This is the most glaring and underappreciated fact of internet-age capitalism: We are, all of us, in inescapable thrall to one of the handful of American technology companies that now dominate much of the global economy. I speak, of course, of my old friends the Frightful Five: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent company of Google.There are a gazillion posts in this blog where I have expressed my worries about all these companies. The worries have not ever abated, but get louder and louder and louder and ...
Yet, the public is apparently not worried. What’s going on here?
Why are people still so unafraid of the world’s richest corporations, even as those corporations collect fine-grained data on almost every aspect of our lives and shape the way we work, communicate, and spend our free time?Those dark sides.
One relatively obvious factor may be that the big tech companies make things that people love: iPhones, Gmail, Instagram, and other flagship products have hundreds of millions of loyal users. The warm feelings those devices and services engender may blind people to the industry’s darker undersides of mass surveillance, targeted advertising, and addictiveness.
Now add domestic and international politics to all those, and you get a pitch black darkness. The Darkening Web is the book that is the context for an essay in the NYRB.
The interests that now guide what technologies they produce are not entirely commercial ones. The national security community has exploited the private sector to help develop America’s immense cyber-capabilities. In doing so it has placed an extraordinary array of potential cyber-weapons in the hands of unaccountable private companies."unaccountable."
That should worry you, too. A lot.
And keep in mind that there is a lot of mutually beneficial crossover between the unaccountable frightful five and the unaccountable national security interests of the government.
the development in Silicon Valley of a hybrid public/private economy in which the government assists in the creation of new technologies it needs for national security operations by investing in companies that can also commercialize these technologies.In short, the "direction of technological development in the commercial sector, in other words, is influenced by the agenda of government agencies in ways largely unknown to the public."
Government agencies have mitigated risk and even helped to create markets for companies whose products, while ostensibly strictly civilian and commercial, satisfy their own needs. The driverless car industry will incorporate, test, and improve technologies devised for missile guidance systems and unmanned drones. Facial recognition software developed by intelligence agencies and the military for surveillance and identity verification (in drone strikes, for example) is now assuming a friendly guise on our iPhones and being tested by millions of users.
Zuckerberg, in a well-known incident he now surely regrets, was asked in the early days of Facebook why people would hand over their personal information to him. He responded, “They trust me—dumb fucks.” We’re finally starting to appreciate the depth of the insult to us all. Now we need to figure out how to keep the corporations we have supported with our taxes, data, and undivided attention from treating us like dumb fucks in the future.The dumb fucks we are!