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New Book Argues Silicon Valley Will Lead Us to Our Doom (sandiegouniontribune.com) 202

Long-time Slashdot reader Zorro quotes the San Diego Union-Tribune: To many Americans, large technology firms embody much of what's good about the modern world. Franklin Foer has a different perspective. In his new book, "World Without Mind," the veteran journalist lays out a more ominous view of where Big Tech would like to take us -- in many ways, already has taken us... These firms have a program: to make the world less private, less individual, less creative, less human... Big Tech has imposed its will on the resident population with neither our input nor our permission.
The reviewer summarizes the book's argument as "Once hooked, consumers are robbed of choice, milked for profit, deprived of privacy and made the subjects of stealth social engineering experiments."

Interestingly, Foer was fired from The New Republic in 2014 by its new publisher -- Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes -- and Foer's new book includes strong criticism of the way companies are assembling detailed profiles on their users. "They have built their empires by pulverizing privacy; they will further ensconce themselves by pushing boundaries, by taking even more invasive steps that build toward an even more complete portrait of us."
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New Book Argues Silicon Valley Will Lead Us to Our Doom

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  • by h33t l4x0r ( 4107715 ) on Sunday September 17, 2017 @07:27AM (#55213339)
    I myself have no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or otherwise social media presence. You hand over power over you because you believe you get something back, but that something is often just an illusion.
    • by lucasnate1 ( 4682951 ) on Sunday September 17, 2017 @07:31AM (#55213347)

      I only expose what I want myself in social metworks. in return I occasionally get a fuck or a job offer. Feels like a good deal to me (note: I never upload pics and rarely report my position).

      • I occasionally get a fuck... and rarely report my position

        For that we thank you.

      • I've had a lot of jobs and a lot of fucks, all during the social media period (2006 - present)... None of them came from social media. The internet? Plenty came from there. Some even came from IRL socializing. Still never gave anything up to FB or the other Twits.

        Sounds like a better deal than what you're getting.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 17, 2017 @07:36AM (#55213363)

      That worked as a solution *before* they got so big. Now they are everywhere and are unavoidable. If you want to join ANY group or contribute to ANY non-profit, communicate, meetup, collaborate, etc. They have Google Forms, Google Docs, Facebook Groups, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum. There is no way to avoid it. The entire world was dumb enough to hand over power to these asshats.

      • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Sunday September 17, 2017 @08:15AM (#55213489) Homepage Journal

        They have Google Forms, Google Docs, Facebook Groups, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum.

        I'm sure somewhere among them there's a group dedicated to learning Latin. Why not join it?

      • by Sir Holo ( 531007 ) on Sunday September 17, 2017 @05:29PM (#55215595)

        That worked as a solution *before* they got so big. Now they are everywhere and are unavoidable. If you want to join ANY group or contribute to ANY non-profit, communicate, meetup, collaborate, etc. They have Google Forms, Google Docs, Facebook Groups, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum. There is no way to avoid it. The entire world was dumb enough to hand over power to these asshats.

        Did anyone ever notice, back in 2001, that every group you communicated or traded with (as list-d above) – all suddenly wanted your cell phone number, when they never had before? Did anyone else notice this sudden change?

        Consumer-data firms absolutely love cell phone numbers. They are a unique identifier that is not illegal to use (as SSN & CC# are). Cell phone numbers are an extremely powerful correlate to whatever other little scraps if data might accompany it.

        I stopped giving my phone number out to anyone unless it was central to the relationship. For about 10 years. Well, now, big data is very big, and everybody and their mother is selling your info, which is later correlated with other data, and your cell phone number is one of the most high-confidence correlates. I have given up.

        YOU DO HAVE A FB PROFILE, even if you never created one. They follow people around the web (via cookies, etc.), and build a profile of you whether you like it or not. Sign up, and you might see how creepy-much they have.

        There are hundreds of these 'Consumer-behavior Aggregating Companies', and they are effectively uncontrolled. It is a new industry. Compare them to the three credit agencies are heavily regulated. See how it gets scary?

        John Oliver did an informative piece on these shady companies within the last year. Very informative.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 17, 2017 @07:37AM (#55213365)

      Do you have friends? Family? People you just happen to know?

      The problem is that it's becoming increasingly impossible to avoid being on social media, even if you never use it yourself. Other people posting pictures of you, combined with facial recognition, means it's possible for social media networks to know quite a bit about you without you ever using them yourself.

      As data mining technique improve, this is only going to get worse. Simply existing is going to be enough for companies to build profiles on you, regardless of whether you yourself use their services. It's not enough to not use the services yourself, you need to make sure no one you know ever posts anything about you as well.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There's a difference between acknowledging that surveillance exists and willingly participating in your own surveillance.

      • Do you have friends? Family? People you just happen to know?

        No of course not. It's impossible for me to have any of those because I don't have a Facebook account.

        Listening to the hopelessly addicted trying to justify their addiction is heartbreaking. The hook for social media is a deep feeling of being isolated and left out if you ever dare leave. This singular fact is what keeps many who see the problem, want to stop and do something more productive and interesting with their time keep coming back for another hit time and time again.

        The problem is that it's becoming increasingly impossible to avoid being on social media, even if you never use it yourself.

        Tell me about it... phones ke

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Congratulations on making yourself an outcast. I'm against the whole craze myself but what can one do when the vast majority has already decided? You want to shut yourself out, it's your right but it doesn't make any difference. The war for privacy is over and we lost. Staying out counts only as sulking, they already have your profile whether you like it or not. You have to ask yourself, as I did, is it worth it? Becoming an outcast in the name of a principle nobody cares for?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Archtech ( 159117 )

        Congratulations on making yourself an outcast. I'm against the whole craze myself but what can one do when the vast majority has already decided?

        I am amazed to see such sentiments expressed on /. Here I was thinking that slashdotters were inner-directed, free-thinking, independent minds. But apparently at least one is just a herd animal.

        Try visiting

        https://thoreau.eserver.org/ [eserver.org]

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Here I was thinking that slashdotters were inner-directed, free-thinking, independent minds. But apparently at least one is just a herd animal.

          We are herd animals. Marketers, publicists, public relations peoples, sales people, politicians, clergy, tel-evangelists, and what have you, use that fact to their advantage. Slashdotters are some of the biggest herd animals. Watch this: Elon Musk is not an innovative genius. He has done nothing to deserve that reputation - even though his publicists did a very good job in creating that image of him. See what happens next - and no, I really think that.

          The only way to resist manipulation is to accept that

      • by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <mashiki@nosPAm.gmail.com> on Sunday September 17, 2017 @09:04AM (#55213637) Homepage

        I'd say they're privacy oriented, like I am. What can you do? The same thing that people have done in the past, refuse to participate in it. Something is only lost when you give up, as it stands there is no "social media" presence for me out there. I don't exist at all among social media networks or anything else. It's not hard to do and still keep a large enough social and work network. If anything, I see more people going back to face-to-face social networking because they're tired of all the inane, pointless, bullshit drama that happens on every single platform.

        You have to ask yourself, as I did, is it worth it? Becoming an outcast in the name of a principle nobody cares for?

        Sure is. The real question is, are you a person who can hang onto their principals while others are throwing theirs to the wind?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Sure is. The real question is, are you a person who can hang onto their principals while others are throwing theirs to the wind?

          Maybe people shouldn't be throwing their principals into the wind. It's the principle of it.

        • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday September 17, 2017 @01:13PM (#55214461)

          I'd say they're privacy oriented, like I am. What can you do? The same thing that people have done in the past, refuse to participate in it. Something is only lost when you give up, as it stands there is no "social media" presence for me out there. I don't exist at all among social media networks or anything else. It's not hard to do and still keep a large enough social and work network.

          You have a presence in social media even if you've never created an account. You know those little 'f' icons you see on websites which link back to Facebook? They're not a link. They're a script which sets a cookie or examines your cookies to uniquely identify your computer. When you visit slashdot, that 'f' icon in the upper right tells Facebook that user #51853601342 has visited slashdot. And they add it to their database with all other sites user #51853601342.

          Then one day a friend of yours sends you a Facebook invite via email. You happen to click on it to delete it (instead of doing a select-delete) which causes it to load in your browser, and now Facebook knows that user #51853601342 is yourname@gmail.com. They start cross-referencing your name with comments, other friend requests, public documents, etc. And now Facebook knows who you are, where you live, who your family is, who your friends are, what you look like (thanks to photo face ID), where you work, who your co-workers are, and how much you make. All without you having an account.

          It's not enough to avoid creating social media accounts. You also have to run script blockers specifically targeting these tracking scripts (e.g. Ghostery) and/or browse in incognito mode at all times.

          • You have a presence in social media even if you've never created an account. You know those little 'f' icons you see on websites which link back to Facebook?

            No. I have no idea what you're talking about.

          • As far as I can tell, Facebook may be currently convinced I'm a hummingbird. Employers where I live have a tendency towards discriminating against people without Facebook accounts, so...

            There's a place in the area which sells angel statues that are utterly perfect if you ever want to stick an angel statue outside a friend's window at night. I'm thinking of getting a picture of one and replacing my profile pic with that, possibly talking some friends into taking some pictures so we can tag 'em as me before

          • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

            You have a presence in social media even if you've never created an account. You know those little 'f' icons you see on websites which link back to Facebook? They're not a link. They're a script which sets a cookie or examines your cookies to uniquely identify your computer. When you visit slashdot, that 'f' icon in the upper right tells Facebook that user #51853601342 has visited slashdot. And they add it to their database with all other sites user #51853601342.

            You're assuming that blocking those is difficult, they're not. Ublock origin refuses to accept those cookies right off the bat, you can even go further if you want to use something like ghostery.

            Then one day a friend of yours sends you a Facebook invite via email. You happen to click on it to delete it (instead of doing a select-delete) which causes it to load in your browser, and now Facebook knows that user #51853601342 is yourname@gmail.com. They start cross-referencing your name with comments, other friend requests, public documents, etc. And now Facebook knows who you are, where you live, who your family is, who your friends are, what you look like (thanks to photo face ID), where you work, who your co-workers are, and how much you make. All without you having an account.

            Which is actually illegal in the country I live in. Facebook was threatened with $10m/day fines a few years ago for doing it, and they don't. The privacy commissioners office has been rather diligent in that. Maybe you need to fix the privacy laws in the country you live?

            FYI incognito mode doesn't work as well a

      • For me personally, I already was an outcast. I seek out groups of similarly minded outcasts who have better ways of doing things than society at large. Plenty of them use Facebook but not having an account there has never caused problems for me. I have experienced nothing but inclusion since I went outside normies for my social needs.
        it's almost as if... you don't have to do dumb things just because most other people do.
      • This is really just a fad. Giving up all your privacy isn't going to be the norm forever. People will wise up. I mean all of us were on networks before it was cool and we learned that its dangerous to give out personal info. Eventually, the normies will learn that too.

        The same way they learned how to use GUI's, web browsers and even the mouse. Just takes them time because they aren't really technical so they dont get the technology and ramifications at first glance.

        People will grow to fear databases as I do

    • by Anonymous Coward

      What you get is... (things I've gotten as a result of using social media)

      Job
      Laid (twice!)
      Made new friends, both local and far away
      Connected again with old friends
      Favors from people helping me to build my business
      Learned about new useful websites and aps
      Introduced to new products that I eventually bought
      Planning a vacation with my old friend from England I would have no other way of contacting otherwise (hopefully getting laid on that on too!)
      Just general enjoying conversations

      I understand the privacy impl

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) on Sunday September 17, 2017 @08:54AM (#55213603)

      Sadly, it may be too late. We've already handed over control of almost all public discourse to private companies, companies which are free to censor that discourse at will. They're already using that power to censor ideas from the right that they disagree with. And many leftists are celebrating that, championing it even. But that's a mistake they'll regret.

      You see, what these anti-"hate speech" leftists have failed to consider is "what ideas are going to be censored next?" Do you really think that this handful of super-powerful corporations who you've ceded control to are going to tolerate anti-capitalist rhetoric, or calls for higher wages, worker rights, higher corporate taxes, and unions? Ha, not for long! And you've been the one who championed them having the the right to censor, never thinking that power could be turned against YOU too. But once they've banned the "Nazis" you can bet they'll come after the "Communists" and "Socialists" next. And you Bernie bros will end up just as cut off from all the major social media outlets as your bad-guy-du-jour Milo Yianopolis.

      • As if the right wing never supported corporatism and censorship

        • by Anonymous Coward
          When the right does it, it's honest, hard-working business owners exercising their rights to choose how to do business and who to do it with.
        • by elrous0 ( 869638 )

          As if the right wing never supported corporatism and censorship

          Yes, and it's a mistake for either side. The right has taken an unfortunate "Private business should be free to do anything it wants" attitude that has played a role in this shitty situation too.

    • The problem is that you also expose your information just by existing, unless everyone else you interact with ALSO abstains from the use of social media.

      And you probably have a credit card, and a driver's license. Maybe you entered a contest once.

      I try to stay out as best I can, but last year someone else tagged me in a photo and now I am easily Googled. Of course, there were already shadow profiles of me out there, but now they have my face, and who knows how many public sources of faces they'll be scann

    • Facebook has no magical power to extract information from your mind that you didn't explicitly hand over to it. The choice is yours.

      • But they do have the power to extract information about you that other people submit. If you have any friends or family who are keen Facebook users, then the chances are they already have a shadow profile which contains a reasonably accurate (likely incomplete) fiends list.

    • Hear, hear. I also abandoned so-called 'social media' a long time ago now, and have no plans to go back to it. I also 'push back' on their 'pushing boundaries' in whatever ways I can -- and encourage others to do the same.
    • I myself HAVE twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. accounts and they have no power over me whatsoever. People do not need to fear such things, you can always reveal as much or as little as you choose.

  • If you aren't paying for the product you are the product.

    • by TimothyHollins ( 4720957 ) on Sunday September 17, 2017 @07:49AM (#55213399)

      That's not true. Sometimes you pay for the product but you are still the product.

      • That's not true. Sometimes you pay for the product but you are still the product.

        True enough. Epson is the prime example. Its CEO called inkjets "vending machines for ink."

        Asshole.

      • by dddux ( 3656447 )
        So true. Often these days companies want to eat the cake and have it, too and the creepiest thing is that they easily manage to get away with it.
  • by Koen Lefever ( 2543028 ) on Sunday September 17, 2017 @07:53AM (#55213409)
    Franklin Foer wrote an article "How Silicon Valley is erasing your individuality" [washingtonpost.com], which seems to be an abridged version of the book.
  • Assuming the author is correct in his assertions, we're certainly now at/past the tipping point.

    What's to be done about it? Nothing, really... it's better than television as a narcotic to keep the masses sedated, it allows the mega-corporations to target market like never before, and the governments are happy with their automated, mostly voluntary, data collection behemoth.

  • Proximo: In the end, we're all dead men.
  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Sunday September 17, 2017 @08:17AM (#55213501)

    "Once hooked, consumers are robbed of choice, milked for profit, deprived of privacy and made the subjects of stealth social engineering experiments."

    Now that you know it's addictive, you can simply not use what they are offering. Of course if you are already hooked then you should leave them behind. If that means quitting social media completely, you quit that shit. If that means not using Android or iOS then get a smartphone that lets you choose a libre mobile OS [itsfoss.com] or *gasp* don't use a smartphone. Hell, if that means going off the power grid you go invest in some solar panels and batteries, dammit! ;)

    If you don't like your situation, you change it, you don't sit around and cry about it.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Now that you know it's addictive, you can simply not use what they are offering. Of course if you are already hooked then you should leave them behind. If that means quitting social media completely, you quit that shit. If that means not using Android or iOS then get a smartphone that lets you choose a libre mobile OS or *gasp* don't use a smartphone.

      Or don't have friends, then you won't have this problem at all. Seriously though, maybe /.'ers are so socially inept they haven't registered but social media has fundamentally altered the expected social interaction. People don't send mails, texts, write on their blog or call/meet to say it in person, they make a Facebook post and expect the people who are interested enough to care to read it. I refuse to use Facebook, though I got badgered into having an account to answer invitations and I've noticed I'm a

      • by west ( 39918 )

        Convenience always wins.

        FB, et al has made it more convenient to socialize, and if I'm the hold out (and I am), it's because I'm deliberately choosing to make it less convenient for all my friends to socialize with me.

        I'd complain, but it comes across to me as being the only one who hasn't moved downtown from the suburbs, and then me whining that no-one drops in.

        As with everything, it's weighing the costs vs. the benefits. The costs are the same for everyone who joins, but the benefit for those who, like m

      • maybe /.'ers are so socially inept they haven't registered but social media has fundamentally altered the expected social interaction. People don't send mails, texts, write on their blog or call/meet to say it in person, they make a Facebook post and expect the people who are interested enough to care to read it.

        Interesting. That's not how my social circle works. Anyway, if you absolutely must have an online social circle then you should use something that isn't facebook. There are plenty of decentralized platforms as well as platforms you can host yourself that can manage more people than you'll ever meet. Slap it on a secure VPS and have your friends use it.

      • U don't have to give up if you don't want to: just need to find those 1 or 2 people in your city that think like you. meet up once in a while. call & listen to their voice. make random plans off of random comments or observations. What life is supposed to be, not fodder for social media.

        WSJ just ran article from noted phycologist that kids are better off having one or two friends they care about than fostering attention from a whole group.
  • That term is new on me, but maybe I'm not keeping up with things like that. Whenever some refers to a subject as Big XXXX (Big Oil, Big Pharma, etc.) you should be very skeptical of everything they say.

    It's no small irony that the first link in the summary brings you to Amazon's page for the book. Although I suppose we should expect that in a slashvertisement for a book.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

      Whenever some refers to a subject as Big XXXX (Big Oil, Big Pharma, etc.) you should be very skeptical of everything they say.

      In the cases of Big Oil and Big Pharma, they clearly and unabashedly operate as cartels in their respective domains. It's much less clear that there is anything like that operating in technology. The bar to entry for new software is very, very low.

      • by tomhath ( 637240 )
        The premise of this book seems to be that "Big Tech" does have a common goal:

        These firms have a program: to make the world less private, less individual, less creative, less human... Big Tech has imposed its will on the resident population

        And if you think you can start a new search engine, social media site, or shopping site to compete with Google, Facebook, or Amazon - good luck.

      • Re: Big Tech? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Sique ( 173459 ) on Sunday September 17, 2017 @10:23AM (#55213865) Homepage
        But with a few companies having a quite complete picture about everything you are up online, it will be more and more difficult to develop something revolutionary (pardon: disruptive) without them noticing. And with their superior manpower they might be able to beat any small group of developers to market.
        • we've been letting a lot of money accumulate at the top. So much that it's easier for companies to buy out potential rivals before they get too big. Microsoft was famous for this and I've been seeing EA & Activision doing it for decades too.

          I'm less worried about losing privacy than I am about the affects of wealth inequality and having that much money/power at the top. Most people don't abuse privacy for fun, they do it to take all the world's money for themselves. Solve income inequality and the p
        • But with a few companies having a quite complete picture about everything you are up online, it will be more and more difficult to develop something revolutionary (pardon: disruptive) without them noticing. And with their superior manpower they might be able to beat any small group of developers to market. [bold mine]

          This is why I have convinced countless colleagues to STOP using DropBox for Group-sharing on projects. DropBox indexes every file and its contents. Why should they get to spy on my R&D? Imagine that you're a researcher or small-business owner, with 'Trade Secret' or Patentable stuff that you want to keep private... Your patent-able ideas could be easily stolen. Or if you have a small-business grant (SBIR/STTR), it is quite likely that the funding agency has required some kind of information contr

  • Who will lead us to Duke Nukem Forever?

    Just spotted it, DNF also stands for Did Not Finish.

  • But I gotta say, he's not wrong.

  • to make the world less private, less individual, less creative, less human... Big Tech has imposed its will on the resident population with neither our input nor our permission.

    Their program isn't to make the world less private per se; it's to make money. The means by which they make money happens to be making the world less private. He fails to deal with the fact that this forfeit of privacy is voluntary and that those who forfeit some amount of privacy also get something in return. It's a transaction

  • If he was a paramecium, he'd be arguing against multicellularity on all the same points.

  • The article on The New Republic's collapse after its buyout by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes describes how Foer's being ousted as editor was what prompted this book. The problem was a bicoastal clash of cultures: the writers at the magazine, proud curators of a hundred-year tradition of in-depth coverage of topics, suddenly faced a pack of young interlopers spouting Silicon Valley marketing buzzwords. It wasn't long before an article critical of hedge fund bro culture was spiked in the face of a financin

  • by hazardPPP ( 4914555 ) on Sunday September 17, 2017 @01:01PM (#55214417)

    ...was the original problem here. Since 99% of all internet services are delivered "for free", primarily as a result of the internet's decentralized nature, the service providers had to find a way to make money. It went from banner ads to now mining all of your personal data for profit.

    Why doesn't e.g. Netflix get mentioned with the GAFA quadruplet? Because you pay 9.99/month for Netflix, so Netflix doesn't care who your friends are and how to sell that to advertising companies. The problem is that even if people would now be willing to pay 9.99/month for Facebook, Facebook wouldn't want it that way - they've seen they can make much more massive profits by mining people's personal data. There's no going back now.

  • Not a bad book, interesting in sections with some recondite information, but the author makes a glaring fooking mistake referring to the great economist (economic surplus, etc.), Thorstein Veblen, as a sociologist!
  • Yet another of the many social issues presented on Slashdot that is big news to Americans, yet common sense to the rest of the (non-English-speaking) planet who simply miss out on "the digital life" sterile Americana has to offer nowadays.

  • Somehow I think we'll survive. Some societies thought (and think) you can't live without honor, hence the execution of rape victims and rituals of suicide. Now we think we can't live without privacy. I'll bet we can.

  • DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooomed.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

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