Sunday, March 25, 2018

Saaay...Has Anyone Mentioned The Circular Resemblance Of Apple's Headquarters To A Panopticon? (The New Surveillance Capitalism)

So there's this $5 Billion building in California: 

Which, without too much effort, evokes this in Illinois:
The linked article used a photo of Illinois' Stateville Prison which reminded me of this from Alex Wellerstein, historian of science at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

I like the idea of Santa as Panopticon. Bummer kid, ho, ho, ho...
That's from November 2016's "Can your city change your mind?" (Jeremy Bentham does a cameo).

And here's the headline story from Prospect Magazine, a major, major piece:

How the internet controls you
John Naughton / January 19, 2018
Corporate giants have created an entirely new surveillance capitalism. And we're too hooked to care
The “dust of exploded beliefs,” the English aphorist Geoffrey Madan once wrote, “may make a fine sunset.” We’re beginning to see that glow over the internet which, if you count back to the design phase in the autumn of 1973, is now over four decades old.

From the moment the internet first opened for semi-public use in January 1983, it evoked utopian dreams. It was easy to see why. Cyberspace—the term coined by the novelist William Gibson for the virtual space behind the screen—really did seem to be a parallel universe to “meatspace,” the term invented by Grateful-Dead-lyricist-turned-essayist John Perry Barlow for the messy physical world that we all inhabit. Cyberspace in the 1980s was a glorious sandpit for geeks: a world with no corporations, no crime, no spam, no hate speech, relatively civil discourse, no editorial gatekeepers, no regulation and no role for those meatspace masters whom Barlow called the “weary giants of flesh and steel.”

But then, gradually, the internet was commercialised and those two parallel spaces merged to create our networked world, in which the affordances of cyberspace combine with surveillance and corporate control. Of course, the internet has brought huge benefits in terms of access to information and efficiency of communication: try imagining our home or work lives without it. But there are serious worries. The online world is populated by several billion mostly passive addicts of devices, apps and services created by a handful of corporate giants. Prying governments and giant companies have acquired the capacity to surveil our every move, both on the internet and, now that so many devices have built-in GPS, in the real world too. Through their ability to monitor our searches these companies—as well as the governments they co-operate with—are able to see our innermost thoughts and desires. (Yes, even our desires: what people search for on Google is incredibly revealing.)
It all creates the potential for unprecedented manipulation, and—rather suddenly—worries are piling up about how that network technology is disrupting our society, warping our children’s development, our politics and our lives. Even the digital evangelists are having second thoughts. In November 2017, Sean Parker, the first President of Facebook, accused the social network of exploiting “vulnerability,” with “God only knows” what effects on “our children’s brains.” In the same month, Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook Vice-President, said social media firms had created “tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”
The answer, as Hemingway said of going bankrupt, is first slowly and then very quickly. The tipping point came in 2007 with the launch of the iPhone, a product whose brilliant marketing and slick design would make the smartphone mainstream. Most people now go online using such a device. This is significant because, unlike PCs and laptops, most smartphones are closed devices, tightly controlled by manufacturers and network operators. The switch to mobile brought a sudden increase in corporate power.

The potential for corporate capture of the internet, however, was always there, thanks to a wider set of characteristics of digital technology: zero marginal costs (it costs Google next to nothing to register one more Gmail account); the power of network effects in cyberspace; the dominance of “power law” distributions, which lead to a small number of firms or actors dominating while everyone else languishes in the so-called “long tail”; technological lock-in, where a proprietary technical standard becomes the industry standard; and, most novel and most disturbing, the capacity for comprehensive surveillance.

Listen: John Naughton discusses the web of control with Prospect editor Tom Clark

The first four of these properties tend to enable winner-takes-all outcomes. And the last has enabled not only the ubiquitous state surveillance which whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed to an alarmed world through his revelations about the National Security Agency in the United States, but also a new business model for internet companies: “surveillance capitalism.” In this arrangement, the company provides free services in return for unlimited access to users’ personal information and data trails, which are then refined, packaged and sold to advertisers.
Perhaps we should not be so surprised that the techno-visionaries’ utopian dreams have given way to a profiteers’ pleasure garden. This has been the pattern with every breakthrough in communications technology. The legal scholar Tim Wu showed in his book The Master Switch (2011) a magisterial history of communications media in the 20th century, that each technology—the movies, the telephone, broadcast radio and television—went through a similar cycle. It would start out gloriously chaotic, creative, open and free, but was eventually captured by corporate interests, sometimes abetted by the state. Wu’s big question was would the same happen to the internet?
We now know the answer. The network—and the tech industry—is dominated by five huge corporations: Apple, Alphabet (the owner of Google), Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook. Four of them—Apple, Alphabet, Amazon and Microsoft—are the most valuable companies in the world. Valuations bob about, but at some recent moments Facebook has been in fifth place. All five, then, are giant companies, but there are crucial differences between them. Whereas Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are extraordinarily disruptive in all sorts of ways (for just one example, see Houman Barekat on publishing) they are also recognisably conventional businesses which provide goods and services to paying customers. The other two, by contrast, are masters of a new surveillance capitalism. The billions of people who use Google and Facebook are not their customers. Instead, advertisers are—which has given rise to the mantra “if the service is free, then you are the product.”

Many of the grumbles about Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are much the same as those that were heard about monopolists of the past. But the same charges are not, perhaps, heard quite so often, or pressed quite so hard, against Google and Facebook. This is not because they are any less dominant in the sectors they operate in than the other three. Between them, the pair account for over 70 per cent of data traffic on the internet; they also take two-thirds of US digital advertising revenues. Google’s share of the search market ranges from 80-95 per cent, depending on the territory. Over 80 per cent of smartphones use Android, Google’s mobile operating system. That sounds pretty close to a monopoly....MUCH MORE