they are OK with that. Sure, make the services be explicit about it or make it opt-in, but they should also be able to deny service to those who opt out.


There are many sorts of things that we as a society agree to control in such a way that individuals are not given the option to be special case consenters to them.

Toxic substances, willful enslavement, extreme firearms, explosives, biological weapons. Or even simpler, choosing to operate a personal vehicle without insurance (even if you assert you’re willing to bear the financial risks it entails). The list is probably a lot longer than this.

What we’re just waking up to is that wealth centers are capable of degrees of engineering for behavioral tracking to support a scope of privacy intrusion that average citizens (or even coalitions of fairly sophisticated citizens) are absolutely nowhere close to being able to understand or cope with.

There is simply no decision making framework that exists today in which we can possibly understand how a person consenting to this data collection would be at risk in the future, how their friends or children who possibly did not consent might be at risk by extension, and so on.

Just as a libertarian extreme notion of simply letting free parties consent to a transaction falls apart when you’re talking about buying or selling a supervirus, so too does it fall apart when you’re talking about letting people “opt in” to having their entire sensory trail of generated behavioral data be commercialized.




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