Big brother is reviewing you

In John Naughton’s column in theObserver today he describes a chinese plan to ‘review’ the behaviour of its citizens and award or deduct brownie points depending on what you do – with real world consequences, he writes:

In particular, they are adapting the ubiquitous “reputation rating” system by which online platforms try to get feedback on vendor and customer reliability. The government is beginning to roll out its social credit system, which is designed to “raise the awareness of integrity and the level of trustworthiness in Chinese society”. It will focus on four aspects of behaviour: “honesty in government affairs”, “commercial integrity”, “societal integrity” and “judicial credibility”.

When first conceived in 2007, the intention was to replicate the credit rating systems common in the west for assessing people’s financial creditworthiness. But why, thought the Chinese, stop at finance? Why not use the technology to assess how “good” a citizen one is? Everyone starts off with a baseline allowance of, say, 100 points. You can earn bonus points by  doing “good deeds” such as separating and recycling rubbish. On the other hand, behaving in what is regarded (by the state) as antisocial behaviour can lose you points. Examples of deductible behaviour can apparently include: not showing up at a restaurant without cancelling your booking, cheating in online games, leaving false product reviews and even jaywalking. And if your social credit score is too low, you find yourself barred from taking flights or travelling on certain trains.

Read the whole column here

Thinking about all the fake, aggressive, dishonest agenda driven reviews that appear on Trip Advisor, IMDB, Amazon etc. It does make you wonder who’ll review the reviewers.

Big brother is reviewing you

Birthday Cards

It was my birthday a little while ago. I had some lovely cards – although, because my Facebook account is deactivated, for the first year since about 2008, I didn’t get that flurry of warm electronic wishes from friends far and wide.

I missed that, but I also reflected that for every card I received:

An artist or designer had been able to work creatively and be paid for it.

Trees had been cut down and shipped (and replanted – I’m sure all my cards are from sustainable sources) keeping loggers, machinery manufacturers, HGV drivers in employ

A paper manufacturer created pulp and made the card and the envelope it was posted in. Printers applied the design (and bought ink from its own manufacturers who in turn bought and made the dyes to colour the inks)

Somebody put it on a shelf in a shop and sold it. I hope whoever it was that chose it for me had the pleasure of looking through all the possibilities, finding one that they thought was just the thing. I’m sure they did – I had some really smashing cards.

Then it was written, stamped, posted, collected, delivered and received with great pleasure.

So many people had a hand in each of my birthday cards, so many livings and occupations were supported, so much wealth spread around our little economies, such a lot of tax paid and collected.

There are environmental issues to be tackled to be sure – but Facebook’s huge server farms have their problems too. What struck me more forcibly than ever was that at least with my cards it isn’t just Mark Zuckerberg – getting grotesquely, absurdly, undeservedly richer and richer – who benefits.

Thanks to you all – I’ll make sure to remember your birthdays too. x

Birthday Cards

On not rejoining Facebook at Easter

For the last couple of years I’ve taken a Lenten break from Facebook and Twitter to clear my head for a while.

Life is certainly more peaceful without them but I do miss things too: breaking news on Twitter; chit chat on Facebook, with those little glimpses of someone’s life that gives you a comfortable sense of a connection sustained.

Every Easter I wonder whether to reinstall the apps and, so far, I have. Its not that I haven’t known that an account on Facebook is a deal with the devil, but, believing myself to be savvy enough to recognise the advertising, the echo chambers, the nudges one way or another, I’ve thought, what’s the harm in
a joke shared, or an anecdote? It’s not as if I would ever publish something really sensitive or private.

I now know that its not as simple as that. We need to take account of something called ‘surveillance capitalism’:

‘Surveillance capitalism’ was the term coined in 2015 by Harvard academic Shoshanna Zuboff to describe this large-scale surveillance and modification of human behaviour for profit. It involves predictive analysis of big datasets describing the lives and behaviours of tens or hundreds of millions of people, allowing correlations and patterns to be identified, information about individuals inferred, and future behaviour to be predicted. Attempts are then made to influence this behaviour through personalised and dynamic targeted advertising. This is refined by testing numerous variations of adverts on different demographics to see what works best. Every time you use the internet you are likely the unwitting subject of dozens of experiments trying to figure out how to most effectively extract money from you.

This is from an excellent article in Open Democracy by Jennifer Cobbe. It’s well worth looking up.

As is the Talking Politics podcast that referenced it – an illuminating discussion about ‘what Facebook is doing to us and can anything make it stop?

As Janet Cobbe writes:

We’ve ended up with an internet built not for us – but for corporations, political parties, and the state’s increasingly nebulous ‘security’ demands. We need to better understand this problem so that we can challenge it.

Maybe this is the year I let lent last a little longer.

down digit

Later that same day…

I’ve just come across a very useful article in the Guardian with all the links you need to find out just what Facebook and Google know about you. Its worth checking. Google is an extraordinary tool for mass surveillance:

www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/28/all-the-data-facebook-google-has-on-you-privacy

On not rejoining Facebook at Easter