Build a Better Monster
April 20, 2017 11:47 PM   Subscribe

The correct way to play Pac Man, of course, is to consume as much as possible while running from the ghosts that relentlessly pursue you. This was a valuable early lesson in what it means to be an American.
posted by bashism (15 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of the previous ideas presented in one, coherent argument. A really good piece.

And MeFi's own idlewords is putting his money where his mouth is: by organizing tech workers around the US. That should be an example for us all.
posted by kmt at 1:04 AM on April 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

Fantastic article. Gives a clear view of what's happening. Also proposes solutions to the problem than no way in hell will happen. Conclusion: we're fucked.

Signed: a pessimist.
posted by Kosmob0t at 1:16 AM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I thought it was brilliant!

Very well written and insightful. Cuts to the heart of the alien algorithms with no empathy than underly the modern merging of society/technology.

Not much time left to fix this.

I don't think any of the proposed solutions have a chance in hell. I wish they did!
posted by bashism at 1:22 AM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

One of the best things MeFi has ever pointed me toward reading. Thanks for posting!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:35 AM on April 21, 2017

Everything moves in the direction of greater surveillance.

posted by chavenet at 2:41 AM on April 21, 2017

This is excellent stuff and everyone who uses the internet should read it.

Unfortunately I have to concur with the pessimists on this one, I really don't see these proposed solutions gaining any traction, and I don't think the author does either, and the reason is right here in the first page of the article:
It also taught me that technology and ethics aren't so easy to separate, and that if you want to know how a system works, it helps to follow the money.
Nobody's going to break up Facebook anytime soon, because money. Apple's not going to pay more taxes to California, because money. For every tech worker willing to take a stand, there'll be a second who'll be afraid to do so, because money, and there'll be a third waiting to replace the first, because money.

I wish it were otherwise but the only real solution I see is an individual one: stop feeding yourself into the machine. And as a solution it only has individual benefits, and individual benefits are minimal in comparison to the increasing damage and chilling effects on society as a whole.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 3:08 AM on April 21, 2017 [12 favorites]

Political and commercial advertising are interdependent financially in a way that further blurs boundaries. Politically engaged people spend more time online and click more ads. Alarmist and conspiracy-minded consumers also make good targets for certain kinds of advertising. Listen to talk radio or go to prepper websites and you will find pure hucksterism—supplements, gold coins, mutual funds—being pitched by the same people who deliver the apocalyptic theories.

Many of the sites peddling fake news during the election operated solely for profit, and field-tested articles on both sides of the political spectrum. This time around, they found the right to be more lucrative, so we got fake news targeted at Trump voters.

This part also describes how we got Fox News, and describes almost exactly what CNN is up to.
posted by valkane at 6:24 AM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maciej is a goddamned treasure.

This paragraph is the one I want to frame:
This is an inversion in political life that we haven’t seen before. Conversations between people that used to be private, or semi-private, now take place on public forums where they are archived forever. Meanwhile, the kind of political messaging that used to take place in public view is now visible only to an audience of one.
posted by DigDoug at 6:42 AM on April 21, 2017 [8 favorites]

This is an article I will read, though didn't recognize the topic initially by the post framing.
posted by typecloud at 6:55 AM on April 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

Maybe I should take this to the gray, but I couldn't read this without thinking of metafilter's very long memory and how impossible it is to erase your presence here. Once upon a time I thought that was a feature.
posted by potrzebie at 7:34 AM on April 21, 2017

Hopelessly naive, and, while the author acknowledges this, he's basically asking the corporations to knife themselves in the gut. Also:

A ban on third-party advertising. Ad networks can still exist, but they can only serve ads targeted against page content, and they cannot retain information between ad requests.

Yeah, how's that working out for you.

In recent days, many companies have pulled ads for fear of having them appear on far-right-wing sites. Under the banner of “brand protection”, this is a useful step. It’s also one area where we can usefully turn the tools of surveillance and machine learning in our defense, by monitoring online advertising (along with traditional radio and TV ads) and contacting major brands whose ads appear on those sites.

The weapons you use will be the weapons used against you. Why are we giving Google this power?
posted by zabuni at 8:14 AM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I dunno. Let me Google that.
posted by happyroach at 9:58 AM on April 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Fascinating. I just shared it on Facebook, which is sort of like spray-painting an anti-graffiti message on a wall.
posted by WordCannon at 12:01 PM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just before this was posted, I saw both Pinboard & Zeynep Tufecki give informal talks at Tech Solidarity that felt less well-structured in their attacks on “surveillance capitalism”. This essay/talk is a much improved version of that, but the through lines still seem scattered. For instance: the idea that Apple should pay more taxes in the US isn’t really related to the rest of the essay; if we’re talking about breaking up Facebook, why isn’t he talking about breaking up Google; if you want to build a wall between social, community events and political events, how do you do so; a travel mode for my phone is great, but how does that relate to Google logging by data?

This has actually been my running experience at the Tech Solidarity events that I’ve attended - some high level stuff I like, some low-level stuff I like, but no real thematic connection between the two. There’s no big picture coherence to the meetings.

Just to try to unpack the essay a bit, to my eye it breaks down into these key points:
  • “The economic basis of the Internet is surveillance.”
  • Surveillance fuels advertising models.
  • Companies can buy this data and advertise.
  • Political groups can buy this data and advertise.
  • Most advertising is garbage and unnecessary
  • Advertising can thrust you into an echo chamber created by similar advertising.
  • Web sites tailor your content based on surveillance.
  • Tailored content creates echo chambers.
  • Authoritarians might use your data to do bad stuff.
Yet surveillance to some degree has been a perfectly acceptable part of the American economy for ages. Amazon is conspicuously not mentioned in this essay, nor are customer loyalty programs at retailers. Surely a customer loyalty program is as much of an opt-in as is Facebook? Similarly, selling collected customer data has been a part of the economy for a long time, so perhaps we should be complaining about that as a whole - perhaps the game has changed enough that we need a bigger ban on it.

Similarly, the final point -that authoritarians might abuse your data to do bad stuff- seems to be the only really coherent argument for using encryption That’s fine - but it seems singularly divorced from the rest of this. After all, if there are legal regulations against certain actions, who needs the data to be encrypted? Of course, there might simply be a missing strand in the essay here - that advertising that you encrypt a user’s data can be a selling point, as it is for Signal and Duck Duck Go, but the essay doesn’t take that approach.)
posted by Going To Maine at 5:28 PM on April 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is an article I will read, though didn't recognize the topic initially by the post framing.

To make my above complaint much shorter: the Pac-Man bit about capitalism has nothing to do with all of the rest.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:29 PM on April 23, 2017

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