Jaron Lanier: Google & FB, sick business model

Jaron Lanier held an opening keynote at CeBIT in Hannover today.

He was supposed to talk about VR, but instead he mainly spoke about the “free” business model used by Google, Facebook and other social media platforms.

He said that the business model is sick, it is stupid, dangerous and undignified. On the other hand, he praised businesses like Netflix, which for a monthly fee is creating some of the best content for years.

He was at pains to repeatedly point out that he was an enemy of technology, and he saw it as a great way for improving communications between people and that technology is “magical”. But the free business model, subverted by advertising is a “fake” business model.

He went on to say, that the whole idea of big businesses having no real relationship with their customers (their users), but only with advertisers.

How stupid is it, that two people communicating with each other do it on a platform that hands over their information to a third party to allow them to tailored advertising, or as he called it, “behaviour modification loops”.

He also went on to say that adertising in-and-of itself is not bad, but the tailored advertisments are the bad player here.

He also said the hacker culture, free information and open software (i.e. the original definition of a hacker, not the one corrupted by the press in recent years) is partly to blame.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found any English language articles on his talk yet, there are a dozen or so German ones so far…


Conversation 11 comments

  • txag

    11 June, 2018 - 3:59 pm

    <p>My summer project is to disconnect from Google completely.</p>

  • Bats

    11 June, 2018 - 4:22 pm

    <p>Jaron Lanier is……Weird. With a capital W.</p><p>Does this guy watch free tv? Tailored advertising is bad? Do you know how many times how sick and tired I was getting travel ads back when I was using Hotmail? I remember it was mostly Travelocity. </p><p>From the physical looks of this guy who specializes in FAKE WORLDS, I wouldn't take on opinion business seriously. It's clearly limited. He's clearly no genius.</p><p>Plus, he's employed by Microsoft which tells me he has may have some ulterior motives. That's the same company that's trying to find their own unique way to do the same thing.</p>

    • AnOldAmigaUser

      Premium Member
      11 June, 2018 - 5:35 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#283177"><em>In reply to Bats:</em></a></blockquote><p>An advertisement on radio or TV has no capability to bork your device. The same cannot be said of ads on the internet; they are little programs that run on our hardware, though no one has granted them the right, other than visiting a site. There is no control over the ad that will be served, and how the data it collects will be used.</p><p>&lt;s&gt;And, of course, there has never been an instance of the ad doing anything malicious…&lt;/s&gt;</p><p>If one uses Google Photos or Facebook, and tag people, it helps them improve their facial recognition algorithms. Soon, the software is tagging the photos. <span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent;">Clearly, we get a benefit, but it has a dark side as well. </span>It is not a stretch that the tag is matched to someone in your contacts, with all that information. So when a government requests data, it is handed over, and can be matched to what they collect, and used to target whomever they want. </p><p>They sell the data. It is then aggregated by others, turning what might have been non-PII into some very PII and then selling that further. They collect data on people who do not use their products, but communicate with others that do. There really are important issues at stake regarding privacy and basic human rights. Once, we worried that government would be big brother…the reality is that it is corporations, and we can't seem to fork over our information fast enough.</p><p>I get it that the content has to be paid for, that companies need to make money. I get it that we gain real benefits, as well; but there is always an equal and opposite reaction, as it were. The issue is that as a species we are not very good about deciding whether we should do something, just because we can; and if someone sees some money in it for themself, it is sure to be done, whether it is good for anyone else or not.</p><p>To think that the current ad based system does not have real and substantive issues is to stick your head in the sand. Anyone who thinks that <em>any </em>corporation has any interest other than increasing the pay of the people in the C-Suite is delusional. That said, given my choice, I will do business with companies that sell me things, rather than companies that sell me to someone else.</p>

      • Chris_Kez

        Premium Member
        11 June, 2018 - 5:39 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#283187"><em>In reply to AnOldAmigaUser:</em></a></blockquote><p>Amen.</p>

  • Rick Foux

    11 June, 2018 - 5:41 pm

    <p>I'm not trying to be derogatory to anyone who's anti-Google here, but I don't understand what gets people so up in arms. As someone who uses Google's products, I'm fully aware of what they're doing with my information. Basically everything I type, touch, or view on the internet gets fed to the big Google machine, and they in turn sell my info to third-parties to advertise to me.</p><p><br></p><p>First, any notion of privacy that I had went out the window when I started using the internet. It doesn't bother me any more than the conspiracy theories that the government has my Amazon Echo wiretapped and is listening to my every conversation. I'm just not that interesting of a person. If the government wants to listen to me talk about video games and nerd culture with my wife, be my guest. Still, I don't think that I'm so special that the government wants to listen to me over the millions of other people in the country.</p><p><br></p><p>Secondly, instead of seeing ads for random crap I'd never want, Google serves me ads based on stuff I've looked at and may actually have an interest in. I'm going to ignore 99.5% of those ads anyway, and even if I opted to use something like Bing or DuckDuckGo the ads would still be there; they just wouldn't be curated towards my internet browsing habits.</p><p><br></p><p>To be clear, I have about the same level of trust in Google as I do Apple, Microsoft, or Amazon. As I said in a different thread, all of these are corporations who want to make a profit and will use me, a consumer, to do so. Each corporation just has their own means of "using" me, so to speak. Google's services are mostly free, they do what I need them to do, and they tell me up front what they're going to do with the information that I put into their services. <span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">I have no problem with that.</span> Being that Google is offering me most of this stuff for free, I don't expect them to have a "Mom and Pop" small business-type of relationship with me. If someone can explain to me what is so evil about this – and I'm not being facetious here, I really want to understand. </p>

    • Chris_Kez

      Premium Member
      11 June, 2018 - 6:22 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#283189"><em>In reply to RawkFox:</em></a></blockquote><p>Well explained; thank you. Though to be clear, Google doesn't technically sell your info to anyone. They merely connect advertisers to you directly. I think in many ways, and for many people, Google is merely the poster-child for tracking and information collection– that is, Google becomes kind of a stand-in for the faceless companies out that there are doing all of this tracking and data-brokering (companies that you don't actually have a known relationship with, unlike Google which you do have direct dealings with). But Google is also the engine that drives most of the online advertising, that basically owns search, and has the most dominant web browser. Because they run on advertising, their hands are tied with regards to how they can deal with the crap that many people abhor. They seem to be trying to walk a fine line with their new standards about allowing "good" ads and blocking "bad" ads, but they fundamentally cannot oppose ads and tracking, which opens them up to criticism.</p><p>I would also bet that many many people really don't have any solid idea about the breadth and depth of information that Google collects about them, let alone all of the other stuff that is collected/known by their ISP or the various tracking companies. One issue I have is that Google has come to completely dominant part of the modern computing experience but they do not offer a way to escape from their ad-based model. As a consumer I would prefer to limit the information I share, and Google does not give me that option; it would not be an issue <em>at all</em> if there was a real competitor to Google search or to YouTube. As it is, Bing is kind of limited in the US (and <em>really </em>limited elsewhere around the world); and there is effectively no competition for YouTube.</p><p>More generally, I think you just need to respect the fact that everyone has a different level of comfort with regards to privacy and openness. You may be totally fine with any and all level of tracking, eavesdropping, etc. but I would guess even you have limitations. How would you feel if you put on a few pounds over the winter and– based on your increasingly puffy selfie's– you started getting served ads for diet pills? What if your health insurance took a look through your credit card transactions or your frequent shopper data and decided you were spending a little too much on unhealthy foods, and suddenly next year you find you have higher premiums? Or if your auto insurance company checked your location data and realized you were consistently driving faster than 90% of the population and bumped up your insurance rates? There are all kinds of potential bad outcomes from inappropriate data sharing, and rarely does the person or company collecting or sharing that information have your best interest at heart.</p><p><br></p>

      • Rick Foux

        11 June, 2018 - 11:04 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#283193"><em>In reply to Chris_Kez:</em></a></blockquote><p>Thank you for a mature, level-headed, and well explained response. Your last paragraph really hit home with me and makes perfect sense. I can completely see people taking issue with something like that happening. It's something that I never gave any thought to before, but that's because I was approaching it from an admittedly selfish standpoint.</p><p><br></p><p>I appreciate you taking the time to respond and help me out.</p>

      • wright_is

        Premium Member
        12 June, 2018 - 12:42 am

        <blockquote><a href="#283193"><em>In reply to Chris_Kez:</em></a></blockquote><p>Very well put.</p><p>My wife came to me a while back with her Android phone and asked me how she can remove Google from it. We have done as much as we can, without putting in a custom ROM (that isn't something I want to do with a) a brand new device and b) for a non-technical user). She now uses DuckDuckGo, all the non-essential Google services are disabled or de-installed.</p><p>She never used GMail or any other Google services. We have an MS Office 365 account, so photos are uploaded there, now.</p><p>She was never one for social media and cannot understand how people can waste time on things like Facebook, so we are fairly lucky in that respect. In fact, when we go to parties, the first thing she says, when people start swinging cameras around is that no photos of her can be uploaded to Facebook and Co. (that is legally binding in Germany).</p>

    • lvthunder

      Premium Member
      11 June, 2018 - 7:04 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#283189"><em>In reply to RawkFox:</em></a></blockquote><p>What portion of the population do you think is fully aware of which information and how Google uses it? My guess is 5-10% at best. The free model also makes it really hard for a new startup to come up and make a competitor to say Google Photos.</p>

    • wright_is

      Premium Member
      12 June, 2018 - 12:36 am

      <blockquote><a href="#283189"><em>In reply to RawkFox:</em></a></blockquote><p>It isn't so much anti-Google, it is anti-manipulation.</p><p>I guess Google gets so little information from me, that the difference between targeted and non-targeted advertising is pretty much non-existent. I get the same sort of ads whether I am logged in on my home machine or have just set up a new machine at work and haven't surfed anywhere or logged in to Google…</p><p>The level of targeting is poor, I was looking for a new car 2 years ago, I bougt a new car, since then I have been constantly bombarded with adverts for new cars! When I buy something online, I get adverts for that or similar products for the next 6 months! If I've just bought a new phone, why does Amazon keep sending me adverts for Samsung Galaxy and Apple iPhone?</p><p>But, for a lot of people, the manipulation is there and they don't know about it or understand it.</p><p>Jaron's point is, it would be better to pay a monthly fee for Facebook and have it ad free, because they would not be permanently digging through your personal information, trying to target information at you.</p><p>But <strong>free</strong> is no part of the culture. People won't pay for quality products, let alone pay for something for which they can get for "free", even if they are then being manipulated.</p><p><br></p><p>I also think it is a very US-centric view, that it is okay for a corporation to track you, but not for the government. I think in most other parts of the world, people would rather have the government track you, because they are tied by law to what they can track and listen to – they need a search warrant, for example, to access the data, whereas the companies have little or no restrictions, because they can collect the data directly. Although the GDPR means that they have to collect <strong>the minimum amount of data to accomplish their task, they cannot keep the data longer than necessary and they cannot pass it onto third parties without your written permission</strong>.</p><p><br></p>

  • Chris_Kez

    Premium Member
    11 June, 2018 - 5:56 pm

    <p>Over the years I've worked with marketing, sales, category management and product development teams at many of the top CPG companies. I've analysed advertising ROI's, product launches, shelf assortment, item incrementality, price elasticities, consumer preferences and on and on, covering nearly every category in every aisle of America's food, drug, mass, club and dollar stores. Most of these folks are nice people just trying to do their job– namely, sell you more stuff that you don't really need and isn't really better than competing alternatives. We're all just part of the machine. But personally, I can't stand advertising. Would I rather have "targeted" ads? Not the way this stuff currently works. Most of the advertising spend is from big brands who don't really need to do targeted advertising anyway. They're chasing a pipe dream, the illusion of reaching the perfect target. Sure, I'd love to figure out a way for niche products to better find their little audience; one that doesn't include the wholesale tracking, scraping and reselling of everyone's information to anyone who asks for it. And if shutting down all this tracking means less free stuff? I'm okay with that too. Maybe people will find more productive uses of their time. Maybe we don't need as many TV channels, or as many shows or as many blogs. </p>

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