Cory Doctorow on The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

Cory Doctorow has writtten an extended rebuttal of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff. He summarized the argument on Twitter.

Shorter summary: it’s not the surveillance part, it’s the fact that these companies are monopolies.

I think it’s both. Surveillance capitalism has some unique properties that make it particularly unethical and incompatible with a free society, and Zuboff makes them clear in her book. But the current acceptance of monopolies in our society is also extremely damaging — which Doctorow makes clear.

Posted on August 27, 2020 at 6:33 AM37 Comments

Comments

Lord August 27, 2020 6:57 AM

Monopolies

Nothing stops anyone from setting up an alternative email system to Google. Same for search.

Nothing stops Wallmart from setting up a website and competing with Amazon.

Nothing has stopped Google, Microsoft from competing for cloud services with Amazon.

The only one that is different is Ebay. The problem with auction sites is you have to look at what the buyers and the sellers want.

The sellers want lots of buyers because they want competition for the item. They can only list the item on one site.

The end result is that its a winner takes all. In any given area, one auction site will win. Ebay, UK and USA for example. Ricardo in Switzerland

But the rest aren’t monopolies, its just the competition isn’t good.

Winter August 27, 2020 8:03 AM

“Nothing stops anyone from setting up an alternative email system to Google. Same for search. ”

This is incorrect.

Facebook, MS, et al. simply buy out every competitor and shut them down. If they cannot buy them, they have unlimited cash to undercut any competitor until they are bankrupt. If all else fails, there is the US patent and legal systems that are sure fire institutions to bring the competition to heel.

There was a movie about a competitor of Coca Cola. A representative of Coca Cola, in that movie, told the competitor they would buy up all the sugar and all the glass to prevent them from producing and selling soft drinks. This is the spirit of competition.

Frank Wilhoit August 27, 2020 8:27 AM

The problem is not monopoly, per se. There are two problems.

The greater problem is the inability to distinguish between private and public, as manifested in the inability to define what constitutes an essential public service. Essential public services must be delivered by public entities, because private entities have perverse incentives, resulting in interruption of service (the lights go out, 911 doesn’t answer, etc.) All right, so that’s impossible, what’s the next best? A regulated monopoly.

The lesser problem is the fact that monopoly is already against black-letter law, but the law is not enforced; and this is only a special case of the non-enforcement and selective enforcement of law, which makes total hash of the contract between government and people.

John August 27, 2020 8:45 AM

Nothing stops anyone from setting up an alternative email system to Google. Same for search.

True. I’ve removed google, bookTweetGramInsta and other social networks from most of my life.

I’ve been tempted to block all gmail in/out of my email systems, since people who use gmail clearly don’t care about my privacy. Already block ~8K subnets and ~130K domains around the world from all system access here, including blogs.

Run vpn, email, cloud storage, video conferencing, blogs, RSS feed readers, and a number of less popular local services so we don’t need much from the internet from the privacy-sucking companies most days.

Almost no need for google most of the time, but they do make a great search tool. There are times when dealing with other people we have to do things we prefer NOT to do. Some companies have given up and just rent google IT systems.

wiredog August 27, 2020 9:06 AM

John,
Sure, it’s no problem to do all those things if you know how, as a side-effect from your job, or because it is your job, or because you have the time to learn it. It’s also no problem to supply your own ammunition for your hand crafted rifle. Easy peasy! Anyone can do it! And maintaining and repairing your car! No problem!

No problem to do all these things. If you have unlimited time and money. If you don’t then you have to outsource. And if Google is Good Enough, then you go with Google.

Clive Robinson August 27, 2020 9:31 AM

@ Lord,

The end result is that its a winner takes all.

Applies across the board for Internet companies.

The reason is due to a failure in economic models, I’ve been mentioning it for some time now so I’ll be briefer than normal.

Implicit in most econmic modles is the key notion of “Distance costs”. Or if you manufacture at point A the cost of your goods goes up or the less profit you make at radius distance B and so on through radius distances C, D, E etc. At some radius it will be cheaper to manufacture at that point even though thr start up costs are higher they will quickly amortize down.

The problem with the Internet is there is no “Distance cost” because the cost is picked up not by the suppliet but by the consumer as an apparently unrelated service tariff.

The second effect to consider is the zero direct cost to the consumer, these services appear to be free (they are not but we will come on to that).

Thus there is an interesting “follow the leader effect” as a consumer you will prefere to use the service provider those you know are already using. As thr services are all free the “winner takes all” effect works faster and faster untill as the film used to say “There can only be one”.

Thus the ability for a competitor arises not from what they can offer but by the lack of offering or incompetence of the encumbrant market holder. That is they can not compeate on price[1] only features and service.

However in the back ground there is a secondary “winner takes all effect” that is as someone who pays these Internet companies one way or another you want to get what you think is the best value for your buck. These Internet companies have in effect cornered thrse markets and take not just the lions share of the market but virtually all of it. This means as a potential competitor you will not make any money except by selling it to the big internet companies who will only give you “tenths of a cent on the tebs of dollars they are making per user.

That’s the basic economics and there is only two basic effective solution to the problem. The first is by governments “balkanising the Internet” with “National Firewalls” and blocking out the encumbrants in the way the high seas and adverse geography used to do. The second is by charging these big companies “content provider tarrifs” or their users “content user tarrifs” that are data distance / national boarder related thus bringing back “Distance Costs” back into the equation.

[1] Not quite true they can pay you which is the model YouTube is realy realy making a hash of currently which is why content providers are poping up on other platforms with identical content and getting two to four times the benifit per view that they are getting from You-Tube.

AlanS August 27, 2020 9:58 AM

Also see Evgeny Morozov’s critical review of Zuboff’s book (and her earlier work) in the Baffler: Capitalism’s New Clothes. There’s a “rather long, eight-chapter prelude” on the earlier work and her intellectual antecedents so you may want to skip to section IX of the review. My impression is that the book is over-hyped and there are plenty of more insightful writers with much better constructed intellectual frameworks to make sense of modern surveillance, capitalism and the relation between the two.

AlanS August 27, 2020 10:22 AM

@Lord

“Nothing stops anyone from setting up an alternative…”

Well, that’s not exactly true. All these big tech companies are investing massive amounts in corrupting government to bend laws and regulations to their will. This is the nature of the beast. There’s nothing new in this. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith spills a lot of ink on the East India Company and it’s corruption of the British state against the public interest. Yes, some people did eventually setup an alternative–the company’s tea got thrown into Boston Harbor and their was a political revolution–but I’m not sure that the type of ‘setting up an alternative’ you had in mind.

Monopoly controls in the US have essentially disappeared as a result of everyone taking the gibberish emerging form the Chicago School of Law and Economics as gospel.

JonKnowsNothing August 27, 2020 10:30 AM

re:

Nothing stops anyone from setting up an alternative email system to Google. Same for search.

This is not actually true. There are at least 3 problems with that view.

  1. That there are no barriers to entry
  2. That there is equal and ready access to capital
  3. That there is equal and ready access to resources (labor and materials)

While pure intellectual investment, like thinking up a new method of sending emails, might qualify outside the time it takes to think stuff up which can take years even for imaginary situations in books (Tolkien, Martin) where only time, pencil and paper are required but once you move into the realm of physically designing software, hardware, meeting recognized and required international standards and laws, a whole other aspect shows up.

Barriers to entry include both legal and material access to the market. Currently Fortnite is in a legal fight with Apple over market access, compensation and revenues.

Access to capital is very uneven and if you have been involved with any type of start up, pre start up, rounds of funding, venture capital, private equity you will find TANSTAAFL at work and that’s if you can even get an “introduction”.

Access to resources is considered “open” in the USA but is quite closed in practice.

Labor resource limits include physical location, work required, trained personnel (no one trains anyone anymore you only hire people who already know how), certifications and salary limit access. You can have the greatest ideas in the world but not the funding to hire someone on Clive’s level who could actually make the idea work.

Material resources depending on what you are making, often require a major step function in material and production methods just to break-even in the market. You can bake some cookies in your kitchen but if you want to bake 1,000,000,000 cookies every day for global consumption you need something bigger.

Lots of great idea go into the dumpster because of the above.

If you want to compete with GMail, you are going to need a very big infrastructure and you are going to need a lot of deep pocket venture-vultures and you are not going to get much benefit because capital is not free; you pay for the cash by selling out your ownership of the idea and physical plant.

If you want to investigate just how complicated things can get, look into something as apparent as obtaining a barcode-UPC code for your product(s). The Wikipedia site gives an overview of what it is and does but actually getting one is more complicated. The process of getting one assigned to a product(s) is another barrier to the market.

ht tps://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/08/your-iphone-copy-of-fortnite-is-about-to-become-worthless/

ht tps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_ain%27t_no_such_thing_as_a_free_lunch

ht tps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Product_Code
(url fractured to prevent autorun)

echo August 27, 2020 10:36 AM

Yes I think surveillance capitalism and monopolies are the problem. There’s governance and jurisdiction issues too such as government self-interest and differences in legal jurisprudence and doctrines. Then there are the technical and market issues and reactive mechanisms at the telco and border level as Clive notes. I don’t know about anyone else but my poor noddle is drowning in this stuff.

Strictly speaking there’s nothing really new in any of this. From Cardinal Thomas Wolsley onwards and the relatively modern creation of the nation state and super computers and microscopes peering more and more closely to tell us with greater and greater certainty that we know more and more about less and less.

One very small legal difference between the US and UK/EU is that over here it is not possible in a contract to sign away your rights in law. If the US changed the law in this regard I think it would set off an atom bomb under the chairs of various people who hold everyone to hostage.

Clive Robinson August 27, 2020 2:08 PM

@ AlanS,

Mark Zuckerberg Offers A Choice: The Facebook Way Or The China Way

If what they say about Zuckerberg is only 1/10th true, then he is without doubt a sociopath.

Sociopaths can not be reasoned with they have fixed goals in mind and any offers they make are either delaying or unbalancing tactics used to ensure they can get what they want through.

If you doubt this have a dig into the structure of Facebook, he has the control and the shareholders the liability. Thus he plays and they pay and if anything goes wrong he flies off into the sunset and they pick up the losses, fines, and just about everything else bad.

But then most of those share holders are little different to the Zuckerberg anyway, in many cases it’s not their money they are bankrolling him with.

Facebook is without doubt one huge iceberg of debt just waiting to get noticed by a Titanic type event.

Thankfully for the sociopaths the Fed bailed them out at the expense of every normal US citizen who will be paying off that debt for the next twenty or thirty years at the very least.

But then you probably know most ot this anyway.

ScottyTheMenace August 27, 2020 3:41 PM

Google so dominantes the very fabric of the internet at such a basic level (ad revenue that founds websites, control of search, fonts, web hosting, domain registration, etc.) that they’ve become a security risk.

You almost literally can’t do anything on the internet without interacting with some Google service. If you try to block the Google domains used for their services there will be very few websites that will actually function or that won’t block you.

If you try to block ads to protect your privacy, most websites will block you. If you run afoul of Google’s policies or wokeness they will de-list you or defund you via their ad platform.

I don’t know the solution (I tend to avoid federal solutions like the plague) but Google literally controls the most important element of our communications infrastructure—the internet—as well as free speech in their control of ads and search. That’s a real danger.

vas pup August 27, 2020 4:56 PM

@Winter • August 27, 2020 8:03 AM
Agree with your post absolutely.
@All: we do have antitrust laws in US, but I guess their implementation towards monopolies stated in the article is not working.
Those companies could not only buy other companies, but legally offer high paid jobs inside them for government officials to corrupt antitrust process at the core. Just my opinion.

vas pup August 27, 2020 5:36 PM

TikTok, WeChat & Co: How does spyware get into smartphones?
https://www.dw.com/en/tiktok-wechat-co-how-does-spyware-get-into-smartphones/a-54715740

“The accusations against the Chinese app TikTok and countless other apps from China are very serious:
=>The programs are alleged to siphon off a wealth of information about their users —
!!!!!data that has nothing to do with the actual function of the app and for whose collection there is no reasonable justification.

“With TikTok and the other malware apps, the app is not innocent at first and then happens to get compromised,” says IT security expert Stefan Strobel.
==> “The developer of the app built back doors, spy functions and other things into the app from the outset and took great care to ensure that no one would notice.”

It’s not just TikTok and WeChat. There are thousands of apps involved — often free, but also commercial ones. “Again and again, you notice that for some strange reason a lot of money has been invested to make it difficult to analyze the apps,” says Strobel. “And then when you go to even more trouble and try to circumvent these protective functions to trace how the app was programmed, you realize that a lot of data is being collected and sent to China — data that is not really necessary.”

Many apps seem innocuous and harmless to start with. At first, there is only a small back door that an attacker can use later. “Even if you look at the app now, and it is only doing harmless things, the ==>Chinese manufacturer is often able to extend the functionality at runtime,” says Strobel. “All of a sudden, the app does completely different things without having been updated somewhere from the app store.”

“With MS Office, as an end-user, I can agree to an update being installed,” he says. “The Chinese apps do this in a way that stays completely unnoticed by the end-users, without them even knowing that anything is being updated — possibly even while they are working with the app.”

TikTok is an example of how cleverly the attackers go about collecting information. The app is initially disguised as a harmless gimmick, but its data appetite grows over time and in tandem with its success. Once a large number of users work with it, a pull effect is created. “And when the app reaches a cool status and goes viral, and people say ‘Hey, you have to have that!,’ then at some point the manufacturer can extend the rights, and then the person installing it has to agree to even more,” Strobel says.

In this way, the user grants the app permission to do more and more. Many users also don’t understand what the app requires of them. If a window pops up, they simply agree. And all of a sudden, the app has access to users’ current location, can query where they are at any time and perhaps has access to their contacts and schedules. This must then be accepted by anyone wanting to use the app.

Preinstalled spy apps

=>The problem does not exist only with apps that users actively download from the app store. Often the malware is already installed on a smartphone when customers buy it.

As examples, his colleague Ryan Johnson mentions two small programs called Lovelyfonts and LovelyHighFonts, which were discovered in 2019. They purported to be simply fonts that could make the display on the smartphone screen more appealing and playful.

===>In reality, both programs secretly launched an attack on the smartphone, tying up encrypted data packets and sending them to a server in Shanghai
=>when the phone was not in use.”

Read the whole article and videos inside as usual. Enjoy!

echo August 27, 2020 11:25 PM

So TikTok and WeChat are basically the Facebook and Google of China? Attitude is fundamentally no different from Bezos at Amazon. The basic concerns generally seem like Patriot Act versus GDPR.

Can someone name a single thing China did which breached the law. If they did breach the law anything which deviates from default practice in the US? EU? UK? China is not the US. Big surprise it’s somewhere else on the map. China does what China does. This is not a surprise either. I’m not saying China is squeaky clean (Who is?) but exactly what is the beef here?

Yes I avoid apps from China but then I avoid apps from the US too for reasons which are not dissimilar.

A one page summary will do…

Wesley Parish August 27, 2020 11:46 PM

BTW, have you noticed the negative connotations around the term “downloading” when used in general conversations? That’s the result of three decades of propaganda that downloading stuff from the Interwebs is “piracy”, software, music, whatnot … and how that implies (or is made to imply) the change from “innocent until proven guilty” to “guilty until proven innocent”?

That’s monopoly “capitalism” for you. I mean, it’s no more capitalism than the Soviet Union’s economy was “communism”. Or a system of independent trading villages with a few alliances here and there – the Papua New Guinea model right up till First Contact – could be said to be either “capitalistic” or “communistic”.

echo August 28, 2020 12:19 AM

@Wesley Parish

Yes I have noticed negative connatotions around the term “downloading”. I have also noticed the same people are not in a hurry to discuss privacy or security nor are they big fans to discuss economic or earning or taxation policy or discrimination and social exclusion even in the broadest sense. There’s an unspoken whiff of “haves versus have nots”, legitimisation of “meritocracy” (you’re only worth anything if you have capital), and salaried “white collar” workers marking their own homework while “blue collar workers” are uppity oiks who belong in jail. See also: austerity policies and pandemic responses.

Clive Robinson August 28, 2020 1:05 AM

@ vas pup,

With regards the articles,

    “The accusations against the Chinese app TikTok and countless other apps from China are very serious”

Whilst true is unfortunately the norm, not just in the US, or China, or Russia, or North Korea, or Iran, or Israel, or the UK, or Uncle Tom Cobbly and all.

There is a perversion driven by a couple of false beliefs that “collect it all” is a way to great wealth.

It’s not even those at the top of the collect it all pyramid such as the likes of Alphabet/Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft who are actually looking seriously at other income streams as they can see where things are going in the “Online Marketing” game.

As our host @Bruce has noted in the past such data is infact “toxic” which is why US legislation has quite serious legal “safety blankets” built in for all who “volunteeraly” share the data with “Uncle Sam”. Thanks to Californian Senator Dianne Feinstein.

What concerns me as I’ve mentioned to you before is the “COVID Effect” a significant amount of business that would in any rational mind be considered highly confidential got dumped onto the Internet quickly and without real considered thought. The result is this confidentiality has been breached so many times that it’s not even worth reporting now unless there is “Political mileage to be made”.

I suspect that we’ve actually passed a tipping point with COVID and “business continuation” and that few are now going to go back to the way things were, but worse they will move forward without any actual security considerations.

Thus for ICT Sec “COVID” will be the new “gift that keeps giving”.

It’s been over a third of a century since I wrote my first secure communications “app” / program based on work done by a friend that used a PDP-11 as a comms switching hub / terminal concentrator. Since then I would say the level of appreciation for security has actually dropped many times over…

Ismar August 28, 2020 4:33 AM

From a SiFi book called Dune, written ~40 years ago

“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.”
Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam

J. August 28, 2020 4:35 AM

“Nothing stops anyone from setting up an alternative email system to Google. Same for search.”

You’re missing the bigger point. Gmail is not an e-mail service and Google Search is not a search service; they are advertisement services. They use your e-mail and search history to sell more effective adds, so there’s a qualitative difference emergent from the raw number of active users, because of the amount of profiling data and size of the audience. Similarly to what happens with auction sites, there’s value to the actual customer (i.e.: marketing companies) to have all the audience in one single platform. That is surveillance capitalism.

Clive Robinson August 28, 2020 6:47 AM

@ Wesley Parish,

BTW, have you noticed the negative connotations around the term “downloading” when used in general conversations?

It also has use as a euphamism for a bodily function much as “data dump” did in the 80’s

If you look back to the 80’s the Times Newspaper were enamoured of a women’s group who proclaimed that the reason women were not involved with IT and other technology was the use of what they saw as demeening terms. Their argument was a form of Political Correctness that would use different words and all the problems would go away.

Guess what terms have changed but the issues to do with STEM takeup by women is still an issue and is not going to go away any time soon. I’ve spent quite a chunk of my working life trying to encorage technology take up by women and the only thing that’s changed in four decades are the alledged excuses…

Before any one asks, yes women are just as capable as men at STEM probably more so, and the few that have taken interest and stuck with it have done well considering there is still “old guard prejudices” around.

The best reasoning I’ve come too is that it’s a Catch 22 situation, that is there will not be more women in STEM for it to become “normal” to be in STEM untill there are more women in STEM… That is there would already be a good percentage of women in STEM for other women to see.

However there is a secondary Catch 22 the percentage of the population in research is actually very small to start off with so even if 50% of people in research etc were women they would still not be very visable anyway…

But things are changing whilst I’m not yet a dinosaur I remember that I had a lot of trouble at school doing “home economics” I actually enjoyed cooking and things like designing your own cloths etc and my mum had taught me how to do it from a very early age as had my sister. I had infact been doing it in part since before I can remember and was quite proficient at it before I got to junior school. The attitude a half century or more ago was that girls did Home Economics and boys did woodwork and metalwork both of which my dad had taught me but they did not interest me in the same way as cooking and electronics. Also there was still the prejudice against left handers being “sinister” if not actually evil…

Sancho_P August 28, 2020 7:13 AM

I don’t think surveillance capitalism and monopolies are at the root of the problem.
Both are just the symptoms some of us can see.

The root is in nature. Not only human nature, but in life in common.
That part we don’t understand and avoid to think of.
All the cruelty that’s necessary to remain in a healthy environment.

Humans developed a special form of this cruelty: Face to face war.
Groups of men were slaughtering each other until most of the unfit, dumb or yes-men were dead.
– Don’t get me wrong here, many good, brave and clever men died, too, but as a collateral damage, nature’s intention goes for the masses.
Those surviving have seen enough cruelty, suffering and misery, their regret and compassion changed life often for generations.

Since WWII we didn’t have that form of selection, our tech-warfare kills indiscriminately, without noticeable victims on the side of the “winner” [1], no chance to purge and cultivate humanity.
We lost the feedback from the loop.

A nuclear war wouldn’t help, we (humans) still need a face to face regulator.
So we are back at the “remain in a healthy environment”:
Probably our destroying the environment will bring back the regulator, in one form or the other.

[1] In fact, the winner may be the loser in the long term …

Singular Nodals August 28, 2020 9:38 AM

@Wesley Parish

the negative connotations around the term “downloading” when used in general

Or even more, around what should be illumined in the serene light of intellectual leisure (but I repeat myself), the term “hacking”.

Faustus August 28, 2020 10:31 AM

Cory Doctorow is disappointing. An immense article without footnotes making all sorts of factual claims without support. Although his opinions may seem more plausible, the form of his argument is actually less convincing and less scientific than that of flat-earthers. This isn’t a defense of flat-eartherism: It is an indication of how tired I am of people claiming the imprimatur of science while actually engaging in none of its processes.

Erdem Memisyazici August 28, 2020 1:04 PM

You mean we don’t currently live in the timeline when Biff gets a hold of the Almanac?

lurker August 28, 2020 9:34 PM

@SpaceLifeForm: facebook-sues-maker-of-advertising-sdk

I used to search the court docs to see wassup, but the list of similar cases at the foot of the article gives a clue. Are all these respondents stealing user info from FB? Or are they just stealing user info the same way FB does and Fb is claiming first dibs?

Clive Robinson August 28, 2020 10:02 PM

@ lurker, SpaceLifeForm,

Are all these respondents stealing user info from FB? Or are they just stealing user info the same way FB does and Fb is claiming first dibs?

More likely a FB “snow job” on politicians to make them think MZ is taking the moral high ground rather than what he is realy doing as any good sociopath does “sticking to their master plan”.

The writer Sir Terry Pratchet in one of his Diskworld books slipped in one of lifes little “reality calls”. He had the Patrician explain to Captin Vimes why evil prospers. It was that “evil plans” whilst “good equivicates”, that is evil seeks achivable goals and gets on with it thus things get done, whilst good seeks to reason what the best solution would be, and as these are invariably unreachable, it makes little or no progress and falls into disarray. Thus people naturaly follow evil as it is going somewhere and that is better than nowhere, even if it’s “the road to hell”.

SpaceLifeForm August 29, 2020 1:01 AM

@ lurker, Clive

Ponder: are the companies really just fronts? Shell corps? Ready to be thrown under the bus?

Cambridge Analytica, et al, are still functioning. Big Time.

The Russian troll and disinformation groups are working overtime now.

Just like in 2016.

Not just FB, but the blue bird also.

Zuck is likely just as blackmailed as other players.

echo August 29, 2020 1:24 AM

@Clive

The writer Sir Terry Pratchet in one of his Diskworld books slipped in one of lifes little “reality calls”. He had the Patrician explain to Captin Vimes why evil prospers. It was that “evil plans” whilst “good equivicates”, that is evil seeks achivable goals and gets on with it thus things get done, whilst good seeks to reason what the best solution would be, and as these are invariably unreachable, it makes little or no progress and falls into disarray. Thus people naturaly follow evil as it is going somewhere and that is better than nowhere, even if it’s “the road to hell”.

Yes, this is the classic tactic of conmen and strongmen. Say or do something stupidly evil and watch while more rational and considerate people make the silly assumption/projection that the villian is of the same mind as themselves when they are very obviously not. When they eventually catch up the villian is already five steps ahead. The media downgrading experts and shrinking the newscycle does rather play in to this sorry state of affairs.

I like tothink I know a bad one when I see one. Perhaps if a few of them early in their careers had got a public and artfully dramatic face slap things wouldn’t be as bad as they are.

Mr. Anon August 30, 2020 4:36 PM

@ScottyTheMenace I have been successfully limiting my interaction with Google since its inception and I have not suffered any of the problems that you describe. My digital experience on all devices is ad-free, while I support select websites/services via contributions, subscriptions or memberships (such as the independent news service The Correspondent).

Google search remains the best of its ilk, so I take advantage of it via Startpage (which pays Google for access for its free private search service).

Governmental regulations and legislation are the most effective ways to combat the online monopolies. The so-called “free market” cannot be expected to police itself when maximizing profits is its raison d’être (reson for being). Of course, the efficacy of government depends on who happens to be in power. The current U.S. administration is a perfect example of predatory capitalism run rampant.

Mr. Anon August 30, 2020 5:06 PM

No one forces people to use GMail or any other service Google offers. There are commerical email providers that offer services at reasonable prices, with the guarantee that customer data will not be sold to the highest bidder.

I use a privacy-oriented email provider based in Norway, a country with consumer-friendly privacy laws. The provider’s spam filtering and account security is top-notch. The customer service is excellent.

I pay less than $5/month for 4 email accounts and it is worth every penny.

I use a personal VPN service whose owners and corporate officers are publicized. The company undergoes regular third-party audits with the results posted on its website. Many people might consider the $6/month I pay to be too much compared to the plethora of cheaper and “free” VPN services. I think that it is a bargain. . .

You usually get what you pay for. Supposedly free online services almost always wind up costing the users a lot more than comparable commercial alternatives. Google, Facebook et al. are only worth using if you value your personal data/privacy as being valueless. Those incredibly profitable companies know just how valuable our personal information really is.

WhiskersInMenlo September 1, 2020 1:25 PM

Oh and BTW the USPS images all the to and from data on letters. Stamps at home are trackable to an account,

Meta data is a big deal. Police blotters allegations are forever convictions might get expunged private copies are forever. Military records burn up and are lost …

A real problem is marketing cannot audit the services they buy. Bought a Timex last week. Now i get advertisements to buy another watch but mine keeps on ticking. That expense is real but has a very very low rate of return.

Profiling is not as powerful as some think but like spam filtering it sort of works.

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