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.

Internet of Spying Things

eyeball Not surprisingly, it turns out that “smart home” stuff is just another advance in the techniques of big business marketing/corporate capitalist totalitarianism.

Gizmodo has a fascinating report on this topic. In it, a journalist and a computer whiz figured out how to spy on the “smart home” spies. By building a special router, the computer whiz arranged to port to himself a copy of the outgoing behavioral data sent from the journalist’s “smart home” back to the journalist’s ISP (and associated big business data harvesters). Here is what the computer whiz found:

I had the same view of Kashmir’s house that her Internet Service Provider (ISP) has. After Congress voted last year to allow ISPs to spy on and sell their customers’ internet usage data, we were all warned that the ISPs could now sell our browsing activity, or records of what we do on our computers and smartphones. But in fact, they have access to more than that. If you have any smart devices in your home—a TV that connects to the internet, an Echo, a Withings scale—your ISP can see and sell information about that activity too. With my “iotea” router I was seeing what information about Kashmir and her family that Comcast, her ISP, could monitor and sell.

There was a lot to see. Since the router was set up at the beginning of December, there hasn’t been a single hour of complete silence from it, even when there was no one in the house.

Of course, given how we have allowed our media ecology to be devoured by corporate entities and interests, the masses are never going to get adequate, coherent information about this mind-blowing Orwellianism and its obvious connection to TPTB in our flailing, catastrophe-courting society and world. Nonetheless, have a read, TCT folks. It’s what’s happening, behind the curtain.

Alexa Skills

So, corporations are now promoting “smart” appliances. The motive, of course, is further increase in big business marketing capacities, which are thoroughly totalitarian.

The other factor here, as is the case with the corporate command over paid labor processes, is the question of skills. At this late stage of corporate capitalism, the overclass stands so confident and unchallenged, they don’t even feel much need to euphemize about this. Witness Alexa Skills, which shamelessly names the process of alienating, commercializing, and commodifying human abilities.

If you think this doesn’t matter because each individual skill transfer is trivial, recall the piranha effect. Then, ask yourself: How many phone numbers do you know these days? Where did that form of mental acuity go?

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]

Home as Marketing Platform

The Consumer Trap has several core theses. One is that corporate capitalism, through its constituent firms’ relentless expansion and refinement of marketing operations and campaigns, is every bit as totalitarian a social order as ever there was or will be. Another is that, thanks to its peculiar nature (it works in part by doling out pleasures and conveniences) and superior deniability (it is competitively and privately, not centrally and publicly, developed), market totalitarianism is far more successful and secure than state totalitarianism ever was or will be.

Consider then, the nature and logic of News Corp.’s “Home of the Future.” In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Big Brother’s police agencies enjoyed only telescreens in the homes of certain persons of interest. In Leonard Cohen’s 1998 “Tower of Song” lament, the complaint was about our system, but only that “The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor.”

consumer house Quite so, but now corporate marketers are turning their attentions to how to deploy artificial intelligence technologies to make the entire house a marketing platform.

“Home is the next and most powerful marketing canvas,” said [marketing researcher Simon] Gosling. “The rules are changing … we are stepping towards a new ecosystem of machines, screens and devices, where brands can share stories with consumers in their homes.”

This is the explanation, per Advertising Age, of

“a 2,000 square foot ‘Home of the Future,’ created by News Corp. and ad tech company Unruly in partnership with marketers including Amazon Launchpad, PepsiCo, Heineken, eBay, Unilever, HTC, Nokia Health, and Tesco. The installation opening today in London has been created to give marketers and agencies a first-hand experience of the connected home, and a chance to think about how they might use it to engage consumers.

“Artificial Intelligence is hardest at work in the kitchen, which is stocked with brands from Unilever and supermarket chain Tesco. In this room you can give your AI system a budget and a license to search for deals from different brands and supermarkets. And cooking becomes simple, as your fridge talks you through every step of a recipe and then alerts the family when dinner’s ready. You might find a new item in your shopping basket that’s been placed there as a free sample, based on your preferences, and then let the AI assistant know whether you like it and if you would recommend it to friends.

“Much of the technology is voice-activated. ‘By January, Amazon had sold 11 million Alexa devices, and by 2020 Alexa is expected to have added $11 billion of revenue,’ Gosling said, as evidence that voice control will play a key role in interactions of the future. ‘This is about helping brands to understand new technology,’ Gosling said. ‘Normally there’s a lag where brands get into a space after the consumer, but we have identified where consumers will be in 2020 so we can get there before them. We are being disruptive in our own business.’ Asked if the future home will be for the wealthy, Gosling said, ‘Everyone’s got a phone. Everyone’s got a TV. And millions of people have got an Alexa.’

“News Corp. bought video advertising company Unruly for $176 million in 2015. News Corp. brands, including Dow Jones (which has created a hologram to bring the stock market to life), publisher HarperCollins, and foodie site Taste.com.au, are evident throughout the Future Home. So why is a video advertising company launching a home of the future? An Unruly statement said, ‘Unruly get brands’ videos seen, shared and loved. We do this on mobile and desktop… and we’ll continue to do so in the next era of advertising, which is the connected home… We’ve built Home to study the development of this new platform, enabling us to guide our clients in this exciting new frontier.'”

How Commodification Happens

Tile-remote Corporate capitalism is history’s biggest and most successful form of totalitarianism. Properly defined, totalitarianism is any modern, industrial social order in which the ruling class endeavors to control the details of all three of modern, industrial life’s experiential spheres. These spheres are politics, the economy/paid work, and leisure.

In corporate capitalism/market totalitarianism, elite administration of leisure-time activities is carried out competitively, as a routine business activity, via marketing campaigns. The methods deployed in the effort are meticulous and lavishly funded. Given the profitability of successful redesigns of existing off-the-job habits, their pursuit is systemic and zealous. As the investing class continually seeks such successes, the outcome is ever-advancing commercialization and commodification of ordinary citizens’ personal lives.

One recent example of the basic process is the rise of the new product known as “Tile.” This is a radio-signal-sending tab that users attach to objects in order to be able to use their cellular telephones to find those objects when they become lost somewhere in the densifying galaxy of clutter that results from market totalitarianism’s normal operation. One example of Tile in action? Using your cell phone to find your television’s remote control.

The logic behind this (cough) great advance in human technology is simple. As Tile’s Chief Marketing Officer explains it to Advertising Age, “[W]e have roughly 90% share of this category that we created, but it’s still a low awareness category and there’s an opportunity to build a really meaningful brand in this space.”

Viewed sociologically, corporate capitalism abhors and moves to fill all un- and under-commodified spaces.

As noted by Tim Wu, the methods, results, and lack of countervailing attention and alarm enjoyed by the agents and primary beneficiaries of the process “would have made a Soviet-era spy blush.”