We didn’t lose control – it was stolen
The Web we have is not broken for Google and Facebook. People farmers are reaping the rewards of their violations into our lives to the tune of tens of billions in revenue every year. How can they possibly be our allies?
By Aral Balkan
Mar 12 2017
To mark the World Wide Web’s 28th birthday, its inventor Tim Berners-Lee has written an open letter identifying three major “trends” that he’s become increasingly worried about in the last twelve months:
• We’ve lost control of our personal data
• It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the Web
• Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding
It’s important to note that these are not trends and that they’ve been in the making for far longer than twelve months. They are symptoms that are inextricably linked to the core nature of the Web as it exists within the greater socio-technological system we live under today that we call Surveillance Capitalism.
They are the result of the feedback loop between accrual of information and accrual of capital that has left us with an oligarchy of platform monopolies that filter, manipulate, and exploit our everyday experiences.
We didn’t lose control; it was stolen from us
Google and Facebook are not allies in our fight for an equitable future – they are the enemy.
Tim says we’ve “lost control of our personal data”.
This is not entirely accurate.
We didn’t lose control; it was stolen from us by Silicon Valley.
It is stolen from you every day by people farmers; the Googles and the Facebooks of the world. It is stolen from you by an industry of data brokers, the publishingbehavioural advertising industry (“adtech”), and a long tail of Silicon Valley startups hungry for an exit to one of the more established players or looking to compete with them to own a share of you.
Tim touches upon the core problem in his post: “The current business model for many websites offers free content in exchange for personal data.”1
Yet we are not given any examples. No names are named. No blame is appropriated.
The elephants in the room – Google and Facebook – stand silently in the wings, unmentioned except as allies later on in the letter where they’re portrayed trying to “combat the problem” of misinformation. Is it perhaps foolish to expect anything more when Google is one of the biggest contributors to recent web standards at the W3C and when Google and Facebook both help fund the Web Foundation?
People farmers are not our allies
Let me state it plainly: Google and Facebook are not allies in our fight for an equitable future – they are the enemy.
These platform monopolies are factory farms for human beings; farming us for every gram of insight they can extract.
If, as Tim states, the core challenge for the Web today is combating people farming, and if we know who the people farmers are, shouldn’t we be strongly regulating them to curb their abuses?