Sunday, March 15, 2020

Slouching toward cyberocracy — #2:

The previous post was about surveillance capitalism, Shoshanna Zuboff’s concept. Today’s post concerns surveillance electioneering. Yet, here too, the emphasis on surveillance isn’t quite enough, for far more than surveillance is going on.

In this article, NYT columnist Thomas B. Edsall shows how “Trump’s Digital Advantage Is Freaking Out Democratic Strategists: Left and right agree on one point. The president’s re-election campaign is way ahead online.”

The article is largely about “geofencing” — “a technology that creates a virtual geographic boundary, enabling software to trigger a response when a cellphone enters or leaves a particular area — a church, for example, or a stadium, a school or an entire town.”

But geofencing is “just one of the new tools of digital campaigning, a largely unregulated field of political combat in which voters have little or no idea of how they are being manipulated, in which traditional disclosure requirements are inoperative and key actors are anonymous. It is a weapon of choice. Once an area is geofenced, commercial data companies can acquire the mobile phone ID numbers of those within the boundary.”

Other new techniques in this field include “mass personalization, dark patterns, identity resolution technologies, dynamic prospecting, geotargeting strategies, location analytics, geo-behavioural segment, political data cloud, automatic content recognition, dynamic creative optimization” and micro-targeting.

The 2020 Trump campaign remains multiples ahead of the Democrat’s in grasping and applying these new technologies and techniques. Indeed, “Trump rallies are providing a gold mine of data for the 2020 election” according to manager Brad Parscale.

And the Trump campaign gains a further advantage from this asymmetry: “First, when Trump says something, Fox repeats it. When a Democrat says something, The New York Times and the rest of the MSM knock it down if it’s false or debatable.” Thus, “Trump benefits enormously because of the Right’s aligned network of media properties (i.e., Sinclair), Facebook properties, YouTube influencers and bots/sock puppets. This kind of amplification network barely exists for Democrats/progressives.”

Part of what alarms me here is that the powers on the Right are moving forward in these techniques in order to move our society backwards. At this point, I’m quite sure that a 2020 vote for Trump will prove to be a vote for increased cruelty and inequity, mostly by people who would not countenance cruelty and inequity in their personal lives.


 [Re-posted from my Facebook page posts a few weeks aago.]

Cyberocracy is gaining ground, alarmingly: #1

I mostly read about how the information age is affecting particular actors and activities. Here I read how the information age is reshaping everything for everybody, in faster, deeper, darker ways than I’ve fully grasped. Privacy in increasingly a goner, and mass manipulation and herding are becoming ever easier. Liberal democracy is being eroded so extensively that it is already giving way to the rise of illiberal cyberocracy (a concept I fielded in the early 1990s that may be worth revisiting).

In this article, Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff warns that “You Are Now Remotely Controlled: Surveillance capitalists control the science and the scientists, the secrets and the truth.” Accordingly, “surveillance capitalism” is spreading so rapidly, and so uncontrollably, that while people initially celebrated free new digital services, “now we see that the surveillance capitalists behind those services regard us as the free commodity. We thought that we search Google, but now we understand that Google searches us. We assumed that we use social media to connect, but we learned that connection is how social media uses us. We barely questioned why our new TV or mattress had a privacy policy, but we’ve begun to understand that “privacy” policies are actually surveillance policies.”

One result is a fraught new kind of inequality — “epistemic inequality” — that reflects people’s knowledge and power. People are being massively, unsuspectingly scanned, monitored, manipulated, and maneuvered to such an extent that leading firms, using their “computational factories,” are converting what we have long regarded as privacy into proprietary goods.

A further result is “a new ‘instrumentarian’ power … to manipulate subliminal cues, psychologically target communications, impose default choice architectures, trigger social comparison dynamics and levy rewards and punishments — all of it aimed at remotely tuning, herding and modifying human behavior in the direction of profitable outcomes and always engineered to preserve users’ ignorance.”

Yikes — this has advanced farther and faster than I’ve known, and her suggestions for constraining it do not give me much hope. For as she warns, “surveillance capitalism has turned epistemic inequality into a defining condition of our societies, normalizing information warfare as a chronic feature of our daily reality prosecuted by the very corporations upon which we depend for effective social participation.”


[Re-posted from my Facebook page post a few weeks ago.]