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.
Here at TCT, we of course delight in delivering all the great news about how corporate capitalism keeps winning the day by deploying its special, unimproveable innovation techniques to solve humanity’s most pressing problems.
New and better methods of butt-wiping, as you surely know without being told, is way high on the list of things people want and need in this, the year of our lord 2018.
One less hassle! You’ll love not having to constantly change the toilet paper!
Indeed, who hasn’t lost sleep over that? Oh, the waste! The pathos! The squandering of human hours! Tell us, dear readers, all the wondrous things you’ll do, now that you are free from the oppression of changing your TP…
The new Forever Roll, you see, is a clever repackaging of Charmin Ultra Soft toilet paper. Walmart sells various quantities of the conventional format of that long-running P&G product for 4.0 cents per square foot.
Almost all who favor taking conservative action to prevent existential catastrophe nevertheless accede to the allied ideas that “consumer” is a valid word for product-users and that we live in a “consumer culture” governed by “consumerism.”
This concession is itself pretty catastrophic, as we here at TCT have been trying to point out for fifteen years now.
Want an illustration? Consider this graphic:
Now, try to explain the reality shown there in terms of “consumerism” and “consumer culture.” You can’t, because the facts in question utterly contradict those very concepts.
Ordinary people — not even “middle class” Americans — did not spontaneously demand the material infrastructure that is, as it continues to enrich its primary beneficiaries and true designers, presently killing the human biosphere. They just did not. Acceptance and adaptation are not the same thing as invention, design, and promotion.
Nonetheless, the harebrained concept of “consumer culture” still easily addles the minds of those who claim to want to demystify and rescue the world. Consider, for instance, this august statement. Every single work cited there is a positive offense to the cause of rational explication of pertinent relationships and processes.
To say it again, here’s why: “Consumer culture,” as a concept, is irretrievably terrible at both ends.
Ordinary people are product-users, not consumers. The destruction of goods and services — “consumption” — is neither our intended purpose nor something that is in our interest. Eliding this point is eliding a huge swath of reality.
Meanwhile, saying our problem is “culture” implies that pre-existing popular desire usually draws forth capitalist planning and investment, rather than the reverse.
Although it is anathema to say so, the simple fact is that, in the making of the modern material world, right from the start of the corporate epoch, capitalist planning has consistently, easily, and probably (given the stakes and we-should-know-better-now factor) increasingly dominated popular desire.