Jacques Vallee's Stating The Obvious: I, Product

 Photos Uncategorized 2008 02 21 Barcode 2 You may think of yourself as a user of Google, Facebook or Amazon, but you are actually their product.

Sure, Google will provide you with search results, but they are not in the search business; they are in the advertising business. Their profits come from marketing firms that buy your behavior.

Similarly, Amazon is not in the book business, although they will send you the books you've ordered. They are in the personal information business.

The assets of modern web-based companies are the intimate profiles of those who "use" them, like you and me. Time to forget the nice pronouncements like "Do no evil" that accompany the wholesale destruction of privacy now taking place on the web, or rather within the walled gardens that companies like Facebook, Google and Apple are erecting around us on the web. Compared to them, the Chinese censors re-inventing their Great Wall are a bunch of sissies.

Any smart CEO would kill to have a product like you that doesn't cost anything and keeps renewing itself indefinitely so it can be sold and resold and resold to many different customers.

Well, who cares? Look at what we've gained: We now have access to unprecedented new riches. Movies and songs by the thousands; new "friends" by the hundreds; timely pieces of data by the millions. Our lives have become richer, more intelligent, more interesting.

The world moves on. You may have had privacy rights as a customer or a user but what makes you think you should retain those rights now that you're just a product?

The privacy we once thought was so vital: where we live, who we vote for, what we eat, what God we believe in, who we go to bed with, turns out to have been a myth, an unimportant detail in our lives. Whoever wrote the Constitution in an effort to protect it (a fact now disputed by some legal experts) was sorely out to touch with technology and ignorant of life's true values.

Or was he?

What does it mean to live in a world where the behavior of an entire population can be accurately mapped from minute to minute? A world where Procter & Gamble knows exactly what kind of toothpaste I use (and when I can be expected to run out) but also a world where government planners and politicians can subscribe to data flows from datamining experts to engineer finely-tuned programs of mass manipulation? A world where whole new social, political or religious "memes" can be injected into the culture to mold it into new forms?

People used to be up in arms when local authorities put fluoride into the water supply to strengthen kids' teeth but very few object to intelligence agencies experimenting with massive social engineering intrusions into the flow of ideas on social networks.

On a personal basis, do we really want our lives to be conditioned by an information environment that seems to expand to infinity but actually closes in around us? It closes in because we can only buy songs and "apps" from the censored files of iTunes; because all our relationships with the people we love or engage in business have been posted online for our convenience; because the very smart phone we now carry everywhere is busy filing ads filtered by sophisticated agencies to reflect our tastes; because our bank has shared our financial data with all its "affiliates:" thousands of insurance, real estate, brokerage and media firms. Like good magicians, they have mastered the art of misdirection.

Have you ever tried to "opt out" of that system to find out what lies beyond its boundaries?

In this new world our illusion of freedom is intact but our privacy has been sold out from under us. My phone is already reporting my position to its masters and to anyone who buys the information from them. It will soon "augment my reality" by leading me to restaurants matching my tastes at attractively discounted prices--restaurants where I will meet my "friends" to discuss the ideas we all believe in. How reassuring! How warm and cuddly! How convenient! Everybody knows where you are and what you're thinking about.

I tweet, therefore I am.

Uncertainty has been mastered, volatility reduced, complexity minimized. Isn't that a benefit of advanced technology? Isn't that what business should be all about? Forget 1984 and Brave New World. The men who wrote those books were dangerously naïve and not as prescient as we once believed. Instead of Big Brother looking after us, we're immersed in a dizzily delightful system that cares so much about us that it anticipates our every pleasure, like a giant planetary-class Vegas, an immense, inexhaustible Disney World. All we have to do is to preserve the illusion that we, "the users," have the power: in that ignorance, we can live happily ever after.


  1. I wish to the FSM that I could say that this was the rant of a paranoid delusional..
    Sadly it seems to fit with reality.

  2. In a similar fashion, we are not truly “consumers” of mass-media, we are their “product” – we bundle ourselves together so that we can be sold to advertisers.
    You can clearly see this in examples like Glenn Beck – he openly doesn’t care about the issues, his whole intent is to gain viewers whom he can then sell, over and over.

      1. It’s not different at all, obviously, nor is it different than the New York Times. I just used Beck because it was an easy example.
        “60 Minutes” at least pretends to care about providing reliable information, Glenn Beck doesn’t even pretend – he’ll do whatever it takes to get more viewers and raise his advertising rates.

  3. Are #1 and #2 spam, or a satirical statement relating to the post?
    I think the former, but maybe this is Poe’s Law…

  4. LOL @ 1 and 3.

    I feel very much like comment #2, it’s kind of an eye opener, and it doesn’t sound like paranoia any longer… I guess it’s a matter of choice, to be in the system or not…

  5. ohh, we’re such helpless sheep. ohh my goodness, my phone is reporting my location to its masters. obviously one can NOT BUY THE PHONE. not USE THE PHONE. the price of modern convenience? perhaps. do you really need to use that phone? do you really need to have that interweb communication?

    or do you feel entitled to participate in any way the suits your fancy, ooh lookie, everyone is using an iphone so i want an iphone and now i complain.

    read the terms and reject what you don’t like. “but i WANT and DESERVE to be able to yak on my phone and post on my wall with the terms that I want.”

    i’m sure facebook would be glad to seal your privacy details and keep them from advertisers if you paid them to do it… ohh but your information wants to be ‘free’ and you want your web experience to be free too, right?

    and that newspaper that you used to pay for? that doesn’t have ads either, right? ohh, but they didn’t >track< you and monitor your behavior... well, the couldn't... but i guess they did HAVE YOUR ADDRESS, right? and you'd clip a coupon sometimes? walk it into the store? People move as a group, who needs 'your' important little information? everyone knows that people act on things like "Lose the Weight in 3 weeks" -J.Jupiter

    1. While I agree that people need to make better decisions in regards to the things they buy (and buy into), and I try to do this myself, in some circumstances, it’s very difficult to escape from it without entirely living off the grid.

      Who wants to wear a tin-foil hat and never use the internet because they can’t trust companies to safeguard their information?

      “Trust but verify” has become “don’t trust, verify, and be vigilant” which of course means you’re spending more of your time making sure the other things you do with your time don’t expose you in non-preferable ways.

      I block ads where I can. I quit Facebook several months ago. I minimize the number of companies that I voluntarily provide information to. But short of disengaging from society, how do you suggest I, with minimal inconvenience, sway the rest of the consumer populace to rise up with me against the companies that are abusing our trust? You and I and other BoingBoing readers may be aware of these issues, but how do I convince my aging parents? How do I convince the non-tech savvy? And how do I do so without dedicating my life to this approach?

      People scoff at the self-victimizing sheeple, but I never hear legitimate solutions to the issues presented beyond “be paranoid,” which can get exhausting and raise the marginal cost of participation to more than you’re willing to pay in time and effort and even money.

  6. I get how Google might see me as a “product” rather than a “customer” because they don’t get any money from me directly, but it feels like kind of a stretch to say the same about Amazon.

  7. So what.. so they sell the fact that i did a search for shoes on the internet or that i downloaded free books from amazon for my kindle app on my phone. So they sell it to who.. and the groups that buy it do what? I see the invasion of privacy i just don’t see the value in knowing that i’m reading Charles Dickens. Advertisements are like visual white noise to me, and get ignored. I don’t see how having this information makes anyone a penny or is worth buying in any way. My understanding is that the only way any of this is worth anything is if you click on the spam that gets loaded into your web browser. .. so maybe instead of everyone crying about this.. there should be an online education campaign to teach people to stop clicking on advertisements on the web. I keep hearing the OMFGWTFBBQ stories about this but i’m just not getting the problem here. To me it seems to be about the same thing as if someone was watching me shop while in public so they could try and sell me some product on the way out of the store. So what.. can someone explain how this is any different than what we already deal with aside from persistence?

  8. You say that “Amazon is not in the book business, although they will send you the books you’ve ordered. They are in the personal information business.”

    Do you have any figures to suggest that Amazon gets a higher proportion of its revenue from “personal information” than it does selling books? That seems like an unlikely claim without evidence.

  9. After the kneejerk “OMG Big Brother owns me” reaction, I fail to see why I should care. So Facebook and Google can display ads that supposedly cater to my interests more than random ads would. Whoop-dee-do. They can tell Coca-Cola or Microsoft or whoever that I’m age X and enjoy music Y.

    So what? How am I harmed? The CIA injecting memes into the mass consciousness? I hope they aren’t wasting their time so badly. Facebook isn’t exactly the best engine of political hackery considering they can already put whatever they want on various TV networks. What’s the worst that can happen?

    Status: seeing my dawgs later, gonna get crunked up.
    Status: the US needs to invade China to overthrow their authoritarian communist regime. ‘Like’ my status to help progress the agenda.

    Is this what we’re really worried about?

  10. Jacques, I believe you have fallen in love with the sound of your authorial voice, and you two need to spend some time apart.

    E.g.: “I tweet, therefore I am”? Seriously? How does that even fit in with the theme of the rest of your post?

    Or: “the censored files of iTunes”. If you’re referring to the DRM that they have on some (perhaps still most, I don’t know) of their music, I don’t agree with their DRM policy, but it’s not censorship.

    In what sense are you claiming that Google is trying to set up a walled garden? Google goes to a lot of trouble to make it easy for people to take their data elsewhere (do a search for “Data Liberation Front”). Plus, Google actually depends on the non-walled character of the Web to do its job. (If the web consisted of walled gardens, global web search would not exist.)

    If you are going to say “well, all I said was companies ‘like’ Google”, then I will respond by saying that you chose to invoke the name in full knowledge of the implication that would be drawn.

    There are certainly privacy concerns–hell, flagrant violations–in the world as it is, and I’m glad that they’re being discussed and (in some cases) addressed. But presenting things as you do just makes you sound like a kook.

  11. There are a couple conflated themes here, and I’m confused as to how the two relate.

    1) Any company that sells a product is making money from the customers, not the product. To say I’m a product of Google or Amazon is no more accurate or interesting than saying I’m a product of Ford, Coke, P&G, Sony, etc. Until the robots start buying stuff on their own, people will always be the font from which all lucre flows.

    2) Saying things like “You’re their product” is kinda sophomoric, imho. It doesn’t really add anything useful to the conversation. It’s meant to be intriguing, I guess. But it comes off as, well.. jejune.

    3) Companies, NGOs, politicos and entire countries have been basing communications campaigns on demographic and psychographic data for more than a century. What’s different now is that they’re doing it using a medium that’s made of data, and that *feels funny* sometimes. If you use a credit card to buy anything, it’s known. If you’re late on a payment, it’s known. If you give money to a charity, it’s known. All that info is shared at a number of levels and has been for decades. It’s just now they also know when you scratch, because you Tweet that info or FB it. If you don’t want your data getting mixed in with a larger pool, stop soaking in it.

    4) The “privacy we once thought was so vital” was never really an issue. Nobody in Canada or the UK or even Indiana gave a rat’s ass what religion I was, who I voted for, etc. By participating on the Web in forums like this, I get to have a much wider (some would say “also shallower,” but screw that, I have shallow relationships in RL, too) influence, more (and often better) interactions and am experiencing ideas and dialogue in ways that were only available fictionally even 15 years ago. Is there a price for playing in a bigger playground? Sure. Nobody’s going to build the Google search engine that lets people find neat things/people for free. Nobody’s going to give you books, etc. Somebody has to pay. If you can think of a better way that’s more efficient, rock on.

    5) O brav nu wurld tha haz such kittez init!

  12. All I can think, after being laid up for a week with strep and too wiped out even to check email, is “first-world problem.”

  13. While I agree that everyone’s privacy has been compromised to a disturbingly high level at this point, this article does go a bit of an extreme.

    Take, for example, these quotes,”A world where whole new social, political or religious “memes” can be injected into the culture to mold it into new forms?” and, “very few object to intelligence agencies experimenting with massive social engineering intrusions into the flow of ideas on social networks.”

    Now you can accuse me of being naive, but I am just not sure that the government is trying to control me through social media, or that there is any evidence to support this. If they are they are either doing a really good job because I haven’t noticed that I am being controlled, or a really bad one because I completely missed their efforts to manipulate me. There is a simple argument against the practices of these companies, that they violate our right to privacy. To me that is enough of an explanation that doesn’t require the extrapolation that this is just part of an effort to turn us into slaves of someone (the government, Steve Jobs)

  14. I enjoyed reading this even though it made me a little anxious. One can use a knife to cut bread or perhaps stab someone. It’s man’s call to switch the tracks although it’s common to find writings and news pieces speaking of technology as a being itself. Ill decisions that have magnified consequences can be made by a solitary person sitting in front of a computer who is untraceable and can avoid any public facing accountability or responsibility. Decisions are developed in a manner that may weigh more on self interest when there is not some kind of communal balance. Man is left to his or her own content to make the right decision. As the uses of technology become complex there is an elemental inner aspect of man that will be exercised. I think this is a unique balance presented by current technology.

  15. I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed asking for evidence, SamSam.

    This is Jacques Vallee – he writes about UFOs, space aliens’ influence on human societies throughout the ages, and how crop circles are made using sekrit govment microwave guns. I very much doubt he reviewed any of Amazon’s earnings statements before making his assertions.

  16. We are not the “product” of an ad-space seller, we are the bait.

    The product is ad-space, and the millions of users act as bait to companies wishing to advertise.

    Now if they actually sold all the information they held about us, then you could say “you are the product”, but selling our eyeball time is not the same as directly selling information on our friendship network structure.

    Conflating these two activities seems astoundingly poor thinking. Flabby.

  17. I believe the suggestion that Amazon makes its money from selling its customer’s personal information to third parties to be flat-out false.

    1. Yeah, Amazon’s privacy policy is pretty straightforward

      Anyone with evidence that they were in fact selling customer personal information would have material for a pretty significant class action suit in their possession.

      The closest it gets is this item:

      Promotional Offers: Sometimes we send offers to selected groups of Amazon.com customers on behalf of other businesses. When we do this, we do not give that business your name and address. If you do not want to receive such offers, please adjust your Customer Communication Preferences.

      In my experience, this means Amazon sometimes sends me emails promoting things sold by or through Amazon. I don’t think that puts them in the “personal information business” – emailing me about book sales keeps them squarely in the “selling stuff to me” business, as their use of my personal information is solidly in support of selling me more stuff, rather than the other way around. I have not personally received any promos from Amazon, for any products not sold through Amazon.

      So, sure, as a sales broker, you could look at the vendors who sell through them as being their customers, while their sales services are being provided to the vendors’ customers, on behalf of the vendor (Amazon’s customer). But that doesn’t make me “the product” any more than I become “the product” when I buy from a clothing consignment store – yes, technically I’m buying from the consigner of the item of clothing, and the consigner is the one who pays the merchant, but come on.

  18. The part of the privacy discussion that baffles me is that people seem to be overidentifying with their consumer profile. Why would you feel violated when your consumer information is bought and sold? It seems to me like we should have a sense of self that transcends whatever google or facebook or any other corporation thinks you are. All the commercial stuff is supercial.

    Anyway, a much bigger tragedy than the “death of privacy” is the death of the economy. At least the information market is having some success. I’m rooting for any company that can figure out how to make money and provide jobs without blowing up mountains or otherwise screwing over the environment. If it means my little FB updates lead to invitations to get a PhD in Religious Studies, who really cares? I will say I wish they’d stop asking me if I want my stomach stapled. I made *one* comment about my weight in a weak moment. Don’t rub it in, k? :)

  19. so these companies store our data and sell it to those who can use it? Who cares as long as it make my life easier?

    For those who are really worried about such things, go live in a cave. The age of individual privacy is dead, the only data that is truly secure exists in your own head.

    It should be remembers that this cuts both ways. They may have a wealth of data on us, but we can also access a wealth of data on them. This is the ultimate in transparency and accountability. It may seem at the moment that ‘they’ don’t want to open up and be as transparent as we are, but that will change, the pressure will mount, and ultimately no computer system is perfectly secure.

    They can persecute wikileaks and others for saying things they don’t want us to hear, or they can give in to the openness and actually do what we want them to.

    The age of ubiquitous computing is coming (it may already be here in some parts of the world) and we should embrace it instead of living in fear of it. Abuses will be exposed all the more easily than before and word spreads faster than ever. The minute Google is caught ‘being evil’ the world will know and they will feel our wrath.

  20. This is 100% true of cable companies. I have NO consumer choice between companies. AT&T sells me to Comcast who sells me to Time Warner.

    Won’t it be grand when these global corporations get to privatize your water too? They’ll get to throttle how much water you drink! And if you become too expensive to keep alive, they can sell you on the “free market.”

  21. Go somewhere without cellphone service and the internet and get back to me.

    This is the other side of the Singularity. The Dorkpocalypse is coming. You can either think it’ll be paradise, or think it’ll be hell, but it’ll certainly be different.

    Y’know, for wealthy white folks anyway.

  22. Where does AdBlock fit into all this? (And regarding future dystopias, I’ve always thought The Diamond Age had an interesting view of the future.)

  23. Don’t think so. But. If so, who cares?

    Almost describes 90% of responses, that’s 90% of why Jaques is ahead of the game on this one. Little green ad-men.

  24. Since when has the Internet been private? I thought the idea was the opposite.

    Since when have phones been private? Phones have had eavesdroppers since day one, they used to be called operators.

    If advertisers are finding more inventive and likely much more effective ways to find out what people want. Great! It’s just economics.

    I think we need to define privacy before we work out what’s supposedly compromising it.

  25. Have you ever tried to buy a cell phone battery in a cell phone store? Or maybe an accessory for something you bought at Staples? These stores provide little in the way of after sales support. There’s no profit for them to stock those items so they don’t. That business has all gone to specialty retailers who live mainly on-line. The last cell phone battery I bought came from a company that sold only cell phone batteries.
    Many chain stores have high end products for sale only on-line so they don’t have the carrying expense of stocking them in all their stores.
    In this new world of specialization, finding and keeping customers is more important than ever. No one ever made money without repeat transactions from their customers.
    When I need something I can just mentally cross off nearly all of the stores in my community and save a lot of driving around. From experience I know they’ll have zero stock of what I want.
    We’ve been in data bases ever since the days of address plates and Scriptomatic masters. Get over it.

  26. I agree with Jacques, though I think more rigorous language is called for.

    It’s not our physical bodies that are being bought and sold, it’s our attention. And that’s a matter of degree. If we only spend 90% of our attention on agendas that we’d never pick for ourselves, then you could say that we’re 10% free. Adjust those numbers for accuracy, there’s still a problem that needs looking at.

    Suppose instead you’re discussing a company town where individuals can’t be bought or sold, just their houses and jobs and financial responsibilities. It’s not slavery, maybe, but it’s not freedom.

    In the US it used to be, if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. Now if you don’t work, you won’t get medical attention. Is this setup any better?

    Citizenship in a nation really only applies if you’re a legal entity living in a single body. If you’re a corporate legal entity, then nationality is just a convenient way to organize your labor force and your customer base. Governments are what you farm out things that you don’t want to sell yourself.

    The future we’re moving toward, is one in which all rights are derived from the corporation. Individual civil rights will be as quaint and outdated as the Geneva convention.

    I fear the only way to avoid this future, will be to find a way to declare war on one or more corporate entities, and win that war. Governments will be largely irrelevant in that struggle.

  27. Sad but true. What we think of as “social interaction” or “privacy” on the net is seriously turning into a horror movie – I keep thinking of “Mindwarp” with Bruce Campbell. This is why I’ve always stayed away from facebook, et al. This is why I can’t always use my registered account to comment freely on my favorite blog anymore, if I expect to remain in the line of work I’ve chosen.

    Any time you contribute anything online, you’re now forced to make an unfortunate decision: Either your life is an open book for anyone and everyone to read, or you live duplicitous, shadow lifestyles to safeguard you (and any dependent family) from being backtraced to things which you may or may not be liable for, or may be liable for but shouldn’t necessarily be publicly judged and held accountable for. For instance – I could namedrop the real names of at least two people I know offline as well as online, and you could add “nude” to a google image search of those names and build a sizable porn stash from the results – despite the fact that neither of them ever consented to publishing pornographic images of themselves online. The very future of these two women’s lives could be severely damaged just by my (or anyone else who already knows) typing their names here, or anywhere online with high visibility. I wouldn’t get any pleasure from doing that, but I know for certain that other people would.
    Before we had the ability to record our own amateur porn on networked devices, or to publicize someone’s gaffe to the entire world in a matter of seconds, the repercussions were usually small (unless of course you were a celebrity). Now anyone can become a celebrity unexpectedly & overnight, and we have become each other’s paparazzi. The only difference is you still don’t get to go to awards ceremonies and receive $10k+ goody bags. Well you might, but you’re more likely just to end up added into a “cyber bullying” statistic.

    What a horrible way to live, and a dumb choice to make.
    Never give out your real information online to anyone.
    Use fake names on shipping address forms. You still have to give a real address, but it’s at least one more layer of obscurity against the All Seeing Ad-Man’s prying Eye of Sauron.

  28. He’s not ‘blatantly ripping off adbusters’, however he is blatantly ripping off just about every researcher in surveillance… with an admixture of paranoia.

  29. Dang it… I know what my eyes saw when they read the title, but my deluded brain interpreted it as “iProduct”.

    Help me, someone, please.

  30. To anyone not “getting” that WE are the product for google.
    Google is selling access to specific products. That product is a person with an interest in boats (or midget pr0n). The customer, who sells or rents boats (or midget pr0n) then pays a fee and gets access to the product (us).
    That’s how their business is built up, that’s the focus, that’s their focus, and if you’ve followed statements and interviews with google personnel you will find that as much has been said.

    Now, if google were to sell you the boat (or midget… oh, you get the picture) then they would also be the customer, or rather their boat division would be the customer, their data service the service provider and we the product.
    That is basically what Amazon does.

    @Anansi has the right idea. It’s attention or eye-time or brain space that is being sold. That is the product.
    It doesn’t matter that another company MADE the book (or boat, or midget.. I thought I’d stopped with that?).

  31. The apathy and complacency in the comments is truely frightening.

    1. Marketing efficiency has no bearing on this discourse whatsoever if I, as a potential market base unit, cannot opt out of any/all marketing completely in such a way that doesn’t cause the so-called free information that I actually do want to be unavailable to me by the opt-out process (i.e. getting rid of the internet to stop spam mail, when I still want to be reachable by certain pre-determined individuals online).

    2. Yes, some of us have been in some databases. I suppose it’s possible there was some conspiracy in which marketing firms aggressively hired ex-switchboard operators for brand recognition consultants. So why should we care now? Because before we became network dependent, this databasing wasn’t nearly as abusive to privacy and the general peace as it is now; it simply wasn’t as technologically capable/economically feasible back then as it is now for the wholesale transfers and cross-linkages of data that are now easily achievable with today’s technology – whether google, amazon, etc are actively using them against* us or not.

    *3. Predatory fucking marketing, people. How do you, as an ad agency thug, ever expect to outsell the leading brand with your inferior product unless you fraudulently purport it to be better, when your own company’s private studies plainly indicate it’s not any better? The rampant disinformation and psychological programming in marketing strategy has gone on unchecked for much longer than the databasing of our shopping habits, and it’s the main reason that consumer confidence continues to decline, and it needs to change big-time if they ever expect “enhanced databasing” or any kindof data marketing, intrusive or otherwise, to be worth the damned drivespace it takes up.

  32. Just because I am not a paying customer of Google’s does not mean I’m not a customer. And it doesn’t mean I (collectively with other customers) have no power. For the advertising opportunities and profiling information they take from me I get a wonderful service. And if I am unhappy with the service, I’ll stop using it, and they will no longer have access to my goodies.

    I understand the point. I’ll even agree it is useful to remind people that there are other stakeholders than themselves that influence the services they use, and that advertising opportunities have value. But I think the article is making a much bigger deal of this than is warranted. Company treats users poorly -> users leave -> company goes out of business, or improves behavior.

  33. Thanks, Jacques. I always enjoy your provocations.

    FWIW, I anticipate an emergent business model for personal obfuscation services that would create a halo of digital noise around all our checkins & likes & profiles throwing off the scent of would-be marketers and intel snoops.

  34. @Chris, I think the fun is in creating the noise halo yourself, rather than trusting some third party to do it for you. It doesn’t take much work on your part — Exploit their mistakes, and volunteer as little truth and as much noise as possible. When the omniscient data-marketing master system is brought online, it might just pass you over in favor of the next guy, since he won’t require so much extra CPU time on fact-checking, comparison, and adjudicial support subroutines.

  35. This is an interesting discussion. I wonder if it’s possible to put a number on the value it adds to Boing Boing?

  36. “Any smart CEO would kill to have a product like you that doesn’t cost anything”

    Right. Ask anyone who works on anything to do with running a website whether users are free. Of course they’re not. There are hosting costs, server maintenance, managing abuse, improving software, creating content, etc. etc. Heck, why not ask the folks who run BoingBoing whether they have any costs associated with gathering up all those eyeballs?

    Now, farmers — they’re the ones who really have it easy. Their product just pops out of the ground and they sell it! What a cushy job.

    “because we can only buy songs and “apps” from the censored files of iTunes; because all our relationships with the people we love or engage in business have been posted online for our convenience”

    This is just paranoid ranting (or more likely, demagoguery). iTunes doesn’t censor songs, and you can buy or just plain download anything you want from many other places. iPhones can access the uncensored web. Anyone can buy a Mac or commodity PC and run uncensored apps or install a free OS on it.

    In the second point, I note the weaselly passive voice of “have been posted online”. By whom? By those people we love or work with, actually, and just as with any behavior your disapprove of, if you have a problem with it, tell them about it (and avoid them if they won’t stop it.)

    ( fl mr nd mr lk rdng BngBng rqrs plyng whck–ml gnst brrg f wck gst blggrs wh kp rctng strkngly smlr clchs. D NT WNT.)

  37. Okay, because I shop at Amazon, they can monitor what I look at and buy on their site, and sell that information to advertisers. I don’t much like it, but of course my option is to march down to my local store and buy with cash (credit card and/or store loyalty card lets them monitor me too).

    But my software firewall insures that the messages from those advertisers who paid Amazon for my preference never reach me. So, if a tree falls in the forest …

    That firewall also blocks web beacons and flash beacons from other websites, and keeps google analytics from monitoring my browsing. At most I’ll trip their wires once; then I tell the firewall “never again.”

    Anyone can do what I do with a software firewall. Maybe if a lot of people did, the advertisers would find more ways to push past the firewalls, so in a way I suppose I’m compromising my scheme by owning up to it here.

    But I have a feeling that that won’t be a problem. Most people just don’t know and/or care. I stand in line at the store and the vast majority of those in front of me are presenting their store loyalty cards like good little consumers. Since the web’s intrusion is much more subtle, requiring on action or even permission on their part, I can’t imagine they worry any more about it there than they do in the store. They’re happy with their 50 cents off the package of margarine, and have little concern how much they pay for it in privacy.

    It will all come tumbling down someday soon anyway. When business is so desperate to keep consumers overextending themselves that they’ll actually pay them to watch their ads, actually pay them to buy stuff, you know the end phase of this unsustainable orgy of consumerism has to be near.

  38. Mr. Vallee,
    Always thought provoking … a very good thing!
    P.S. Just finished reading one of your books. Greatly enjoyed it!

  39. Facebook and Google, absolutely. Compare their revenue sources and the consumer ain’t king.

    Amazon I’d need convincing about. Rather than just an assertion.

  40. Orwell and Huxley were dangerously naive? Amusingly arrogant, but of a piece with the rest of the article. Given that some aspects of Brave New World might support the argument, such as it is, (keeping a population quiescent and happy through consumption), this suggests the writer hasn’t actually read the book. 1984 also shows controlling a society in part by editing the information available.

    Never mind. File with the “crop circles are an alien conspiracy” posts and next to the OMG Apple Are Evil posts.

  41. When one pays attention, one is yet “paying” something: afterward, one has less of…je ne sais quoi…but one still has less of it.
    Unless, of course, one’s attention is subsequently repaid – in some way.

  42. Sounds like an extension of Noam Chomsky’s ideas on media.

    The notion of media-consumer-as-product may sound unimportant, but the bigger idea is that the advertiser is the media’s customer. And, again, that’s not because of the danger that we will be sent scarily personalized ads. It’s because of the danger that we will think the media work for us.

    Sure, there are exceptions, there is shading. Lots of journalists are trying to do good work within the constraints of corporate media and succeed some of the time. Lots of journalists don’t work for corporations. There is indy art of all sorts struggling to be heard.

    But we ignore the relationship between media owners and their true customers at our peril, especially if those corporate customers think a war would be good for business.

  43. To all above commenters who have lambasted Jacques for being out of touch:

    One the web “Content” is king. Generating content is the goal of most bloggers, many information websites (ibid WSJ, Chicago Trib, Boing Boing, et al.), as well as those mentioned heavyweights listed above in the article.

    THAT is the point that Jacques is making: We are the content.

    Google and others are now geo-tracking us. I have it enabled on my android phone. The onStar system in vehicles also does geo-tracking. It’s not a detraction. Geo-tracking is a feature and provides more content.

    Great article Jacques!

    P.S. I’m sure Aldus Huxley would have a few words to say about our web enabled society.

  44. This system is the beast of Revelation. Whoever controls the system controls the world. Revelation makes it very plain in Chapter 17. The Woman rides the Beast. Who’s the woman? The Woman is the city built on seven hills that reigns over the kings of the earth, Rome. The Catholic Church, which is the biggest country in the world! No? It has over a billion followers world wide and over another billion that all respect it. And all wonder after the beast in the end. Because if you are part of the system, you can’t buy or sale. How many of your freedoms will you let go of before you look to Christ for your freedom. Sin entraps. Love frees. This will become increasingly clear in the next few years. The spiritual world is on fire. Will your government be God’s or Man’s? Do you really want man decided what is good for you? Or your creator who knows how to make you happy?

  45. Though I use search engines often (Google, but more and more Firefox), I never pay attention to the obvious ads and know searches are rigged so that sponsoring sites come up on the first few search results pages. Sure they’re saving my searches, but what they’re getting is pretty bland because I’m a film buff and mostly looking up obscure films, directors, screenwriters, and actors (oh, and free knitting patterns).

    I’ve unfriended everyone on Facebook, removed all personal information, and have asked those who know me personally to contact me another way. If we have a “real” relationship they’ll know how to do so. I’ve done something similar with Twitter.

    I’m not interested in being sold anything via Facebook or Twitter. Nor do I want to be “friended” or “followed” by hundreds I’ll never meet (and never care to). I’m especially not interested in reading random, pointless, misspelled, incoherent nonsense. I can’t shut either of these accounts down, but they’re now effectively dead in the water.

    My Amazon account was closed down quite awhile ago and I haven’t been an Amazon customer in over seven years. I despise Amazon for the power it has to manipulate the publishing business. Trust me, if I ever buy an e-reader (highly unlikely) it will most definitely not be a Kindle or any reader (or any e-books either) sold exclusively by Amazon.

    I don’t hate the Internet or the electronic universe, but these things were supposed to be tools to make our lives easier. Instead they have completely taken them over and, in some cases, have outright destroyed them.

  46. Nice. I find it amazing how we’re being marketed to. Every ad, every piece of modern day media is specifically geared toward me and my interests. We’re living to see a technological revelation in which the establishment knows every last detail about me: the books I read, the organizations I’m affiliated with, the products I buy. I find it absolutely mind-blowing.

  47. Isn’t this article to some degree derivative of the Bruce Schneier presentation at the RSA Europe security conference in London on October 12, 2010?

    See: http://tinyurl.com/3yj4cgz

    Quoting from the Information Age article, link above, excerpt:

    “Speaking at the RSA Europe security conference in London on Tuesday, the BT Counterpane CTO cited Facebook as the most heinous example of social networks cashing in on users’ openness toward sharing personal details. ‘Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re Facebook’s customer, you’re not – you’re the product,’ Schneier said. ‘Its customers are the advertisers.'”

    Interesting that no reference is made by Vallee or subsequent commenters to this prior presentation with nearly identical premise initially noted by Schneier a week previous to this post by Vallee, as shown in the first paragraph of his article, as noted: “You may think of yourself as a user of Google, Facebook or Amazon, but you are actually their product.”

    Coincidence? Or do great minds think alike? ;-)

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