Back in the last decade circa 2018, I started to incorporate in my lectures about the media industry the growing crisis of surveillance capitalism. Now things are taking a turn, and the surveillance players are beginning to eat each other. Of course, I'm talking about the current and growing war between Apple and Facebook.
One of the problems of living through any revolution is that it is almost impossible to take a long view of what's happening. Hindsight is the only exact science at play.
So, before I go forward, let us review a few of my observations from 2018.
There once was a time when advertising was focused on imparting information.
Sadly today it is more concerned with collecting information. Facebook, Google, Amazon, and damn near every digital giant is exploring every microscopic part of our lives. That is not a generic, anonymous life, but a specific personal intrusion on every individual in the modern-day ecosystem. It is evident to anyone that we are living through the most profound transformation of the media industry since Gutenberg's invention of movable type and the printing press in approximately 1439.
With the incredible and on-going acceleration of technology and our reliance on it, we are irresistibly embedded in it. The truth is we cannot function without the modern infosphere. If you stop and think about it, technology surrounds us everywhere to the point that we have to stop thinking of it as a mobile service but rather ubiquitous technology. Soon nothing will be mobile because everything will be mobile.
The big picture is that It has all come too fast without evolving safe societal rules. We are saturated with life-rattling new technologies. Yet more is on its way — artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robots and greater use of cyber weapons. These are changing our lives and our businesses in ways that are both good and near evil.
We have combined digital technology with a mutant form of capitalism—surveillance capitalism. It works by providing free services that billions of people cheerfully use, enabling the providers of those services to monitor the behavior of those users in astonishing detail without their explicit consent.
It takes our private experiences and turns them into revenue opportunities. It changes everything. It's impossible to overstate the peril of our times. We used to fear the totalitarian government who knew everything about us, followed us everywhere. We are well on our way to such a nightmare. Except it isn't our government that knows everything about us, follows us everywhere, knows who we are talking to and what we are saying, and keeps secret files about us. It is the marketing industry.
All this brings me to Apple's CEO Tim Cook and what he said last week.
Technology does not need vast troves of personal data stitched together across dozens of websites and apps in order to succeed.
Advertising existed and thrived for decades without it, and we're here today because the path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom.
If a business is built on misleading users on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, then it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.
We should not look away from the bigger picture and a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theory is juiced by algorithms. We can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement, the longer the better, and all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible.
Too many are still asking the question, 'How much can we get away with?' When they need to be asking, 'What are the consequences?'
What are the consequences of prioritizing conspiracy theories and violent incitement simply because of the high rates of engagement?
What are the consequences of not just tolerating but rewarding content that undermines public trust in life-saving vaccinations?
What are the consequences of seeing thousands of users joining extremist groups and then perpetuating an algorithm that recommends even more?
It is long past time to stop pretending that this approach doesn't come with a cause. A polarization of lost trust, and yes, of violence.
A social dilemma cannot be allowed to become a social catastrophe."
Here is what Justin Bariso noted in his article
“The fact that Cook doesn't name Facebook somehow increases its impact. Because as you hear Cook's 's speech, you can't help but immediately think of the house that Zuckerberg built.
“If you're wondering how Apple and Facebook ended up at odds, you can read more of the details here.
But the reality is these two tech giants have been heading towards a major conflict for quite some time.
“The problem is that Apple's and Facebook's business philosophies are diametrically opposed to each other:
“Apple is a lifestyle brand. And part of the lifestyle Apple sells is users having more control over their privacy.
“Facebook, on the other hand, is in the data business. The more data they collect on users, the more effectively they can sell targeted ads.
‘But collecting and selling all that data comes at great cost, as Cook highlights. ‘The end result of all of this is that you are no longer the customer,’ said Cook. "You are the product."
Justin Bariso concluded with this:
“Now is the time to ask yourself:
“Which philosophy do I want to pursue?
“Do I want a business that serves my customers? Or one that takes advantage of customers to serve my business?
“Because in the end, only one of these philosophies is sustainable for the long-term. The other will lead you to crash and burn.
“And while the long-term solution may initially prove more challenging, remember:
"The path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom."
Stay tuned to this situation.
On a fourth-quarter earnings call last Wednesday, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg lashed out at Apple, calling Apple anti-competitive.
The Apple and Facebook wars are heating up, with Facebook threatening to sue Apple. This war of words and lawsuits is just the beginning, and I will be keeping my eye on it and report to you any developments.