How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism, a New Book by Cory Doctorow | OneZero
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What is Facebook?
Facebook is heralded as the origin of all of our modern plagues, and it’s not hard to see why. Some tech companies want to lock their users in but make their money by monopolizing access to the market for apps for their devices and gouging them on prices rather than by spying on them (like Apple). Some companies don’t care about locking in users because they’ve figured out how to spy on them no matter where they are and what they’re doing and can turn that surveillance into money (Google). Facebook alone among the Western tech giants has built a business based on locking in its users and spying on them all the time.
Facebook’s surveillance regime is really without parallel in the Western world. Though Facebook tries to prevent itself from being visible on the public web, hiding most of what goes on there from people unless they’re logged into Facebook, the company has nevertheless booby-trapped the entire web with surveillance tools in the form of Facebook “Like” buttons that web publishers include on their sites to boost their Facebook profiles. Facebook also makes various libraries and other useful code snippets available to web publishers that act as surveillance tendrils on the sites where they’re used, funneling information about visitors to the site — newspapers, dating sites, message boards — to Facebook.
Paying won’t help
As the old saw goes, “If you’re not paying for the product, you’re the product.”
It’s a commonplace belief today that the advent of free, ad-supported media was the original sin of surveillance capitalism. The reasoning is that the companies that charged for access couldn’t “compete with free” and so they were driven out of business. Their ad-supported competitors, meanwhile, declared open season on their users’ data in a bid to improve their ad targeting and make more money and then resorted to the most sensationalist tactics to generate clicks on those ads. If only we’d pay for media again, we’d have a better, more responsible, more sober discourse that would be better for democracy.
Paid services continue to exist alongside free ones, and often it is these paid services — anxious to prevent people from bypassing their paywalls or sharing paid media with freeloaders — that exert the most control over their customers. Apple’s iTunes and App Stores are paid services, but to maximize their profitability, Apple has to lock its platforms so that third parties can’t make compatible software without permission. These locks allow the company to exercise both editorial control (enabling it to exclude controversial political material) and technological control, including control over who can repair the devices it makes. If we’re worried that ad-supported products deprive people of their right to self-determination by using persuasion techniques to nudge their purchase decisions a few degrees in one direction or the other, then the near-total control a single company holds over the decision of who gets to sell you software, parts, and service for your iPhone should have us very worried indeed.