2021-02-23

Techno-Feudalism — We are working for Big Tech for free

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by Neil Godfrey

Initially, Eva had considered the harvesting of data by Facebook, Google and others for the purposes of advertising a pretty innocuous way for consenting adults to trade a little bit of privacy for some rather desirable free leisure services. But as Costa would point out whenever given half a chance, Facebook and Google, Twitter and Instagram, Amazon and the rest were not mere service providers. Nor were their profits rewards for services rendered. No, they were gigantic behaviour modification machines, addicting and provoking, teasing and enraging their users in order to maximize engagement and the profiling data – and profits – that came with it.

‘Big tech only enables two people to communicate if it can manipulate their behaviour,’ Costa would insist on the rare occasions that he and Eva had argued the matter.

This was what he meant when he said that social media was proletarianizing us all. Facebook’s users provided both the labour that went into the machine and the product that was sold by it.

‘Even Walmart, a company renowned for its capacity to squeeze every drop of value out of its workers, pays out 40 per cent of its total revenue in wages,’ Costa would complain. ‘But Facebook pays only 1 per cent of its revenues to its employees and precisely nothing to its users!’

That was back in 2019. By 2025, Eva had become convinced that no self-respecting liberal could condone big tech’s mass manipulation techniques nor defend its gains as a fair reward for entrepreneurship. Its returns were only made possible by a species of techno-feudalism that made billions of people work for it for free.

Varoufakis, Yanis. Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present. London: The Bodley Head, 2020. p.144 (my emphasis)

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2 thoughts on “Techno-Feudalism — We are working for Big Tech for free”

  1. Oh the irony! This post is not available through Facebook to anyone in Australia (including me). When I try to share it in Australia I get the following message:

    Maybe it’s worth posting something from the paragraph that follows on from where I left off in the above post:

    The tipping point was the double strike action against Facebook that took place on 5 November 2012. Like the earlier Day of Inaction against Amazon, the Face the Music strike involved a boycott by Facebook’s users, but this time they struck not as customers but as unpaid data labourers, striking in solidarity with Facebook’s actual employees, by simply not visiting their Facebook pages.

  2. A year or two after I first heard of Facebook, they did something that made me decide to never get an account with them. They decided, in all their wisdom, to make everybody’s contacts public without consulting the users. All contacts, whether public or private, were now public.
    The internet had been around for about a decade at that time; and, during that time, privacy issues had been a priority for users. Anyone who knew anything at all about the internet knew this. Facebook were either grossly incompetent in this matter or simply didn’t care. A few years later, during the Arab Spring, I heard that the secret police of those countries were using Facebook to trace and arrest activists.
    No Facebook for me.
    No Twitter either. 140 characters is insufficient for anything but the most superficial of comments.
    I rarely use Google. I use Ecosia instead.
    My pc provides me with enough privacy headaches. I don’t need more.

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