Saturday, February 9, 2019

Surveillance Capitalism

If you're new here, this is a weekly column consisting of letters written to my (eventual) grandchildren (who exist) and my great-grandchildren (who don't yet, aka the Stickies) to haunt them after they become grups and/or I'm dead.

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                                  Who The Hell Is This Guy?

Irregularly Appearing Imaginary Guest Stars 
Marie-Louise -- My beautiful muse  
Iggy -- My designated Sticky
Dana -- My designated gentlereader

"You can't talk about big data without talking about things like privacy and ownership." -Rick Smolan

Dear (eventual) Grandstickies & Great-Grandstickies (& Gentlereaders), 

There's this web browser, DuckDuckGo, that I'm seriously considering switching to, but I haven't got around to making a final decision yet due to a number of factors too uninteresting to detail here.

I'm a Google Chrome user and the bits and bytes that make up this missive are generated by a Chromebox. If you've never heard of such a thing picture a tiny little uh, box, that has the same operating system as a Chromebook built in.

If that's not a thing in your world -- I'm speaking directly here to my dozens of gentlereaders, the GrandStickes are highly computer literate -- the Chrome operating system is Chrome on steroids. It's what runs a Chromebook (laptop), and in my case, the Chromebox that my keyboard, monitor, etceteror are hooked up to.

Anyways... I've refrained from running what are commonly called ad-blockers because the Goog provides an awful lot of "free" services that I take advantage of (the ability to publish this column for one) and I happen to know that most of the Goog's profits come from advertising.

Also, I access an awful lot of "free" websites in search of all sorts of input that not all that long ago (well... I am kinda old) I would've had to pay for -- various and sundry newspapers and magazines for example. I happen to know that without the ability to make money from running ads they wouldn't exist.

Big But
As I've mentioned before, I happen to know that I am/we are the product. The Data Dragons, the Algorithmites, and the Bot Monsters are sucking up our data exhaust 24x7x365, selling it to each other, and using it to sell stuff to us. I finally get it Dad, there really is no such thing as a free lunch.

As I've also said before, this is outta control and goes too far. I was reminded of all this when I recently read a review of a book called The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff. I immediately fell in love with the term surveillance capitalism (hence the title of this column/letter) as well as the name Shoshana Zuboff (although that's neither here nor there).

Co-inkidinkily, I have recently installed a browser extension from the DuckDuckGo people that looked interesting that turns out to be an ad-blocker on steroids. Whenever you go to a given web site you can click on its cute little icon, that lives on the bookmarks bar, and it will tell you some very interesting things.

One of the things it reports on is "Trackers Found." It uses trackers as a generic term for all the various and sundry spies that a given web site wants to sneak onto my computer. By choosing to enable its Site Privacy Protection function it keeps these sneaky bastards from taking up residence on my computer and also blocks ads.

I'm rethinking my policy on ad-blocking because of what it has taught me.

One example will serve. is my weather web site of choice because it's not the Weather Channel's website (it's complicated). Now when I go there to check the weather I'm greeted by a message that reminds me they can't make any dough if I won't let 'em run ads and they're keeping a running total of how many pages I've viewed without ads on them.

In the past, this would've bothered me but thanks to the DuckDuckGo extension I'm aware that there are, as this is being written, 45 trackers lurking outside my locked e-door gossiping, smoking cigarettes, and probably spitting on the sidewalk. 45! Nine of 'em work for the Goog.

I get it, OK? I'm as fond of money as the next red-blooded American (but proud to say somewhat less fond than your average Russian oligarch or the corrupt sons and daughters of the Chinese emperor's inner circle) but where's my cut?

Sure, I get to access Accuweather's considerable resources, but the weather is freely available everywhere. I'm a grup, I know it's not actually free, but considering how glutted the market is it can't be worth all that much. My point is that my financial relationship with Accuweather seems to be unbalanced, that they're getting a lot more out of it than I am. Poppa loves you.

Have an OK day. 
Please scroll down to react, comment, or share.

Dear Accuweather,

Fine, I'll be the product, but if my data is worth 45 people spying on me I want my cut. Give me a call, everything's negotiable.

The Crank

Your friendly neighborhood crank is not crazy about social media (I am a crank after all) but if you must, you can follow me on Facebook. I post weekly column announcements as well as things I find on the web that reflect where I'm coming from.

©2019 Mark Mehlmauer

[I haven't got around to figuring out the official way to do this yet... but as of 12.15.18 I'm offering up my humble scribbles under a Creative Commons License. That is to say, Anyone may republish my columns anywhere -- as long as they don't alter them and as long as they credit me (Mark Mehlmauer) as the author, and, link to my website, The Flyoverland Crank.

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