Reviews | You are the object of the secret Facebook extraction operation

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As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, surveillance capitalism is the dominant economic institution of our time. In the absence of a compensatory law, this system successfully manages almost all aspects of human engagement with digital information. The promise of the surveillance dividend now draws the surveillance economy into the “normal” economy from insurance, retail, banking and finance to agriculture, auto, l education, health care and more. Today, all applications and software, no matter how harmless, are designed to maximize data collection.

Historically, large concentrations of corporate power have been associated with economic damage. But when human data is the raw material and predictions of human behavior are the product, then the damage is social rather than economic. The difficulty is that these new harms are generally understood as separate, if not unrelated, problems, making them impossible to resolve. Instead, each new stage of damage creates the conditions for the next stage.

It all starts with extraction. An economic order based on large-scale covert mining of human data assumes the destruction of privacy as a non-negotiable condition of its business operations. With confidentiality ruled out, ill-gotten human data is concentrated in private companies, where it is claimed as corporate assets to be deployed at will.

The social effect is a new form of inequality, reflected in the colossal asymmetry between what these companies know about us and what we know about them. The extent of this knowledge gap is conveyed by a leak Facebook document 2018, which described its artificial intelligence hub, ingesting billions of behavioral data points every day and producing six million behavioral predictions per second.

Then that human data is transformed into targeting algorithms, designed to maximize extraction and directed to their unsuspecting human sources to increase engagement. Targeting mechanisms change real life, sometimes with serious consequences. For example, Facebook files depict Mr. Zuckerberg using his algorithms to reinforce or disrupt the behavior of billions of people. Anger is rewarded or ignored. Reports become more reliable or skewed. Publishers either prosper or perish. Political discourse becomes uglier or more moderate. People live or die.

Sometimes the fog dissipates to reveal the ultimate evil: the growing power of tech giants willing to use their control over critical information infrastructures to compete with democratically elected lawmakers for dominance of society. At the start of the pandemic, for example, Apple and Google refused to adapt their operating systems to host contact tracing applications developed by public health authorities and supported by elected officials. In February, Facebook closed many of its pages in Australia like a refusal signal negotiate with the Australian Parliament on news content fees.

This is why, when it comes to the triumph of the revolution of surveillance capitalism, it is the lawmakers of every liberal democracy, especially in the United States, who bear the heaviest burden of responsibility. They have allowed private capital to rule our information spaces for two decades of spectacular growth, with no laws to stop it.


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