Bad Marketing Persists

Palantir is undoubtedly an artificial intelligence powerhouse, but the way it chooses to advertise itself in the Wall Street Journal is questionable. Palantir has yet to turn a profit 18 years after its founding, its clientele is composed almost solely of the Department of Defense, and it is entirely unknown whether its product line is broadly applicable to business, especially if any of it is critical to national security. What sense is there, then, in Palantir advertising the fact that it is booking more AI sales than companies that are profitable? Asserting that one specializes in an area that is not profitable is hardly reassuring.

How Facebook and Google Fund Global Misinformation: the “Free” Internet is Much too Expensive

The advertising scheme that fuels the profits of the “free” internet giants like Google and Facebook is now used by terrorists to fund their activities.

In thrillers like The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth, the books of John Le Carre, and numerous movies like The French Connection, one learns of the ways in which rogue groups (terrorists, especially) would raise funds: they would rob banks. burglarize rich people, hijack cash transfer trucks, etc. The article below from the MIT Technology Review details how fringe and rogue groups dedicated to disinformation use the Google and Facebook advertising systems to generate revenue for their activities, and this article from the Associated Press details how the same fringe groups–white supremacists in particular–are using cryptocurrencies (1) to receive funds anonymously from people who do not wish it be known that they are racist and (2) to avoid paying financial judgments rendered against them in civil trials. As Shoshana Zuboff has reminded us over and over, regulation is designed to eliminate businesses that threaten the marketplace and erode trust in capitalism. The “free internet” meets both of these criteria, and it must be regulated.

Source: How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation

The tech giants are paying millions of dollars to the operators of clickbait pages, bankrolling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world.

The FAANG Wars Escalate

The war between Apple and Microsoft on one side, and Amazon, Facebook and Google on the other officially started in September of last year, and they just escalated with Apple’s release of iOS 14.5. Apple’s declaration that it will end app tracking–the practice of allowing the developer of one mobile phone application to be able to use your mobile device to track your activity in other applications you use on the mobile phone and to correlate your activity with your browsing habits on your computer and phone–is a major pillar of the business model of companies like Facebook and Google who collect this information in order to target ads at you specifically.

The practice goes much further, however. Both companies build “psychographical” profiles of users with such tracking information and use these models to control what each user sees. App tracking is thus one of the many elements of control through which Google and Facebook control the total user experience: they tailor the content they place before you in order to elicit the emotional response that will trigger you to click the ads they have included in the content they place before you. This is why, for example, Google is estimated to collect 20 times as much data as Apple does. It sounds sinister, and it is. (In the case of Amazon, this information is used to display search results that will maximize Amazon’s profit on the sale, not the value for the customer.)

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FAANG Go to War

Apple was the instigator, and the fire has been fueled by two explosive books about Facebook’s abhorrent behavior–‘Zucked by Roger McNamee–and about the exploitative nature of the free internet in general–Ten Arguments for Deleting your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier. The battle lines have been drawn, and Apple and Microsoft are unofficially allied against Google, Facebook, especially, and, to a lesser extent, Amazon. Let’s examine this battle two ways: idealistically and cynically.

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Wasted Energy

Cut Back on Emails If You Want to Fight Global Warming

Searching the mountain of emails accumulated in your Gmail—or another email—box does not consume much energy, but if hundreds of millions of people are doing so billions of times daily, then the all of that energy adds up to a measurable sum that happens to be gargantuan, as the Bloomberg News article linked above demonstrates.

This is another hallmark of our age of excess. In the era of 9600 baud modems and text-based internet, the average user needed to exercise much consideration in replying because he or she needed to make all compositions thoughtful, relevant and brief in order to justify the time and cost it takes to transmit the message. One actually expected a response in those days, too, so you wanted to make the email considerate enough to elicit a response.

In the era of broadband, the graphical internet has inundated users with an unbounded deluge of emails that cannot be managed by any human. Consequently, large corporations have devised brilliant algorithms to help us manage the deluge of unwanted emails. We marvel and consume the convenience without every asking ourselves if it’s worth resorting to these brilliant algorithms in order to organize shit we never care to read. To make matters worse, wading through all this shit to get to the few emails that are worth reading is now consuming so much energy. We have managed excess very, very poorly.

It’s time to take the pledge, then, to use the “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of unwanted emails. If you want your mailbox to be relevant again, unsubscribe from all email lists, stop subscribing to new email lists–especially the commercial ones like Banana Republic, who sends out 10 emails a day–and start using an email client on your computer. Stop using the web interface to email services. This way you preserve your sanity and the earth. You turn the vicious cycle (get more mail, get lost in your mailbox, use sorting algorithms, get more mail) cycle into a virtuous one (get less mail, read and reply to relevant emails, unsubscribe from irrelevant emails, get less mail). You stop wasting the grid’s energy and your own.

Where are the Borders in the Computing Cloud?

Nominally, the case (linked at the end) is about “privacy”, but the underlying questions are far deeper and far more relevant to anyone who is using any form of “cloud” service: Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Twitter, Microsoft, etc. The government insists that it can access data belonging to a suspect even if that data is stored on a server in another country, but the service company, Microsoft in this case, insists that it cannot provide that data because that act violates the terms under which it operates its servers in Ireland. The question is, therefore, where is the virtual border drawn? Is material belonging to an American subject but stored on a server in a foreign country under a foreign account that was created in that country subject to US law or the laws of the country in which the account was created. A question in the affirmative leads to the following conundrum.

“If U.S. law enforcement can obtain the emails of foreigners stored outside the United States, what’s to stop the government of another country from getting your emails even though they are located in the United States?” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said in a blog post on Monday.

Where is the line drawn? Does the account belong to the person and, thus, subject to the laws of whichever country in which the person is residing, or is the data owned by the provider and, thus, subject to the laws of the country in which that provider is operating? If the former, then, indeed, foreign countries can have free access to data stored on American servers. This will please Chinese officials who want to identify dissidents. If the latter, then some country–perhaps Ireland–may well become a haven for data akin to the way Switzerland is a haven for money. Neither branch of the dilemma is particularly satisfying. Not solving this problem is an invitation to disaster in the not too distant future as our data slowly come to represent the totality of our existence.

What do we  want as users? Do we want our data to be ours, or do we want to relinquish control to technology companies in order to relieve ourselves of the responsibility of living with the consequences of the data? The breakneck pace of progress in technology doesn’t leave much time for the deep discussion that the subject demands. When the shit hits the fan, it’s going to get really messy. Wear your best virtual rubbers.

Source: U.S. Supreme Court to decide major Microsoft email privacy fight