Poisoning big data

Tech giants don't care about your well-being: sabotage them

The idea: big tech companies do not have your best interests in mind. This is obvious to anyone looking at the behavior of companies like Facebook and Google. Karen Hao writes:

Every day, your life leaves a trail of digital breadcrumbs that tech giants use to track you. You send an email, order some food, stream a show. They get back valuable packets of data to build up their understanding of your preferences. That data is fed into machine-learning algorithms to target you with ads and recommendations. Google cashes your data in for over $120 billion a year of ad revenue.

Increasingly, we can no longer opt out of this arrangement. In 2019 Kashmir Hill, then a reporter for Gizmodo, famously tried to cut five major tech giants out of her life. She spent six weeks being miserable, struggling to perform basic digital functions. The tech giants, meanwhile, didn’t even feel an itch.

The fundamental temptation of using tech is that it makes life easier. People will bring you the things you think you want and need. Nearly immediately. For a price you think is reasonable. In exchange, you are constantly bombarded with demands for your attention span and donations from your bank account. Big tech learns what turns you on, what turns you off, and what you like to do in between being turned on and turned off. Big tech worms its way into your existence and becomes a parasitic influencer always whispering new ways to consume. You will become a kind of schizophrenic and the voices will tell you who to fuck, what kind of vehicle you should buy next, which ZIP code is the right match for the unique being you are becoming and so on. Big tech is replacing a spiritual void once filled by religion.

Big Tech is generally an amoral entity, which is to say that it does not care if society is improving or devolving. Big Tech is built on a model in which its own existence, growth, and power are the only things that matter. Capturing your attention span in order to grow itself is the main focus. Some people recognize the inherent dangers in this paradigm.

After two years of investigations and a 30-hour debating session on the House floor, the US House Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to pass a sweeping six-bill package collectively meant to reign in Big Tech’s massive market power.

Even though there’s been a recent bipartisan push for a major tech crackdown, this week’s marathon debate revealed some serious rifts between the two parties—and even within the two parties—that could hamper the bill’s hopes of being passed into law. Some GOP reps, like Jim Jordan from Ohio, have publicly railed against the measures as a group of “Democrat Bills,” that are too radical to pass muster among his fellow Republicans. Some Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, expressed concerns about some of the bill’s data privacy implications. On both sides, there was vocal concern that the bill’s wording was too broad, and potentially invited some unintended consequences for smaller tech companies, too. Of course, there’s also bipartisan consensus among lawmakers from California that these bills would be bad for their donors constituents. 

Here we are back at the basic and fundamentally toxic reality of American politics: two parties that cannot agree on priorities (or even what reality) is have been allowed to create a legislature, judiciary, and executive that are hopelessly incapable of moving the United States forward into the future. Instead, the country is stumbling around waiting for someone competent to show up and rescue us from our own toxicity. Because we have allowed the development of a deeply toxic political divide it is unlikely that any bills which actually benefit the entire country will rise to the top and be passed into law. They must first be torn apart, watered down, made ineffectual for the people who are currently holding the power. The laws that do get passed are always pale, ineffective versions of the original proposals. Which is why we have such a wealth equity gap. Which is why we have abysmal health insurance options. Which is why we cannot even get half the population to agree to a basic, common-sense measure to prevent the spread of a deadly disease by wearing a mask when moving about in public spaces.

Meanwhile, Big Tech keeps invisibly telling us who we are and what matters to us. Many millions of us live in a fantasy land where a doddering old fool’s lies are sweet honey and only he can solve the problems we face. Big Tech makes money by allowing the doddering fool to continue ranting and spewing nonsense and grows its power by continuing to allow these lies to circulate in the minds of millions.

Back to the part about poisoning Big Tech. You can feed misinformation to your digital overlords to weaken the hold that they have over you. The core ideas include “ reducing, stopping, redirecting, or otherwise manipulating data contributions. . .” in the interests of taking some of your individuality back. Technology should be enriching your life, not poisoning it.

Citations:

  1. How to poison the data that Big Tech Uses to surveil you, MIT Technology Review, March 5, 2021. https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/03/05/1020376/resist-big-tech-surveillance-data/

  2. Here's What's in the Six Antitrust Bills That Could Finally Break Up Big Tech. https://gizmodo.com/heres-whats-in-the-six-antitrust-bills-that-could-final-1847172991

  3. Data Leverage: A Framework for Empowering the Public in its Relationship with Technology Companies. https://arxiv.org/pdf/2012.09995.pdf