Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Big Tech

I am still cleaning up the absurd sites that collect and sell your data.  Much of it is so convoluted and inaccurate that it is almost disturbing.  My personal favorite is one that enables anonymous individuals to "rate" you on some vague credibility scale.  Really this is a business? But then again I have to remember that most of big tech are failed juveniles whom have never gotten over being 13 and being ignored.

On March 19th  the HBO documentary on the fraudster Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos will shed lite on the weird co-dependent fame seeking money grabbing tech industry. This last week I read about the confidential Emails by Mark Zuckerberg on the Facebook crisis regarding what they do with user data.   Irony that this week another app that collects personal health history has been revealed that they disclose that too to Facebook. Fitbit anyone?

With the switch in Congress to a younger more savvy demographic who are familiar with tech and are prodigious users in ways that demonstrate how the hold and its effective use of social media can change minds, hearts and outcomes in both good and bad ways perhaps now we can have that serious discussion about the role of tech and the need for regulation.

Europe has been highly aggressive so the model is already there and so it saves time and energy in which to find ways to enable people to hold on to their identity and in turn exploitation of that.   True if you are willing to put a portfolio of personal information short of your social security number then in turn expect that you will either have to pay a provider to host and in turn maintain a sense of confidence and respect in which it is used or well know that any fat man in his mother's basement with a router and a slight Russian accent will appropriate said info for whatever nefarious uses he desires.   Some of this you own it and maybe you need to keep it to yourself as my Mother used to say.  Sharing is good in the appropriate situations.

This goes back to the day that the Student who informed me that I was a white lady who was a bitch (I own that sure but this was me not playing black music vs white music as she would not explain to me what said music is) that she wanted to write a complaint about me.  Again she wanted my full name and I informed her that my last name was sufficient and that I would happily go the office to inform the Administrator of her complaints and they could take over the paperwork in which to do so.  No she insisted she wanted my full name.  Well first of all back in the day we had these things called the White Pages (they exist online now surprise!) that people could look  you up, find your phone number and address unless you ask to be unlisted.  Gosh and the phone company respected that today to opt out it requires all kinds of bells and whistles and you are never sure it is complete so the last thing I do is give anyone my full name anymore.  And since I have an odd last name with an extra letter few spell in correctly so its all good, again when I took said last name I did that with intent.  Gosh me smart! This young woman wanted my full name to search on social media and of course demean me.  This is not the same issue as in the press that upsets Trump that and that he can be mocked in the media say by Saturday Night Live as he is a public figure and the rules that oversee that issue are complex. But the reality is that pretty much anyone has the ability to demean and degrade you over the internet and you can do little about it.  Ask those who have been on the negative side of YELP or Amazon reviews about how that works.

Tech is running the show. They run our lives and in turn manage them.  This is terrifying and worrisome as it truly is unforgiving. So that idiotic idea to wear a Confederate Uniform or post a tit pic back in the day can come back and haunt you forever.   There is no right to be forgotten nor apparently forgiven for being an idiot.  Funny how that exemption works if you are rich/famous/powerful.  

The left needs to get radical on big tech – moderate solutions won't cut it

Radical democratic transformation seeks to empower those that have been excluded from the leading roles in the digital economy

by Evgeny Morozov
       Evgeny Morozov is the author of the Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom and a Guardian US columnist
Wed 27 Feb 2019 06.00 EST

To note that the “techlash” – our rude and abrupt awakening to the mammoth powers of technology companies – is gaining force by the month is to state the obvious. Amazon’s sudden departure from New York City, where it was planning to open a second headquarters, attests to the rapidly changing political climate. The New Yorkers, apparently, have no desire to spend nearly $3bn in subsidies in order to lure Amazon – a company that, on making $11.2bn in profits in 2018, has paid no tax and even managed to book $129m in tax rebates.

Ignored in most accounts of the growing anti-Silicon Valley sentiment is the incongruence of the political and ideological forces behind the techlash. To paraphrase a Russian classic: while all the happy apologists of big tech are alike, all its critics are unhappy in their own way. These critics, united by their hatred of the digital giants, do make short-term tactical alliances; such arrangements, however, cannot hold in the long term.

One can distinguish three camps in today’s anti-tech landscape. They cover almost the entire political spectrum, from the pro-market neoliberal right to the pro-solidarity socialist left, even if the most prominent faces of the latter are still to take an explicit position on these issues.
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The two better-known currents of the techlash represent what we might call “economism” and “technocracy”. Adherents of the former insist that the users of digital platforms are systematically shortchanged for their data and need to be compensated in some way. Such ideas are also rapidly gaining relevance in the policy world. In a major speech in mid-February, Gavin Newsom, California’s new governor, called on the tech giants to embrace the idea of a “data dividend”. “California’s consumers,” he said, “should also be able to share in the wealth that is created from their data.”

Why dub this “economism”? Well, in part because this perspective does not easily admit non-economic critiques of today’s big tech; the only power relationship it detects and scrutinizes is that between firms and consumers. There are no citizens – let alone social and public institutions – in this political universe.

This is bound to yield perverse results. By linking the size and profitability of tech companies to the handouts received by their users, this approach might even entrench the political power of big tech. As for consumers, they might welcome their expansion: the bigger the technology companies, the larger the data dividend. However disruptive it might seem, this is an extremely conservative approach, leaving everything as it is, but now, also, shuffling some money to consumers while giving the tech companies carte blanche to take over the rest of society.

Treating data as a commodity would also make non-market solutions infeasible and costly. Imagine a resource-starved city hall aspiring to build an algorithmic system for coordinating mobility services. On discovering that it now needs to pay for the data of the residents, it might never proceed with the plan. Deep-pocketed firms like Uber do not face such hurdles.
Why US rightwing populists and their global allies disagree over big tech
Evgeny Morozov
Read more

The “technocrats” of the second camp often define themselves in opposition to those preaching “economism”. And yet, they hardly represent a very radical departure, for they, too, believe in the virtues of free and competitive markets. They merely contend that we will never get there without strong antitrust policies, which assume far greater importance in today’s digital economy with its ubiquitous network effects.

The technocrats, thus, look to the toolkit of antitrust law to limit the power of big tech and, if necessary, make it smaller – by breaking up the tech giants. Such thinking is increasingly in vogue in Washington, where renegade thinktanks like the Open Markets Institute seek to reverse the regime of light and very selective enforcement of antitrust laws of the past 40 years. Brussels is also quite receptive to such considerations, with the European Commission, under the guidance of Margrethe Vestager, spearheading even more ambitious antitrust efforts. The recent ruling by the German cartel office, which prohibits Facebook from pooling the data of third-party apps without explicit user consent, is inspired by a similar vision.

Such technocratic solutions, however radical in their objectives – breaking up Facebook or Google is no small feat – stop short of charting an appealing, post-technocratic and political vision for a world rich in data. Instead, they seek solace in a centralized, rigid and heavily bureaucratic model invented and originally deployed a hundred years ago. It’s probably true that 10 smaller Facebooks would be less damaging than the Facebook of today. This, however, is no political program.

Demanding to break up tech giants is fine, but what kind of non-commercial institutions and arrangements should exist in a just digital society where neither Facebook nor Google play the dominant role? Lacking a convincing answer, the technocratic agenda reveals itself to be mere economism in anti-establishment rhetorical disguise: the fundamental question of what awaits us in a world beyond big tech is to be answered by market competition itself.

What, then, of the third – and, for the moment, least visible – current in the techlash debate? Its adherents, currently to be found in a smattering of radical municipal movements, some of them in power across Europe, preach neither markets nor technocracy but, rather, radical democratic transformation. They do not start by assuming that market competition is always the right answer. Instead, they revise the question itself, moving away from redressing the ills of big tech and towards asking what sort of arrangements and institutions might underwrite a more progressive digital future.

How could digital technologies help redesign core political institutions, including representative democracy and its bureaucratic apparatus, and make them more decentralized and participatory? Proponents of this view imagine citizens not as sophisticated and emancipated consumers - merely to be served by more ethical digital capitalists of the future - but, rather, as active, political and, occasionally, entrepreneurial subjects.

This third approach questions the adequacy of treating data and artificial intelligence as commodities

Once given unmitigated access to the most advanced technologies of the day and a modicum of resources, these citizens are trusted to find effective solutions to the very problems that currently baffle remote planners and bureaucrats. They might even invent new services, of both commercial and non-commercial variety, that are currently hard to imagine because access to the key resources of the digital economy – data, identity, artificial intelligence – is tightly controlled.

Unlike economism and technocracy, this third approach does not aim to create more efficient markets, either by extending the paradigm of private property to data or by breaking up tech monopolies. Rather, it questions the adequacy of treating data and artificial intelligence as commodities rather than as collectively produced and socially useful resources. In doing so, it seeks to empower those that have been excluded from the leading roles in the digital economy and bureaucracy alike.

Faced with a resurgent rightwing populism that questions, not always incorrectly, the virtues of the unreformed administrative state, a progressive movement would not get very far by promising a mere return to the technocratic apparatus of the New Deal or of the original welfare state. Likewise, those advocating “economism” have a steep road ahead, as they are preaching the deepening of the neoliberal agenda at a time of growing pushback against globalization, financialization and tax avoidance.

The choice for the undecided movements on the left is simple: if they truly want to depart from the neoliberal dogma, with its insistence on competition as the overarching political and social device of modernity, they should resist rhetorical and ideological temptations of “economism” and “technocracy” and rally behind the option of the radical democratic transformation.

It might be the most ambitious - and most ambiguous - of the three techlash currents. However, for all its utopianism, it’s the only option that allows progressive forces to stop merely defending the past, and, for a change, articulate a just, fair and egalitarian vision for the digital future. If they fail, the rhetorical space would not rest empty forever: the rightwing populists would get there fast, minus, of course, all the justice and egalitarianism.

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