But Zuboff also claims that surveillance literally robs us of our free will — that when our personal data is mixed with machine learning, it creates a system of persuasion so devastating that we are helpless before it. That is, Facebook uses an algorithm to analyze the data it nonconsensually extracts from your daily life and uses it to customize your feed in ways that get you to buy stuff. It is a mind-control ray out of a 1950s comic book, wielded by mad scientists whose supercomputers guarantee them perp
Like Andrew, Cory Doctorow attempts to demystify a complex situation, and succeeds with a precision that only other liberal intellectuals can sympathize with. He mocks the idea that Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Twitter, et. al., can cause us to change our behavior. And, sure, no one from those companies are holding a gun to our heads to get us to press buttons. But these companies are enormously successful in provoking people to commit to decisions they were already considering. So successful, in fact, that — en masse — there is no practical difference between this persuasion and literal mind control. Like Eric Raymond arguing against calling Jeffrey Epstein a “monster,” Cory has lost sight of the forest for the trees. At scale, it is mind control.
This has been critical to the rapid crystallization of recent political movements including Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street as well as less savory players like the far-right white nationalist movements that marched in Charlottesville.
But not “less savory players” like all the Antifa Marxists which destroyed and looted local businesses, and burned down car lots. Noted.
Cory references LBGT stories to support his argument that Big Tech can’t convince you against your personal interest, but you can easily cherry-pick this anecdata. I’ve read several accounts that tell an inverse version of the story: that people came out because peer pressure enticed them, and they later became confused with their lifestyle because it didn’t actually fit who they were. I’m not saying that these cases are the majority. Rather, I bring it up to point out that Cory’s example is incomplete and one-sided, and it actually makes an unintended case against his stated position.
Zuboff calls surveillance capitalism a “rogue capitalism” whose data-hoarding and machine-learning techniques rob us of our free will. … Controlling the results to the world’s search queries means controlling access both to arguments and their rebuttals and, thus, control over much of the world’s beliefs. If our concern is how corporations are foreclosing on our ability to make up our own minds and determine our own futures, the impact of dominance far exceeds the impact of manipulation and should be central to our analysis and any remedies we seek.
Again, Cory references Zuboff’s position, and tries to show that it’s wrong, but, at the end, the net result of the situation is the same. Zuboff says surveillance capitalism robs me of my free will, but if Google black-holes the information I need to chose a non-endorsed answer, how is that any different? Google has robbed me of my ability to choose an alternative as surely as the mocked idea of a “mind control ray.”
It can make it easier to find people who share your sexual identity. And again, it can help you to understand that what you thought was a shameful secret that affected only you was really a widely shared trait, giving you both comfort and the courage to come out to the people in your life.
This is another example of eliding the point which makes me wonder about the entire intent of the article. It would seem to me to be hard to argue that non-binary, non-heterosexual lifestyles are a “widely shared” trait, given that, even by most optimistic estimates, the combined percentage of the population is something like 5%. More likely, I suspect the fact that the number is 10% in San Francisco, pulling the number up from the rest of the country sitting at 1-2%, which gives people steeped in the counter culture a false sense of the numbers.
But monopolies are incompatible with that notion. When you only have one app store, the owner of the store — not the consumer — decides on the range of choices. As Boss Tweed once said, “I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.” A monopolized market is an election whose candidates are chosen by the monopolist.
Fantastic point! Now, let’s talk about the duopoly of the RNC and the DNC on American politics…
But it’s not mind control.
But it’s not brainwashing.
But it’s not an existential threat.
Cory argues these things, and then expends 100 pages of writing showing that Facebook and Google are, in fact, all three.