Sat 28 Feb 2015 07:45:52 AM PST
Personal data, politics, and an opportunity
Charles Stross, in A different cluetrain:
"Our mechanisms for democratic power transfer date to the 18th century. They are inherently slower to respond to change than the internet and our contemporary news media."
Bruce Schneier, on Ars Technica:
"Facebook could easily tilt a close election by selectively manipulating what posts its users see. Google might do something similar with its search results."
The bias doesn't have to be deliberate, though. Eric Raymond posted an example on Google Plus.
G+ may be engaging in non-viewpoint-neutral censorship of news articles relating to firearms.
Turned out that there was a bug in how Google Plus interacted with the CMS on a pro-Second-Amendment site. Not a deliberate political conspiracy, but software is full of bugs, especially when independently developed projects interact. When bugs affecting some political content are quietly fixed faster than bugs affecting others, it's not a sneaky conspiracy. It's just the natural result of programmers and early adopters choosing to test with less of the content that isn't a "cultural fit". Software developers have political views, and those views tend to escape into their software, and affect the software's users.
Google and Facebook don't have to decide to manipulate elections. Manipulation is an emergent property of networked software development. On the Planet of Classical Economics, Facebook and Google would sell their user-manipulating power to the highest bidder. But here isn't there. In the USA, the Data Party (mostly for mental extraction, mostly "blue") has the mainstream Internet businesses, and the Carbon Party (mostly for resource extraction, mostly "red") doesn't.
Today, is somebody on the Carbon Party side doing for their "SJW in our people's pockets" problem what Ailes did for their "liberal in our people's living rooms" problem? Yes, a Data Party has a head start over a Carbon Party in a race to build a mobile platform, but plenty of "red state" people can code, write checks, and place orders from the countries that still know how to make things.
Are we going to get two parallel user-tracking industries in the USA, the same way we have two factions in broadcast and cable media? And will each one offer tools to protect users from the other? I might buy a Koch-o-Phone just to watch the OS and the inevitable PLA spyware fight over my Facebook timeline.