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.
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.
1. It is brilliant, well-researched and planned marketing. It will massively increase brand interest and loyalty while generating news for some considerable period.
2. If you watch regular TV these days, you see that “cause marketing” is rampant. Corporations now use marketing to portray themselves as charities.
3. It is a perfect example of how trivial and broken our society is.
4. It is about selling over-priced shoes and clothes.
5. It is about whether it is right for people to strike gestural poses about vague attitudes toward racial injustice and inequality, with the clearest suggestion being the thoroughly silly idea that police reform is both possible and would somehow make everything much better in that area.
6. Live sports is as hugely important as it is in modern society because it is, by its very nature, the most reliable and durable platform for attracting eyeballs and eardrums to corporate advertising campaigns.
7. Watching sports is a deeply childish activity, particularly in a world that is probably destroying the ecological basis for further civilizational progress.
8. All our politics are now like this. If it isn’t a tempest-in-a-teapot, it gets no mention in corporate media-and-politics.
Apart from providing invaluable, presumably at least partly unintended assistance to the overclass by helping legitimize the catastrophic “vocabulary of consumption” as the prevailing way of describing issues of product design and product use, Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, has a long history of getting weaker and worse at pursuing its own mission. The accommodationist process is approaching its logical end. Having long ago chosen to refrain from investigating and reporting on issues of political economy and product policy, Consumer Reports now faces competition from other mere product review enterprises. In reply, what is Consumers Union doing? Why, capitulating further, of course. It has just now created the first-ever marketing campaign on behalf of the “Consumer Reports” brand name.
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.
Corporate capitalism is totalitarian. Left unchecked, it leads to a society where, outside the shrinking, increasingly commercialized sphere of family and friends, everything is a trick, and tricking is the standard form of social relations. It is a recipe for disaster, as current events show.