Ch 09: Surveillance Capitalism Miscellaneous

Another Statistic

Once I came out of Shoshana Zuboff’s Big other: surveillance capitalism and the prospects of an information civilization, I started to piece together all that I know about online surveillance and connected it with so many other readings we’ve done this semester. I’m happy to say that I’m starting to understand where everything fits into the bigger (uglier) picture).

Surveillance in an online space has been discussed heavily in our semester. What started off as tools that could have helped mankind soon became a monopoly of identities and profit that we’re unwillingly taking part in. It’s no surprise then when Amazon or eBay offers you a deal on an item you’ve glanced at on a different website.

I want to say that IP addresses take part in this online identity, as many hackers use it to trace back information to users. It’s more complicated than that now, and done by companies that we are heavily rooted in. I’m speaking of course about Google.

I never recalled Google being like this so far back, I remember when it grew up in its infancy with it’s slogan Don’t be evil. Can we honestly say the company is evil, as in should the blame be placed squarely on the companies’ resources or the people running it from behind. Whatever the case may be, signatures of many types could be inside their database, and there is free reign within to do with as please.

One quote that stood out to me was “Many of the practices associated with capitalizing on these newly perceived opportunities challenged social norms associated with privacy and are contested as violations of rights and laws. In result, Google and other actors learned to obscure their operations, choosing to invade undefended individual and social territory until opposition is encountered, at which point they can use their substantial resources to defend at low cost what had already been taken.” The ability to skate above what is considered law is shocking, and the many fail-safes in place ensure that companies like Google never have to really be punished. Accountability is gone and it breeds new types of practices such as these that take away the individuality of someone for profit.

One very modern example that has shook the foundation in which me an other artists are struggling to overcome is NFT. I’m heavily reminded of this as I read through this article because the new emergence of this practice and the lack of proper thresholds to counteract this seemingly vague rule is synonymous to what’s going on. I’ll link a thread here to share more:

In essence, someone has sold a digital piece for a large amount of money. With the craze of bitcoin and stock exchanges happening, many people have hopped onto this ‘trend’ and are essentially stealing material from creators to cash in on this. The thing is, the work does not belong to them in any capacity, but on Twitter users can essentially turn tweets (and especially art shared on it) into their own form of currency and can sell it off, robbing from the original. I’m linking another thread for others to read as this was a very notable case in the art Twitter world:

‘tokenized tweets’ is the new way that technology has given people the opportunity to take from people for profit. If this seems divergent to what this article says, I apologize, but I’m making sense of it in a way I understand it so I wanted to share what is going on in my field.

Artists have always dealt with thefts, at various capacities. We often come up with ways to fight back (like watermarks) but are often beaten by the next thing. This is the next thing that is beating down on artists, and it is because of the power of social media and technology that enables this. As I quote, “These new institutional facts have been allowed to stand for a variety of reasonings: they were constructed at high velocity and designed to be undetectable.” We still aren’t sure how this works and how much is really being taken, but I knew that quote resonated with this part.

It’s something brand new and evolving, as the article says. It’s not even like artists can step away from places like Twitter to avoid this, as any other site might not bring in as much revenue as Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. “The new tools, networks, apps, platforms, and media thus became requirements for social participation.” To share our work is to participate, to participate is to engage where everyone else is, to engage is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to any new form of digital technology to take advantage. While not surveillance exactly, it still speaks volumes of the bizarre form of ‘capitalism’ that goes on in the internet. With this being the beginning, I shudder to think what will occur next.

2 replies on “Another Statistic”

For what it’s worth, IP addresses are not that helpful if you want to be tracking users. Think about this, when you join a wifi network at those places we used to go called “coffee shops” or school, all users are identified by the same IP address, it is share.

First, as part of the technology of the web, each transaction to read a web page sends certain information to the web server (there was good reason for this in the innocent information age) as HTTP Headers

You can see what info is sent from your own device

It sends operating system info, browser type, version. That does not look like identifying information. Here is where it gets scary- look at browser fingerprinting

That’s just a few bits. When you visit commercial sites, it leaves those small bits of data about activity there as a cookie file on your device. This is how pervasive facebook is, as its cookies. Sites that provide Facebook like buttons can send your activity (those things in HTTP headers) to facebook *even if you do not have a facebook account*

Having massive amounts of data from different sources is what enables the big companies to correlate your action from different sources.

Google is just one player, it’s much much more. There are kinds of networks connected to ad tracking, look at a service like Ghostery to get a glimpse to what happens in ordinary web transactions. We have no ability to see this information, to know what it is. Evil? It sure ain’t for good. I’d guess they are as inside the law as thinly possible, not ethical, but they exert enough lobbying influence to keep at it.

I love your interest and direction with NFTs. My understanding is almost nil. I’d agree it’s interesting as a phenomena and gets to those questions about how monetary value is assigned to artistic expression.

I’d recommend looking for writings of a colleague, Jonathan Worth, a professional photographer from the UK turned educator, who had an awakening coming to a perspective of separating the idea of the artwork from digital representation of it. It calls for letting go of the idea of value in being able to limit distribution (e.g. watermarks). He talks a bit about it here but I hope I can get him to comment.

This is excellent reflective work, Hugo

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