Google, Facebook and Surveillance Capitalism

Google, Facebook and Surveillance Capitalism

Do the social and digital behemoths have lessons to learn from the Gilded Age?

The digital age we live in provides convenient access to information and people, but at a price that may ultimately prove too high for consumers to bear.

Where once we were “customers”, “clients” or even “patrons”, now the public have become little more than “data sources” for the digital snooping capitalists; those clandestine spying companies that dress up their surveillance algorithms as free search engines or social media platforms and beguile users in to thinking that they are really just contributing to the social fabric that binds our communities together.

But just as Americans turned on the rise of cities and industrialisation and exploitation during the “Gilded Age” of the 1890’s, might the Millennials and the New Silent Generation eventually begin to resent the intrusion of the surveillance capitalists in to their personal lives and switch off?

The great irony, to me, is that these parasitic and invasive business practices in which personal information, movements and preferences are harvested and sold to the highest bidder are widely either misunderstood or accepted in ignorance by many users of these “services”.

But I’m guilty too. I readily embrace having information and resources at my fingertips thanks to search engine platforms, and we can’t remain competitive in business or a profession without adopting some level of social media or web presence. But should we accept that every click, keystroke and communication is analysed, recorded and collated for later sale to a “partner” or “associate” of the Capitalist Surveillance Organisations?

Facebook Data Policy

I recently looked at the current “Data Policy” of Facebook just to see how their current protocol beguiles users about their Big Brother business practices. Here are some extracts from their terms with my simplification below in red italics and brackets:

What kinds of information do we collect?

Information and content you provide

We collect the content, communications and other information you provide when you use our Products, including when you sign up for an account, create or share content, and message or communicate with others. This can include information in or about the content you provide (like metadata), such as the location of a photo or the date a file was created. It can also include what you see through features we provide, such as our camera, so we can do things like suggest masks and filters that you might like, or give you tips on using camera formats. Our systems automatically process content and communications you and others provide to analyze context and what’s in them for the purposes described below.

(We log any photos you post, watch what you look at, spy through your phone camera and sell the data to make lots of money from advertisers – but we also shift profits around the world to avoid paying much tax in the country in which we make our gazillions. But don’t worry, we pay our lawyers and accountants lots to make sure that we do this in legal ways.)

Networks and connections

We collect information about the people, Pages, accounts, hashtags and groups you are connected to and how you interact with them across our Products, such as people you communicate with the most or groups you are part of. We also collect contact information if you choose to upload, sync or import it from a device (such as an address book or call log or SMS log history), which we use for things like helping you and others find people you may know and for the other purposes listed below.

(We love it when you sync your phone as we grab all the data of your contacts so we can sell their data too and make even more gazillions)

Your usage

We collect information about how you use our Products, such as the types of content you view or engage with; the features you use; the actions you take; the people or accounts you interact with; and the time, frequency and duration of your activities. For example, we log when you’re using and have last used our Products, and what posts, videos and other content you view on our Products.

(We spy on you to see what you do online so we can tell advertisers about you and get more money from them because we convince them that based of your metadata, YOU are their target market. This makes us more money than an Iraqi oil well!)

Information about transactions made on our Products

If you use our Products for purchases or other financial transactions (such as when you make a purchase in a game or make a donation), we collect information about the purchase or transaction. This includes payment information, such as your credit or debit card number and other card information; other account and authentication information; and billing, shipping and contact details.

(We like to know about your finances too and there’s no more valuable data than also having your credit card details, home address, phone numbers and current contacts details. We make trillions of gazillions from this stuff!)

Things others do and information they provide about you

We also receive and analyze content, communications and information that other people provide when they use our Products. This can include information about you, such as when others share or comment on a photo of you, send a message to you, or upload, sync or import your contact information.

(We also spy on every message that you send and receive through messenger in case there’s some data in there that we can sell too. We will keep this forever and work out how we can get the most number of gazillions from it. And we like to spy on those who are in contact with you and work out who you know, who you communicate with and then sell that data too.)

Device Information

As described below, we collect information from and about the computers, phones, connected TVs and other web-connected devices you use that integrate with our Products, and we combine this information across different devices you use.

(You can’t escape our spyware by using a different device!)

Information we obtain from these devices includes:

Device attributes: information such as the operating system, hardware and software versions, battery level, signal strength, available storage space, browser type, app and file names and types, and plugins.

(While the app is open on your phone, we spy on searches you make on the net and build a profile about you that we can sell for lots and lots.)

Device signals: Bluetooth signals, and information about nearby Wi-Fi access points, beacons, and cell towers.

(We watch where you are, where you go and how long you spend there so that companies who pay us stacks of moola can stalk you and bombard you with ads. We will of course tell you that we do this for your benefit, to ensure that “content” you receive is “personalised” and “relevant””. We will tell you that we “ Research and innovate for social good”. Our communications experts reckon this phrase will make us sound like we have social conscience. Aren’t we great guys?)

Network and connections: information such as the name of your mobile operator or ISP, language, time zone, mobile phone number, IP address, connection speed and, in some cases, information about other devices that are nearby or on your network, so we can do things like help you stream a video from your phone to your TV.

(We are using connected devices like TV’s and smart technologies in your home and office to help us to spy on you too)

Information from partners

Advertisers, app developers, and publishers can send us information through Facebook Business Tools they use, including our social plug-ins (such as the Like button), Facebook Login, our APIs and SDKs, or the Facebook pixel. These partners provide information about your activities off Facebook—including information about your device, websites you visit, purchases you make, the ads you see, and how you use their services—whether or not you have a Facebook account or are logged into Facebook. For example, a game developer could use our API to tell us what games you play, or a business could tell us about a purchase you made in its store. We also receive information about your online and offline actions and purchases from third-party data providers who have the rights to provide us with your information.

(It’s not enough for us to spy and record everything you do – we pay other companies you transact with to sell us your data too so we can increase the value of your personal profile when we sell it to anyone who pays us enough.)

Digital data ibises

Now I may be a cynic, but I’m not alone in thinking that this gross invasion of privacy through data harvesting will have the potential to turn the tide of public opinion against the digital data ibises (yes, I put the commercial data collection agencies on the same level as an ibis – a bin chicken scouring and searching any available bin for a tasty morsel).

Author Shoshana Zuboff sees this surveillance capitalism as a danger in her book, The Age of Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Zuboff makes the point well when she observes “the Gilded Age succeeded in teaching people how they did not want to live….Surely the Age of Surveillance Capitalism will meet the same fate as it teaches us how we do not want to live.”

No right to privacy

Australians lack any leigislated right to privacy. Our personal movements, contacts details, shopping habits, browsing history, past travel the content and details of those we message and communicate with are being logged, collated and sold. The spate of corporate scandals and misdeeds has been well publisiced in recent times. We know they cant be trusted, but we’re addicted to their platforms and seemingly can’t help ourselves. Is it time for governments to step in and enshrine a right to our personal stuff, remianing personal?

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