Facebook as Lightning Rod

lightning-rod-image The New York Times has obtained some of Facebook’s internal planning records.  These show that Facebook is what it says it is, what its founders have always understood it to be: a device for harvesting intimate knowledge of people’s private lives and selling that knowledge to corporate marketers.

The meat of the NYT story is the revelation that, despite pretending to promise the Federal Trade Commission that it would cease doing so, Facebook has continued to sell “what are known internally as “capabilities” — the special privileges enabling companies to obtain data, in some cases without asking permission.”

This means, among other things:

Facebook [has] assumed extraordinary power over the personal information of its 2.2 billion users — control it has wielded with little transparency or outside oversight. Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages. The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier. [The New York Times, 12/19/2018]

Despite its importance, the great problem with this exposé is that it is yet another major case of rotten-appleism, of trying to portray a systemic imperative as a mere miscreant malpractice. As the NYT acknowledges, “personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.”

Why is that, and what entities and forces are genuinely responsible for the radical, progressively worsening market-totalitarianism of our life environment? It ain’t just ham-handed, yuppie-faced Facebook. It is, as somebody once said, a matter of Economics 101 in our supposedly best-possible, history-resolving system.

facebook finger-point image

Meanwhile, the proper answer to all this is not more silly efforts to regulate private-sector media providers. It is to empower the United States Postal System to enter the realm of modern communications, on all fronts, with full competitive aggression. A non-commercial, publicly-guaranteed social networking website, for example, could neatly and reliably dispose of all the problems inherent in Facebook, including the privacy issue.

The Trump Effect

stork carrying baby One important impact of the scum-floating-to-the-top phenomenon that is the Trump Presidency is its addlepation of the political left.

Here, for example, is the meat of an email I just received from Truthout:

“We live in an age where lies can be used to justify pretty much anything: revoke a press pass, deny thousands of people asylum, change laws affecting people’s basic rights. This is somewhat ironic, considering that we live in an age of technology more sophisticated than ever before.”

The proposition here is that, with Trump’s election, we have entered an “age of lies,” with the features listed above.

This is multiply precious.

First of all, the triumph of Trump has been foreseeable, if not predictable, since at least 1987, when The Art of the Deal consolidated this megalomaniacal rentier cretin’s Reaganite fame. Certainly, the thesis that government should be run like a business has always been at the heart of the ongoing Great Restoration/Reagan Revolution.

Et voila, this knownothing TV terminator.

Meanwhile, what kind of age do Truthout‘s people think we lived in before the wonderful Electoral College seated this mentally ill, proudly ignorant election-loser?

Here at TCT, we have always been impressed with the power of this observation by the late Robert L. Heilbroner:

“At a business forum, I was once brash enough to say that I thought the main cultural impact of television advertising was to teach children that grown-ups told lies for money. How strong, deep, or sustaining can be the values of a civilization that generates a ceaseless flow of half-truths and careful deceptions?”

Heilbroner said that in 1976.

Finally, how cute is it that Truthout supposes that modern technology somehow supports, rather than clashes with, truth-telling? Has the climate for realism and democracy ever suffered a more fateful blow than the one struck by the continuing ascendancy of electronic audio-video machines? That a lefty operation with “truth” in its name can possibly miss the deep importance of the old tech of print literacy and direct human conversation is, I fear, a true sign of the times — times which did not begin in November of 2016.

Tea-Potting the Tempest

teacup photo From the TCT perspective, it is amusing and more than a little discouraging to watch the present freak-out about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. The cardinal, institutional fact is that data-scraping on behalf of behavioral managers underlies almost the entirety of our mass media, which we have not only allowed our corporate masters to monopolize, but to so thoroughly extend into our our lives that sponsored attention-and-information grabs now dominate almost all our waking hours. The notion that this process and its hateful results can be confined to Trump is every bit as addlepated and unhinged as Trump himself.

The society’s inability to name and track its own essential problems is one of the major consequences of the market totalitarianism that results from the normal operation of “our” big business economy. Trump’s use of Facebook and harvested data is but a pebble on the tip of this iceberg.

Ad Tolerance

Here’s what they’re working in the overclass, as the world faces multiple immanent threats to the material basis for continuing the project of human civilization:

With endless ways to consume content, consumers are developing preferences for live, streamed, online and ad-supported content. Understand watching behaviors and consumers’ tolerance for different ad characteristics.

The associated video shows that, to corporate capital’s main task force, the big question is how to keep tricking people into wasting their lives spectating the trivial and stupid “content” that exists to deliver advertising into passive brains.

The basis for the whole thing, as enunciated at the 28-minute mark by the woman in the video is “what consumers are willing to tolerate.” Not exactly the free-choice utopia of econ textbooks and political speeches, is it?

And need we comment — yeah, alas, we do — on the use of the words “consumer” and “consume” here? The bias is so massive and massively obvious, yet what passes for the progressive left continues to talk exactly like this.

What Scares Corporate Marketers

eyeball “It’s pretty scary,” Scott Hagedorn tells Advertising Age.

Who is Hagedorn, and of what is he afraid?

“We are not reaching young audiences effectively,” says this CEO of Hearts & Science, the marketing agency that describes its work for “the world’s biggest brands” thus:

Our clients shift from brands that push content out to brands that pull people in. We’re creating new relationships between brands and people like never before.

The crisis to which Hagedorn refers is the fact that:

a growing audience of people who aren’t tracked — and therefore can’t be targeted or measured — with traditional tools and platforms. They consume media on mobile devices and OTT. They’re “cord cutters” and “cord nevers.” And they represent tremendous buying power for brands. The stakes are high—47% of Millennials and Gen X appear “unreachable” within standard planning tools, and 66% of their media consumption isn’t tracked, either.

Hagedorn clarifies in today’s Wall Street Journal:

And if it can’t be measured, it can’t be properly targeted or planned against as part of a cohesive, cross-platform campaign.

“Planned against.” Write that down, TCT readers.

Meanwhile, not to worry, overclass. Answers, as always, are being perfected by heroes like Hagedorn. Thanks to the emerging standard practice of “integrating code to measure in-app content and ad consumption…on literally every [video-watching] platform, device and client app,” the crude surveillance methods of the past are on their way out.

The days of yore wherein the [Nielsen] panel served as the proxy for an audience — setting behavior, reach, and cost estimates — fall out of the picture. Google and Facebook , along with telecom “pipes” like AT&T and Verizon , and retailers like Amazon, have massive install bases that are logged in across screens, making identity-based marketing not only feasible, but the most accurate solution to capture these new consumer behaviors.

We’ll no longer need the panel as proxy for an audience, as we’ll have a deterministic view of the people in the audience. Identity-based marketing becomes the solution that holds consumer identity as the currency against which we measure, plan and buy media across devices and platforms.

As many of these platforms own the consumer experience from end to end – not just identifying their audience at a granular level, but also creating the content being consumed – it’s only a matter of time until these identity-based currencies and identity-based experiences become the marketer’s art. [WSJ, 9/22/2017]

This American Life, Indeed

Ira Glass photo The latest recipient of the Hicks Dictum Award is that hugely over-rated antiquarian, Ira Glass, who has this to say about how he views his own output:

“I think we’re ready for capitalism, which made this country so great. Public radio is ready for capitalism.”

One might ask what makes Mr. Glass think PBS and NPR have ever been anything but subservient to capitalism, but that is a side issue. The main point is that everything Glass says is a turd falling into your drink.