Zeynep Tufekci: We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads

Are we selling our souls for ads?

Technosociologist Zeynep Tufecki seems to think so. The Cambridge Analytica-Facebook debacle demonstrates the Wild West of data exploitation.

Facebook can't pin the blame on the machine-optimizing algorithms. It's humans who are responsible for managing the equations and policing validity.  A recent study also proved that it is humans, not bots, that spread fake news.

Data is the new oil

Even worse, says Tufecki, the precedent sets the stage for those in power to leverage data to their own advantage:

We're building this infrastructure of surveillance authoritarianism merely to get people to click on ads. And this won't be Orwell's authoritarianism. This isn't [easyazon_link identifier=”0452284236″ locale=”US” tag=”wells01-20″]”1984.”[/easyazon_link] Now, if authoritarianism is using overt fear to terrorize us, we'll all be scared, but we'll know it, we'll hate it and we'll resist it.

But if the people in power are using these algorithms to quietly watch us, to judge us and to nudge us, to predict and identify the troublemakers and the rebels, to deploy persuasion architectures at scale and to manipulate individuals one by one using their personal, individual weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and if they're doing it at scale through our private screens so that we don't even know what our fellow citizens and neighbors are seeing, that authoritarianism will envelop us like a spider's web and we may not even know we're in it.

Tufecki paints the picture of a haunting dystopia at our doorstep. And it's the social networks, which started off so benign that may be opening the maw of hell.

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Published by Wells Baum

A daily blogger who connects the dots between arts and life.

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  1. One of the things I did admire about Facebook was the verification of identity, unlike say Twitter, where a user can shout at others with the avatar of an egg and a fabricated username. However, FB too has been caught offside allowing people to juggle masks.

  2. Social media can definitely be a slippery slope with fake news. Your post also made me think about all the online trolls and cyber-bullies. People wouldn’t say half the things they do on social media if they were having an in-person conversation. And on the flip side, I think we have become sensitive to hurtful comments on social media (understandably so!).

  3. It’s scary creepy what they can do with our information. I don’t even know what to think. We just have to be really careful what we put out there, limit as much as you can.

  4. Right we are the product! They sell our attention to advertisers.

  5. This reminds me of a video I saw that explains how Facebook and other social media sties are not actually free because they use our data and information and then use this to their advantage. It’s scary but we can also do our share by limiting what information we put out there…

  6. Data is the new oil. omg so true. It’s one of the reasons I refuse to sell my soul and have ads on my blog space. It’s mine and I plan to keep it that way even if it means I never go anywhere.

  7. I’m in the same boat. Just got to hope that these folks aren’t giving it away for further harvesting…

  8. Ouch, she must have kept her geolocation on! It may have been less creepy if they send her a discount push message while she was in the store! IG is also known to listen to conversations…

  9. Ads really can be like big brother type stuff. My friend once walked into a Bath and Body and then that night had ads from their store…super creepy. I get why they’re needed for apps to run and allow us to use their awesomeness but there’s definitely a line there.

  10. Very interesting information. I don’t share things even on my “private” facebook account that I am not ok with anyone seeing/knowing. The accuracy of ads does often creep me out though…

  11. Indeed. This Cambridge Analytica-FB fiasco should beget stricter privacy controls…

  12. I use social media to connect with friends and family. It’s unfortunate that our information can be used without consent.

  13. RIght, it’s a fine balance. And you have to have some element of trust in the online space or you can’t do anything. There still needs to be better controls and guarantees though. Blockchain will be interesting…

  14. Yes, I agree that I don’t like the idea of people getting my information, but at the same time, I don’t feel like I have anything to hide, so it doesn’t bother me too much. I use facebook as a way to keep in contact with friends and family all over the world. We have an echo in the house and I love having it. I don’t willingly give out my information, but I know a lot of it is out there anyway.

  15. Amen to all of this! I use social media purely as tools to promote my parenting blog – I almost NEVER post personal things on them, nor do I ever even post pictures of my kids. You can’t be too careful in this day and age.

  16. I’ve been on Instagram once. I think. A good reason to stay off given what you just said.

    The integration of all these platforms is creepy. I was reading a WordPress blog that mentioned a form of yoga. I opened another Chrome tab and googled it up. The next blog post I read had ads for…yup, you guessed it…the yoga I had just looked up. Gave me the willies.

    Then again, I’m on FB and blogging, so I’m clearly sending stuff out there. It’s just that the info never goes away. Even if someone used to send out a paper newsletter, they tended to eventually, mostly, drift away. That’s just not the case anymore. Even if you delete your accounts, as far as I know, the data doesn’t get deleted.

  17. There are also reports that Instagram listens as well which may explain the crazy relevant ads after you have a quick conversation with a friend/family member. Definitely sketchy stuff that needs careful and immediate attention.

  18. Just this morning I said to my partner: don’t ever let me bring an Echo or other similar device in the house. I do NOT want something that can listen in. As it is, all this technology (and I’m using it) has been pitched as tools that will make our lives better, and we willingly invite them into our homes. We accept a lack of privacy within our homes with the Internet of Things. If someone said companies or the government were going to install devices in our homes that could read everything we wrote and listen to everything we said, we’d likely rise up and resist that. But a search engine on a tablet that can find us a nice restaurant? A device that will adjust the heat for us? That seems to do exactly the same thing and appears to be a trade we’re willing to make.

    Thanks for your post on this.Looks like a video I need to watch.

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