Cities as Spyware

Have you heard about “smart cities”? Guess what? They are a marketing research operation.

This, of course, is no surprise to those of us hip to what corporate capitalism really is. By its nature, it fuels an ever-growing marketing race, which itself requires more and more spaces, places, experiences, and entities to become platforms for commodity-promotion.

Consider LinkNYC. It is run by Intersection, which is a corporate marketing agency.

Here is how Intersection’s Chief Revenue Officer describes LinkNYC, which, again, his firm runs:

With award-winning products like LinkNYC, the largest and fastest free public Wi-Fi network in the world, Intersection connects the digital and physical worlds, enhancing people’s journeys through their cities and offering brands the opportunity to drive more relevant and engaging advertising, rooted in real-world context.

Source: Advertising Age, June 20, 2019

So, yes, sports fans, the moment has arrived: American towns and cities are now themselves data-gathering tools for our behavior-engineering overclass. Big business marketing is now bigger than the biggest metropolises, which it now treats as just another deployable asset.

All, of course, with the help of our dear liberal leaders.

Wealth and Delusion

Frau Klatten spricht…

Sociology’s cardinal hypothesis is that circumstance affects human perception and behavior, often to a degree that rivals or excels biological factors.

There are interesting empirical tests of this claim here and here.

One thing modern researchers seem to be confirming is that too much money is quite bad for individual mental health.

With this hypothesis in mind, get a load of this excerpt from an interview of Suzanne Klatten, the German heiress who became a billionaire by accomplishing the extremely difficult task of being born to the majority owners of the BMW corporation:

Q: The concern is that society is breaking up into poor and rich people…


A: Klatten: There is a degree of mistrust in the social space that worries us as entrepreneurs. We know that redistribution has never worked. 
I think fairness is when everyone can take advantage of their abilities and develop their full potential. And if you actively promote that, then many people can get very far. Our [own] potential reveals itself in [our] having inherited and developed a legacy. We work hard every day. 
This role as guardian of fortune also has personal sides that are not so beautiful: you are constantly visible and at risk, must protect yourself. 
Added to this is envy, a trait widespread in Germany in particular. 
That’s why I feel misunderstood, to be honest: they focus on dividends. 
The rest that connects with it, is hidden. My brother pointed this out in an interview and asked: Who would want to trade with us?

This, of course, is straight-up Marie Antoinette. In a supposed meritocracy, noblesse oblige is alive and well, with the usual psychotic analysis of what constitutes the noble.

Meanwhile, would that the German people were given an actual chance to answer Madame Bimer’s question about trading places…

Welcome to the Beacosystem

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Corporate capitalism fuels an ever-expanding marketing race, which means a competitive, ever-expanding effort to study and profitably re-design off-the-job behavior.

Today’s New York Times carries an interesting story by Michael Kwet on what Kwet calls “the beacosystem.” This is the growing deployment of movement-tracking-and-recording Bluetooth beacons in retail and other spaces. The practice is known in the trade as “geomarketing.”

The means of accomplishing this immensely valuable form of behavioral monitoring is, of course, the cellular telephone. Apparently, many apps have deals to build undisclosed beacon tracking capability into their products:

The makers of many popular apps, such as those for news or weather updates, insert these toolkits into their apps. They might be paid by the beacon companies or receive other benefits, like detailed reports on their users.

And, of course, the story gets even worse. According to Kwet:

There is no easy way to determine which apps on your phone have the beacon location tracking built in. Even if you did know which companies have access to your beacon data, there’s no way to know what kind of data is collected through the app. It could be your micro-location, dwell time or foot traffic, but it can also include data from the app, such as your name, and your app data can be combined with other data sets compiled about you by data brokers. There is simply no transparency.

Paging Dr. Pavlov

drooling dog

Behind the scenes, big business marketers view their “targets” precisely as Ivan Pavlov viewed his laboratory dogs.

Jeremy Helfand, VP & Head of Advertising Platforms at Hulu, labors to figure how to get modern TV users to pay attention to sponsors’ ads. This requires, Helfand says, a trope that “rewards the viewer for this natural experience, this natural behavior that’s now happening in streaming television.”

It’s cute, of course, that watching television now counts as a “natural behavior,” but you get the point. Rewarded behaviors.

Oh, Shoshana

Shoshana Zuboff contends that surveillance capitalism is “a rogue mutation of capitalism.”

In order to make this argument, Zuboff defines Georgia Tech’s Aware Home Research Initiative as the product of a bygone era when researchers pursued things like this “exclusively” for “the people that live in the house.”

This is, at best, malarkey.

The Aware Home Research Initiative was founded with a grant from the Georgia Research Alliance. Here is a list of the leading sponsors of that organization.

If you believe that Georgia Tech’s Aware Home laboratory is, was, or ever will be anything but a marketing research platform, you are — again, at best — wildly misinformed.

The corporate capitalist thirst for automated surveillance on prospective product purchasers was large and voracious way before 1998, the year in which Georgia Tech’s entrepreneurs-as-professors launched Aware Home.

Zuboff once suggested that the automation of the corporate workplace might lead to the reskilling of work and the diminution of managerial power. Now, she wants us to see market totalitarianism as a mere anomaly that we might easily regulate away.

Veritas?

Privacy for America!

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Our overclass doesn’t lack for chutzpah. As reported by Advertising Age, corporate marketers are hoping to get Congress to pass new “privacy” rules for data-use. By “privacy,” they mean “exposure,” of course.

The comprehensive dishonesty of the effort’s official explanation would, like the very name of its sponsoring group, make Big Brother choke on his Irish coffee. It is also, to put it one way, a true sign of the times.

The real story here is that the proposed new rules would, as Ad Age reports, be gestural and toothless, and would, thanks to their existence at the federal level, put a stop to individual states trying to create actual limits on big businesses’ behavior-surveillance efforts.

For students of propaganda, one interesting — and demanding — task would be to add notes and revisions correcting this official mission statement, to make it speak the actual, behind-the-scenes truth about its actual purpose. Literally every sentence here would require important changes. Some sentences lie with their every single word.

And this is no side effort. As Ad Age explains,

Five of the ad industry’s largest trade bodies have banded together to create “Privacy for America,” a coalition that aims to sway Congress in creating federal legislation on consumer data privacy.

The trade bodies — which include the 4A’s, Association of National Advertisers, Digital Advertising Alliance, Interactive Advertising Bureau and Network Advertising Initiative — are in a race to influence Congress in how lawmakers create federal guidelines surrounding user data for digital marketing.

Companies including Google, Facebook, AT&T, Hearst, Conde Nast, Disney, CBS and Amazon are all represented by trade bodies in the new group.

Frequent readers will know that TCT is fond of repeating Robert Heilbroner’s quotation about the dire long-term implications of building a human culture around telling ornate lies for money. As “Privacy for America” shows, we now have a culture in which the most powerful players tell ornate lies about telling ornate lies for money.