Welcome to the Machine

I’ve been flying around to conferences and warning folks about electronic surveillance for years. At first, people were generally willing to believe me (I presented them with evidence, after all), but more than a few thought I was probably exaggerating. Then came Edward Snowden, and a few more people believed that the threat was real. But Snowden’s revelations were only part of the story, and not really the most important part.

The electronic surveillance machine is far larger than Snowden’s slides portrayed, including not just government abuses, but massive commercial abuses. And the structure of this vile machine is being completed now.

But before I go through the details, I’d like you to remember, if you can, a song called Wlcome to the Machine,” by Pink Floyd. Here are two sections of the lyrics that encapsulate the essence of the new surveillance machine:

Welcome my son
Welcome to the machine
Where have you been?
It’s all right; we know where you’ve been…

Welcome my son
Welcome to the machine
What did you dream?
It’s all right; we told you what to dream

I’m not a huge Pink Floyd fan, but they sure nailed this one. There are two primary functions of this machine: full-life surveillance (“We know where you’ve been”) and persistent, deep manipulation (“We told you what to dream”).

I’m here to tell you that this has already been built and that most Westerners are sitting right in the middle of it.

Yes, I know this is something many people don’t want to hear. Far too many are like the ones who complained to the prophet Isaiah, telling him, “Speak unto us smooth things.” But some things are not smooth… and they’re true anyway.

Why Facebook MUST Sell You

Facebook—and all the other big, free services—are selling your minds, thoughts, and lives just like a butcher sells meat. And please understand: They have no choice. Not if they want to keep their quarterly numbers positive.

Think about this: Facebook users pay the company nothing, as in not a single penny. So if you’re a Facebook user, you are not its customer. Someone pays Facebook; those revenues come from somewhere, but they don’t come from you.

So if you’re not the company and you’re not the customer, what are you?

Yep, that’s right—you’re the product. Facebook, Google, and their ilk are selling you to their customers.

And please understand that the free model gives these companies no choice at all. Their users won’t pay, and they have to make money somehow.

“That’s okay; a few ads won’t kill me.”

Facebook’s gross revenue is running at over $1 billion per month. Google’s is approaching $4 billion per month. Do you really think they get all that money by selling lame ads for backpacks and skis? These companies are selling you in far more sophisticated ways than that.

Google’s boss, back in 2009, bragged that, “We know where you’ll be Tuesday morning,” and you can be very, very sure that they’ve been selling such information for the past five years. You can further be sure that they’re a lot better at it now.

Did you know that Facebook—three years ago—ran an experiment on 689,000 of its users, to see if it could alter their moods by altering the headlines they saw? And did you know that the experiment was a success?

So three years ago, Facebook found out that it could alter people’s moods, making them happier or sadder as it wished. And Facebook found something else: those users would transfer those moods to their friends in a cascade effect.

Do you really think Facebook hasn’t done anything with that information in the meanwhile? Do you really think Google hasn’t?

Making things worse, both of these outfits are in bed with the feds. Facebook’s infamous experiment was partly financed by the US Army, and Google is deeply intermingled with the US State Department (as well as other agencies). If you’re curious about this, read Julian Assange’s new book on the subject.

You Want Proof?

Think about being in Google’s position. Auctioning off little ads would never bring in billions per month; you’d have to find better ways of supercharging your ad revenue. So what would you do?

First, you’d tell your advertisers you could get ads to people the moment they expressed the first interest in their product. That’s a good idea, but that moment came, was monetized, and went more than 10 years ago. You need new ideas to juice your quarterlies.

So what do you do?

The answer is easy: You learn how to implant desires in your users. And if you want to do it well, you do it in ways that are specific to each individual. After all, what works to manipulate me may be completely ineffective for you.

That’s where we are now. And when I say that these companies fulfill Pink Floyd’s lyric of “We told you what to dream,” I don’t mean that they tried to make everyone dream the same thing; I mean that they got your friend to dream things that will squeeze money out of her life… and that they’ll make you dream different things, things designed to squeeze money out of your life.

Here’s how to prove this: Take your laptop to a friend’s house. Both of you log in to YouTube, or Facebook, or Google. You’ll both see different screens. And that means that you’re already getting customized environments.

So if you were Facebook or Google, why would you give people customized environments? Shall we really pretend that Google, Facebook, and the others are doing this as a public service?

Of course not; the purpose of everything they do is to generate more revenue. In other words, they’re manipulating you for their profit. That’s the only way they can make money from you.

I’ll leave you to decide where this is likely to go.

If you want to do something about it, here’s Cryptohippie’s Guide to Online Privacy. The guide is free; the service is not.

Paul Rosenberg

This article was originally published by Casey Research.