Trust, Transparency and Totalitarianism
Posted at 8:00h, 04 Oct 2016 in Advice by Bonnie Halper No Comments 135 Likes Share

Don’t look at us: Mark Zuckerberg started it.

Last week, The Guardian published a piece entitled Facebook and Google: most powerful and secretive empires we’ve ever known, and, considering the power and reach of the platforms, they’re not merely tech companies: more accurately, they are perhaps two of the most powerful nation-states in the world at the moment and given how ubiquitous they are in our lives, they arguably wield more power/have a larger reach than any corporation or government that the world has seen, to date. As Ellen P. Goodman and Julia Powles state in the piece, “We call them platforms, networks or gatekeepers. But these labels hardly fit. The appropriate metaphor eludes us; even if we describe them as vast empires, they are unlike any we’ve ever known. Far from being discrete points of departure, merely supporting the action or minding the gates, they have become something much more significant. They have become the medium through which we experience and understand the world.

“As their users, we are like the blinkered young fish in the parable memorably retold by David Foster Wallace. When asked, “How’s the water?” we swipe blank: “What the hell is water?”

Facebook’s manipulation of its algorithm has been well documented, and has affected both its reporting and advertisers’ video view calculations, but of course, as we have noted in the past, Facebook launched an internal investigation, which found themselves not guilty, and glad that’s settled! But note to self: Facebook artificial intelligence chief developed surveillance systems – the social media tech guru helped to devise techniques which could allow computers to spy on humans more effectively, and to make matters even more troublesome, Facebook Chrome extension shows everything that the site knows about its users. In fact, all it takes is a small Chrome extension, and FYI – Facebook privacy settings you should know about.

Meanwhile, WhatsApp’s privacy U-turn on sharing data with Facebook draws more heat in Europe, Techcrunch reports. “Facebook was ordered to stop harvesting data on WhatsApp users in Germany by the Hamburg city DPA, which hit out at the controversial change to WhatsApp’s T&Cs as both misleading to users and a breach of national data protection law. (Facebook disagrees, and is appealing the order in Germany.) It now looks the UK’s national data protection watchdog, the ICO, is preparing to ramp up its action too. The ICO had already been — in its words — “considering” the deal, questioning whether the two companies were being transparent with users about how their data is being shared and used….Users reading the T&Cs before clicking ‘I agree’ might notice that there is a way to opt out of the data-sharing for ad targeting — but the agreement default opts users in, and the text next to the toggle to refuse to share is arguably confusingly worded. So it’s likely that many WhatsApp users will have agreed to the new privacy policy without realizing that means they are now handing data to Facebook.”

And speaking of T&C and TOS, according to this piece in Quartz, The digital age has destroyed the concept of ownership, and companies are taking advantage of it. Says Quartz, “You may own your car but the software required to drive it is more like a song you listen to while driving, it’s only licensed to you…An overwhelming majority of internet users agree to (terms of service) without reading them…In one experiment 98% of users failed to notice a clause requiring them to give up their first-born as payment…Nancy Kim, a law professor at California Western, refers to internet giants such as Google and Facebook as “quasi-governmental actors” for their ability to regulate every aspect of our lives, up to and including our freedom to speak. (Facebook is, after all, not a public space.) She describes terms of service contracts as a form of “private legislation,” which “reorder or delete rights otherwise available to consumers.”

Or to citizens of various nations, depending on where you happen to live in the world. It’s no wonder that the tech overlords are also globalists, or worse. If you’re wondering about the overarching plan, not that difficult to suss out – just read between the lines. In fact, it’s more or less right there in the fine print. Onward and forward.