We must remember Bernard Keane’s next birthday. Let’s chip in and get our guy the counter-drone he needs. He’s earned it this week for a dogged refusal to join the rest and offer a Facebook “scandal”. Instead, he gives us a scare.
We should be scared, and not principally of Facebook, nor even of the votes it purportedly helped sway. We should be scared witless of the thing BK calls a “surveillance civilisation”. But also of an economy in which existence itself becomes a commodity.
No, I didn’t mean that in some lofty moral way. We haven’t got time to talk posh about the consequences of no longer being truly human, etc. But we must find time to consider the points laid out by Keane and a handful of others in recent days and ask: what does it mean for the stuff of our lives to be sold?
Organisations collect the information we produce. This information has value. And you might not care one bit that dozens of government agencies and thousands of firms make decisions or profits based on you. You do nothing that is unlawful and buy nothing much brand new. In short, you’re not one of the “dumb fucks” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg so infamously described.
You’re not naively smug, either, perhaps unlike Fairfax’s Matt Wade who wrote yesterday that he could never support a platform that “exploits family, friendship and other personal connections to make money”. It’s the truly inspiring account of one man’s struggle to retain the simpler things. It’s published on a corporate website that incessantly nags for a login on a page that holds advertisements for family health insurance, family life insurance, family phone plans and loving family homes. Lol, like they say on Facebook.
Still. Even you and I with our VPNs. Even those of us with memories long enough to remember that this Facebook “scandal” is just like all those other Facebook scandals, which only ever reveal that data theft has long been a commonplace revenue model. Even we must think about a future that has the exchange and distribution of our data as its base.
It’s not that I mind if a professional thief surmises that I dislike white wine and am therefore less likely to vote. (Yes. This is the sort of thing adult humans are now paid to do.) It’s more that I can’t get my head around the shape of the coming political economy.
Now, I’m no fan of selling the commodity of labour, but I do get how that model has been sustained for a few hundred years. At some point, perhaps soonish, the innovations that have been produced by the commodification of labour will make a fair whack of labour unnecessary. This means I might not have a job. This means that somebody has to think of a new way to keep me buying commodities (one slightly less stupid than Universal Basic Income). This means that making my data someone else’s commodity seems like an economic oversight. Why send targeted ads to the non-voting, non-white-wine-drinking lady when you know she has lost utter faith in liberal democracy because she has no money to buy a pacifying drink of any sort.
I mean. I know they’re all very important and clever over there at Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. They are experts in electronic mind control and can work to make Putin the actual king of the world even as they accept handsome contracts from the US and UK governments. They fabricated the convenient cover of wage stagnation, shuttered industry and a big financial crisis to make it look like Hillary Clinton lost for good reason. Clever guys.
But not so clever that they haven’t thought that paying us to provide the data they will soon use to coerce us might keep them and their mates in their creepy business.
Let me be clear to the Mercers, to Zuckerberg and to that Tesla chap who surely can’t keep making money selling the right to pollute. I am very happy for you all to exploit my “family, friendship and other personal connections” if it means I can make some money. I’ll use it to buy myself some food and Bernard Keane a gift.
Shove that in your data set and get back to me.