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THE ECONOMIC TERM “surveillance capitalism” is new to me, but it reminds me that Big Tech has developed an insidious business model—the selling of us. That is, forget the jazz about harmony and love from the likes of Facebook, Google, and other Internet giants: We are not their clients; we are their products.
Or, in my particular case, Facebook’s algorithmic nonsense has accused me of pretending to be Dennis Simanaitis. Of which more anon.
Surveillance capitalism is a new economic model that takes human experience as a free source of raw material. It’s the topic of “How Tech Companies Manipulate Our Personal Data,” by Jacob Silverman, in The New York Times Book Review, January 18, 2019. One aspect of this, discussed recently here at SimanaitisSays, was “Programmic Advertising—Beneficial or a Bane?”
Jacob Silverman reviews Shoshana Zuboff’s new book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Zuboff is a Harvard Business School professor emerita now at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. She has studied the digital economy for about as long as it has been around.
This book, at a hefty 691 pages, follows from an academic paper Zuboff wrote in 2015: “Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization.” She characterizes Big Other by its “unexpected and often illegible mechanism of extraction, commodification, and control that effectively exiles persons from their own behavior while producing new markets of behavioral prediction.”
“Surveillance capitalism,” the paper’s Abstract concludes, “challenges democratic norms and departs in key ways from the centuries-long evolution of market capitalism.”
Reviewer Jacob Silverman observes that, as far back as 2002, economist Hal Varian noted, “Every action a user performs is considered a signal to be analyzed and fed back into the system.”
You think “What Your Favorite Spice Reveals About You?” is innocuous? Think again.
Silverman writes, “We seem ever more exposed to and dependent on surveillance capitalists, our benevolent info-lords, but their operations are defined by opacity, corporate secrecy, and the scrim of technological authority.”
A Facebook algorithm versus the real Dennis Simanaitis provides an excellent example of this opacity, secrecy, and authority.
Shortly before the New Year, I received word from a Linkedin colleague that someone was impersonating me on Facebook, a not uncommon occurrence used by some jerk or other phishing for user data through faux “Friend” requests.
A warning to online friends and change of password usually suffice. But this time around, I received word on December 29, 2018, from The Facebook Team that “One of your Facebook friends reported Dennis Simanaitis for pretending to be you.”
This was only the beginning of a Kafkaesque interaction between me and Facebook. First, FB disabled my account for “pretending to be someone else.” Namely Dennis Simanaitis? Then it demanded proof of my identity, as defined in its Help Center.
One option requests a scan of a passport, driver’s license, or other government-authorized photo ID. However, I was reluctant to provide anything as theft-prone as my passport or driver’s license. At one point, my response was, “Then tell me one reason I should trust your organization with a photo ID when it has been so careless to allow my account to be hijacked…”
Other options listed at the Help Center include scans of magazine subscriptions, utility bills, bank accounts (?!), and other non-photo choices. I responded with something already in the public domain: my Internet presence since 2012 here at SimanaitisSays.com. This apparently was deemed insufficient. Then I offered several bits, including proof of my SAE International magazine sub—along with an SAE International-produced YouTube of me delivering a paper at one of its annual meetings.
Algorithmic boilerplate responses (there were many) persisted in demanding copies of my passport, driver’s license or other government-authorized photo ID.
What followed was a flurry of interactions (18, to my count). I got chummy with FB robos occasionally responding with names bearing no Google traces whatsoever. Indeed, the nearest that one came to reality was its sharing a surname with a Game of Thrones character.
Maybe FB artificial intelligence (I use this last word loosely) has a sense of humor. Maybe not. Nevertheless, I’m done with FB for good. As I told the robo, “Believe me, FB is not the be-all and end-all of social media.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019