If we end up trading a surveillance economy for a surveillance state, we've done ourselves no favorsrnrnEvgeny Morozov offered a similar proposal concerning what he termed "the data wells inside ourselves":rnrn We can use the recent data controversies to articulate a truly decentralised, emancipatory politics, whereby the institutions of the state (from the national to the municipal level) will be deployed to recognise, create, and foster the creation of social rights to data. These institutions will organise various data sets into pools with differentiated access conditions. They will also ensure that those with good ideas that have little commercial viability but promise major social impact would receive venture funding and realise those ideas on top of those data pools.rnrnThe simplicity of the mining metaphor is its strength but also its weakness. The extraction metaphor doesn't capture enough of what companies like Facebook and Google do, and hence in adopting it we too quickly narrow the discussion of our possible responses to their power. Data does not lie passively within me, like a seam of ore, waiting to be extracted. Rather, I actively produce data through the actions I take over the course of a day. When I drive or walk from one place to another, I produce locational data. When I buy something, I produce purchase data. When I text with someone, I produce affiliation data. When I read or watch something online, I produce preference data. When I upload a photo, I produce not only behavioral data but data that is itself a product. I am, in other words, much more like a data factory than a data mine. I produce data through my labor - the labor of my mind, the labor of my body.rnrnThe platform companies, in turn, act more like factory owners and managers than like the owners of oil wells or copper mines. Beyond control of my data, the companies seek control of my actions, which to them are production processes, in order to optimize the efficiency, quality, and value of my data output (and, on the demand side of the platform, my data consumption). They want to script and regulate the work of my factory - i.e., my life - as Frederick Winslow Taylor sought to script and regulate the labor of factory workers at the turn of the last century. The control wielded by these companies, in other words, is not just that of ownership but also that of command. And they exercise this command through the design of their software, which increasingly forms the medium of everything we all do during our waking hours.rnrnThe factory metaphor makes clear what the mining metaphor obscures: We work for the Facebooks and Googles of the world, and the work we do is increasingly indistinguishable from the lives we lead. The questions we need to grapple with are political and economic, to be sure. But they are also personal, ethical, and philosophical.rnrnrn====rnrnTarnoff and Weigel point to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's recent announcement that his company will place less emphasis on increasing the total amount of time members spend on Facebook and more emphasis on ensuring that their Facebook time is "time well spent." What may sound like a selfless act of philanthropy is in reality, Tarnoff and Weigel suggest, the product of a hard-headed business calculation:rnrn Emphasising time well spent means creating a Facebook that prioritises data-rich personal interactions that Facebook can use to make a more engaging platform. Rather than spending a lot of time doing things that Facebook doesn't find valuable - such as watching viral videos - you can spend a bit less time, but spend it doing things that Facebook does find valuable. In other words, "time well spent" means Facebook can monetise more efficiently. It can prioritise the intensity of data extraction over its extensiveness. This is a wise business move, disguised as a concession to critics. Shifting to this model not only sidesteps concerns about tech addiction - it also acknowledges certain basic limits to Facebook's current growth model. There are only so many hours in the day. Facebook can't keep prioritising total time spent - it has to extract more value from less time.rnrnThe analysis is a trenchant one. The vagueness and self-absorption that often characterize discussions of wellness, particularly those emanating from the California coast, are well suited to the construction of window dressing. And, Lord knows, Zuckerberg and his ilk are experts at window dressing. But, having offered good reasons to be skeptical about Silicon Valley's brand of tech humanism, Tarnoff and Weigel overreach. They argue that any "humanist" critique of the personal effects of technology design and use is a distraction from the "fundamental" critique of the economic and structural basis for Silicon Valley's dominance:rnrn [The humanists] remain confined to the personal level, aiming to redesign how the individual user interacts with technology rather than tackling the industry's structural failures. Tech humanism fails to address the root cause of the tech backlash: the fact that a small handful of corporations own our digital lives and strip-mine them for profit. This is a fundamentally political and collective issue. But by framing the problem in terms of health and humanity, and the solution in terms of design, the tech humanists personalise and depoliticise it.rnrnThe choice that Tarnoff and Weigel present here - either personal critique or political critique, either a design focus or a structural focus - is a false choice. And it stems from the metaphor of extraction, which conceives of data as lying passively within us (beyond the influence of design) rather than being actively produced by us (under the influence of design). Arguing that attending to questions of design blinds us to questions of ownership is as silly (and as condescending) as arguing that attending to questions of ownership blinds us to questions of design. Silicon Valley wields its power through both its control of data and its control of design, and that power influences us on both a personal and a collective level. Any robust critique of Silicon Valley, whether practical, theoretical, or both, needs to address both the personal and the political.rnrnThe Silicon Valley apostates may be deserving of criticism, but what they've done that is praiseworthy is to expose, in considerable detail, the way the platform companies use software design to guide and regulate people's behavior - in particular, to encourage the compulsive use of their products in ways that override people's ability to think critically about the technology while provoking the kind of behavior that generates the maximum amount of valuable personal data. To put it into industrial terms, these companies are not just engaged in resource extraction; they are engaged in process engineering.rnrnrn===rnThe shift of data ownership from the private to the public sector may well succeed in reducing the economic power of Silicon Valley, but what it would also do is reinforce and indeed institutionalize Silicon Valley's computationalist ideology, with its foundational, Taylorist belief that, at a personal and collective level, humanity can and should be optimized through better programming. The ethos and incentives of constant surveillance would become even more deeply embedded in our lives, as we take on the roles of both the watched and the watcher. Consumer, track thyself! And, even with such a shift in ownership, we'd still confront the fraught issues of design, manipulation, and agency.rnrnFinally, there's the obvious practical question. How likely is it that the United States is going to establish a massive state-run data collective encompassing exhaustive information on every citizen, at least any time in the foreseeable future? It may not be entirely a pipe dream, but it's pretty close. In the end, we may discover that the best means of curbing Silicon Valley's power lies in an expansion of personal awareness, personal choice, and personal resistance. At the very least, we need to keep that possibility open. Let's not rush to sacrifice the personal at the altar of the collective.
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They will need it. New York is only the latest city, following London, Paris and a number of others, to put restrictions on ride-hailing, which has turned urban transport upside down. I see it from both sides. In New York, finding rides in outer boroughs has become exponentially easier thanks to Uber and Lyft. I take multiple trips per week and I am considering giving up my car altogether (if you wonder why, read Calvin Trillin's novel about parking in New York).rnrnOn the other hand, traffic does seem worse, and anyone who invested in a traditional taxi medallion - which used to sell for more than $1m and have since plunged to low six figures - has lost out. That is what technology does, of course. Just ask the Luddites. The problem is that while 21st-century technology has reshaped many industries, labour laws remain stuck in the 19th century. No wonder numerous despondent taxi drivers have committed suicide. If we want the "sharing economy" to live up to its name, the platform technology companies that benefit the most from it have to do just that - share.rnrnBoth technical and existential changes are required. At core, we should give up on the fantasy that the gig economy somehow eliminates issues of power between workers and companies. Contractors who work via Uber, or any other "on-demand" platform do have more independence, and surveys show they like it. Uber plays this up, with ads in which a prosperous looking young white man smiles from a sunlit car, over the tagline "Freedom Pays Weekly." He might be a teacher on summer break making an extra buck in his spare time.rnrnIn reality, most Uber drivers are black, Asian or Latino and making below minimum wage. And, on the whole, algorithmic management puts dramatically more power in the hands of platform companies. Not only can they monitor workers 24/7, they benefit from enormous information asymmetries that allow them to suddenly deactivate drivers with low user ratings, or take a higher profit margin from riders willing to pay more for speedier service, without giving drivers a cut.rnRecommendedrnSarah O'ConnorrnLet gig workers control their data toornrnThis is not a properly functioning market. It is a data-driven oligopoly that will further shift power from labour to capital at a scale we have never seen before. It is not only taxi drivers that are being "uberised" but radiologists, lawyers, contractors and accountants. All these services can now be accessed at cut rates via platforms.rnrnRather than wait for more regulatory pushback, platform tech companies should take responsibility now for the changes they have wreaked - and not just the positive ones. That requires an attitude adjustment. Many tech titans have a libertarian bent that makes them dismissive of the public sector as a whole. Uber became infamous for simply going into new markets guerrilla style, disrupting first and asking questions later. (It is now trying to change its reputation under Dara Khosrowshahi, who replaced Mr Kalanick last year.)rnrnYet the potential benefits of ride-hailing and sharing - from less traffic to less pollution - cannot actually be realised unless the tech companies work with the public sector. One can imagine companies like Uber co-operating with city officials to phase in vehicles slowly, rolling out in underserved areas first, rather than flooding the most congested markets and creating a race to the bottom.rnrnThe same goes for other sorts of platforms, like Airbnb. That company often touts its ability to open up new neighbourhoods to tourism, but research shows that in cities like New York, most of its business is done in a handful of high end areas - and the largest chunk by commercial operators with multiple listings, with the effect of raising rents and increasing the strains caused by gentrification. Officially Airbnb has a "one host, one home" policy in New York, but better enforcement is needed.rnrnOn the labour side, too, the platform companies must take responsibility for the human cost of disruption. New York University professor Arun Sundararajan, has proposed allowing companies to create a "safe harbour" training fund that provides benefits and insurance for drivers and other on-demand workers without triggering labour laws that would categorise such workers as full-time employees (which is what companies want to avoid).rnrnIt is a hedge, but it would give both sides time to craft new rules of the road for the on-demand economy to ensure it does not become a zero-sum game.