In your Face!

Published on investigating the new imperialism, by William Bowles,May 26, 2011.

Facebook transforms who you are, your likes, dislikes, beliefs and fantasies, all of it into a commodity that it alone owns, 600 million intimate profiles of people like you and me… //

… For six years I ran one of the first internet development companies in South Africa (1994-2000, until the first bubble burst) and I have always remembered the following exchange that took place on CNN business news one night, at the height of the bubble bursting (late 1999). It went something like this: 

  • CNN to business guru: So would you advise investors to steer clear of investing in internet companies?
  • Business guru: Oh no! You have to continue investing, you have no choice but to invest
  • CNN: Why is that?
  • BG: Because the technology has to develop and if you don’t keep up, you’ll fall by the wayside

If nothing else it illustrates just how meaningless money has become as a measure of real wealth but more importantly, we’ve been here before, this is classic Marx/Engels territory. This is a second industrial revolution on par with the one Marx/Engels unpacked so accurately, so accurately that very little has changed in the intervening 150-plus years.

Marx/Engels described in great detail how revolutions in production technology that were comparably as fast as those taking place today in the world of digital ‘production’. A factory owner might invest in a machine that replaces twenty workers only to find a few months later that a rival factory has installed a new machine that does the work of one hundred workers. The first owner either buys it or something even better or he goes out of business. The similarities are surely obvious.

That’s why the business guru advised that you had better invest or go under. The development of Web-based technologies are comparable to the development of production infrastructure during Marx/Engels time such as standardized measurements, ever more efficient automatic machines as more and more intellectual capital got embedded in the machines.

It was inevitable: the i-Pad

Accompanying this process is another insidious development, the i-Pad and similar. When it first appeared I just couldn’t figure out what the hell use it was, then I tumbled: because Apple is now a content provider as well as a manufacturer, inevitably it will make products that are basically vehicles for selling content. But crucially it needed the wireless network providers onboard. So essentially the i-pad is a phone that you can’t use to phone somebody with. It’s a content-chowing machine, whether it’s your cellular network splitting revenue with Apple or whether its Apple making bread out of i-tunes, books, videos, games or apps and all of it in a proprietary manner contrary to Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of an open protocol (the reason why the Web spread so quickly in the first place).

A comparable process is taking place with bandwidth use or so-called Net Neutrality or now the lack of it:

In the world of broadband data caps, the caps recently implemented by AT&T are particularly aggressive,” they explained. “Unlike competitors whose caps appear to be at least nominally linked to congestions during peak-use periods, AT&T seeks to convert caps into a profit center by charging additional fees to customers who exceed the cap. In addition to concerns raised by broadband caps generally, such a practice produces a perverse incentive for AT&T to avoid raising its cap even as its own capacity expands. 56% of US internet connections capped by providers — RT

Manufacturers becoming content providers started as long ago as the late 1980s when AT&T bought up digital content because having virtually automated its voice network, it could no longer make enough profit out of it to satisfy its shareholders. Microsoft went through the same process (it bought the digital rights to the Louvre Museum around the same time).

The i-pad is a digital version of the Kodak camera that was designed as a vehicle for selling film and processing it because that’s where the real money was and it was a long term stream of cash.

What links all these processes together is the increasing monopolization of content and providers by a handful of gigantic corporations who undoubtedly have a major presence on the Web but also in virtually every other facet of modern content production and distribution from the computer chips to the DVDs and all the stops in-between.

And the i-phone surfs in the same murky waters as does Facebook, syphoning off user information about their movements, what they read, what they buy, all of it until now, unknown to i-phone users.

Researchers have discovered that the iPhone is keeping track of where you go and storing that information in a file that is stored – unencrypted and unprotected – on any machine with which you synchronize your phone. It is not clear why Apple is collecting this data. — Your iPhone Is Tracking Your Every Move — Readwriteweb

Are people bothered by all this? Apparently not enough of us to make a difference, largely because you can’t see it until it’s too late to do anything about it. It parallels the so-called anti-terror laws enacted, all of which have a major surveillance component that involves spying on citizens with an ever-increasing intrusiveness. And business has been only too happy to get involved in fighting the ‘war on terror’ by opening its servers to all manner of surveillance.

But it’s when marketing and the spooks get together that we begin to realize just how pervasive this intrusion has become. When there is no line between marketing data and state surveillance data, it heralds yet another milestone in the creation of the corporate-security state. Imagine the NSA or GCHQ having access to 600 million Facebook profiles and who is to say that they don’t already have that access? (full long text and a Note).

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