To the person with the luxury Brand flagship smartphone who says “They already know everything about me, I should at least reap the benefits,”
I understand where you’re coming from. They have they best software. The best designers, the best machines, the best data. The experience is seamless. The predictions are divine.
You’ve been using their services for years, since the days when the “company” was a large cardboard box in which the scrappy young Stanfrod grads could work, sleep, and pee all at the same time. You trusted them with your emails, your hangouts, your browser history and phone location, and as far as you know they’ve never breached that trust!
You know them, and they know you. They’ve been with you all this time. Together you grew, and changed, and became the intangible world-spanning monstrosities you always believed you could be.
They’ve taken so much time to get to know you, this friendly bouncy megacorp. They bestow the best ads upon you, and they always know how to get where you’re going. Why not just lean in to it, go full Brand and trust that their algorithms know best?
They abuse you. Remember that friend of yours, in the bad domestic situation? The one who bemoans their partner’s depravities but refuses to leave the relation?
That’s the position you’re in. You’re being manipulated. You don’t realize it, of course, because they’re gaslighting you. They make you think you’re the crazy one.
The little benefits you get, the “smart assistant” features and auto-suggested phrases, are nifty. But that code isn’t a secret. Any sufficiently funded group of hackers could put together an interface as good as Brand’s.
The value of their company, the fuel for their money machine, is your data. And not just the data about what you do . The goldmine is data about how you change .
If your smartphone were a person it would follow you around all the time. You would interact, and it would learn what you like. It would watch, over the weeks, as your moods cycle and your goals change. As it learned, it would know better how to communicate with you, love you, take care of your secret guilty desires.
This intimate friend, who you even hang out with on the toilet, has good advice for you in so many ways. You trust it. You trust it so much, in fact, that it can charge for access to your trust.
A few times every day, as you’re interacting with your Brand friend, it interrupts you to mention that you probably need new cute glasses and they’re on sale. Or that student loans are really cheap lately and you could finish your degree. Or it asks if you’re lonely, because – get this – there are young, hot singles, in your town, tonight .
It sells access to your behavior. And the more data you give it, the more it knows about you. That phone is collecting precise location data all the time. It knows when you go to the kitchen for a drink. It’s connected to all your services, so it knows what show you watched that made you want a drink. And it’s got a motion sensor, so it knows that you’re already stumbling.
Ah, but of course advertising does not work on you. Did you know that ninety percent of people think that advertising doesn’t work on them? (I made that number up, but it sounds right, doesn’t it?)
Finally, we reach the crucial economic point of this terrible digital pact: as a non-advertisable person who makes the most of all the ad-supported Brand products, aren’t you despite all odds getting the good end of this deal?
Aren’t you, the savvy consumer, actually defeating Brand in your own tiny way?
You think they don’t know you think that? They didn’t get rich and powerful by losing to consumers! They have an economic incentive for you to think you’re winning, because you will use their products more!
THEY’RE USING YOU!
ALL THAT MONEY HAD TO COME FROM SOMEWHERE! THE HUMAN MIND IS A NATURAL RESOURCE AND THEY WANT TO EXTRACT YOU! IF YOU CARRY A DATA-COLLECTION DEVICE ON YOUR BODY ALL THE TIME THEN YOU’RE NOT EVEN LABOR YOU’RE CAPITAL!
Ah. Sorry. Thank you for your time. I’ll get off your porch now. Please don’t shoot.
But if you ever want to hang out or something, hit me up! I’m firstname.lastname@example.org .
Thanks for reading,
###### SCIOPS is a weekly letter about cognitive security and other stuff. Feel free to forward it, or share it on your social profiling media. You can find a web version of the latest letter here , or view the archive here .
If you have thoughts, questions, or criticism, just respond to this email. Or, contact me securely at email@example.com
If you’re seeing this for the first time, make sure to sign up for more cyberpunk weirdness in your inbox every week.
If you want your regular life back again, you can unsubscribe from this newsletter. I can’t guarantee that will help. But you can try it