All Free? The Tech Industry is so dumb!

Images fromBlazing Saddles

Initially, it seems the tech industry is just dumb. You could think: “So they get me to watch adds, and they collect my data. It is not like letting them collect my data is going to cost me anything! It is not like Facebook, Google, Instagram, WhatsApp etc have some way of getting their hands on my money, and neither can the advertisers who pay them. They are all wasting their money, giving me free stuff in return for nothing of value from me. Clearly, the whole thing will never make any money from me, they are so dumb giving me this for free.

Only one niggling doubt: “Why are these companies worth trillions, and I am not worth even billions, considering they are so dumb, and I can outsmart them?” How is some people now believing “Earth is Flat” in any way connected to use of social media? It is not like they can change how people think, or can they? Why would these companies have a reason to have people believe these things?

  • The whole free product things is built on three pillars, and none of them are a problem for me!
    1. Engagement: So they want me to use their free product a lot? Why Not!
    2. Growth: They want everyone else to use their free products, how could that be bad?
    3. Monetization: Ok, they make money, but it is never me who pays!

Engagement: So they want me to use their free product a lot?

“Why wouldn’t I use their product a lot, it is free!” “OK, so some the founders of the tech industry themselves are so dumb they even became tangled in their own web, but I won’t” !:

(31:00) Rewind a few years ago, I was the president of Pinterest . I was coming home, and I couldn’t get off my phone once I got home, despite having two young kids who needed my love and attention. I was in the pantry, you know, typing away on an email or sometimes looking at Pinterest. I thought this is classic irony. I am going to work during the day and building something that I am falling prey to.” And I couldn’t … I mean, some of those moments, I couldn’t help myself.

Tim Kendall. Former Director of Monetization at Facebook, Former President Pinterest. CEO Moment.

Everyone thinks “I would never become addicted, that would never happen to me. Although perhaps online stuff does get some people to believe things like the Earth being flat, I am not going to start believing anything because I read it online, and I am never going to spend that much time on their web sites.” Although people think it would never happen to them, they do worry about others: “Although perhaps I should worry about my kids?”

Growth: Ok, So They want everyone else to use it to too.

What is the harm in my doing things to bring other people onto the platform, it is not that addictive and harmful like cigarettes!

(40:00) There had been a gigantic increase in depression and anxiety for American teenagers, which began right around 2011 and 2013 [when social media became available on phones]. The number of teenage girls out of 100,000 in this country who were admitted to a hospital every year because they cut themselves or otherwise harmed themselves, that number was pretty stable until around 2020, 2011, and then it beings going way up. It’s up 62 percent for older teen girls. It’s up 189 percent for preteen girls. That’s nearly triple. Even more horrifying, we see the same pattern with suicide. The older teen girls, 15 to 19 years old, they’re up 70 percent, compared to the first decade of this century. The preteen girls, who have very low rates to being with, they are up 151%. An that pattern points to social media (being available on mobile) . GenZ, the kids born after 1996 or so, those kids are the first generation in history that got on social media in middle school. How do they spend their time? They come home from school, and they’re on their devices. A whole generation is more anxious, more fragile, more depressed. They’re much less comfortable taking risks. The number who have ever gone out on a date or had any kind of romantic interaction is dropping rapidly. This is a real change in a generation. And, remember for every one of these hospital admissions, there is a family traumatized and horrified. “My god what is happening to our kids”.

Jonathan Haidt, PhD. NYU Stern School of Business, Social Psychologist.

(42:20) Its plain as day to me. These services are killing people… and causing people to kill themselves.

Tim Kendall. Former Director of Monetization at Facebook, Former President Pinterest. CEO Moment.

Monetization: Ok, they make money, but it is never me who pays!

They make money from getting me to watch ads, and from selling my data, what is the harm in that?

(12:28) Companies like Google and Facebook are some of the wealthiest and most successful of all time. Uh, they have relatively few employees. They just have this giant computer that rakes in money, right? Uh…Now what are they being paid for? That’s a really important question.

Jaron Lanier. “Founding Father of virtual reality”: Founder JPL Research.

14:00 ) When you think about how some of these companies work, it starts to make sense. There are all these services on the internet that we think of as free, but they’re not free. They’re paid for by advertisers. Why do advertisers pay those companies? They pay in exchange for showing their ads to us. We’re the product. Our attention is the product being sold to advertisers.

(55:30) When you go to Google and type in “Climate change is,” you’re going to see different result depending on where you live and the data on you .. In certain cases you’re gonna see it autocomplete with “climate change is a hoax.” In other cases, your gonna see “climate change is causing the destruction of nature.” And that’s a function of not what the truth is about climate change, but where you happen to be Googling from and the particular things Google knows about your interests.

Justin Rosenstein: Co-inventor of Google Drive, Gmail Chat, Facebook Pages and the Facebook like button. Founder: Asana

(12:28) Companies like Google and Facebook are some of the wealthiest and most successful of all time. Uh, they have relatively few employees. They just have this giant computer that rakes in money, right? Uh…Now what are they being paid for? That’s a really important question.
(14:21) That is a little too simplistic. It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception that is the product. And that is the product. It’s the only possible product. There’s nothing else on the table that could possibly be called the product. That is the only thing there is for them to make money from. Changing how you think, what you do, who you are. It’s a gradual change. It’s slight. If you can go to somebody and you say “Give me $10 million, and I will change the world one percent in the direction you want it to change..” It’s the world! That can be incredible, and that’s worth a lot of money.
21:20) We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary, especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, and time two people connect, the only way that is financed is through a sneaky third person who’s paying to manipulate those two people. So, we’ve created an entire global generation of people who are raised with a context where the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture is manipulation. We’ve put deceit and sneakiness at the absolute centre of everything we do.
(54:40) On of the ways I try to get people to understand just how wrong feeds from places like Facebook are is to think about the Wikipedia. When you go to a page, you’re seeing the same thing as other people. So, it’s one of the few things online that we at least hold in common. Now, just imagine for a second that Wikipedia said, “We’re gonna give each person a different customized definition, and we’re gonna be paid by people for that.” So, Wikipedia would be spying on you. Wikipedia would calculate, “What’s the thing I can do to get this person to change a little bit on behalf of commercial interest?” Right? And then it would change the entry. Can you imagine that? Well, you should be able to, ’cause that’s exactly what’s happening on Facebook. It’s exactly what’s happening in your YouTube feed.

Jaron Lanier. “Founding Father of virtual reality”: Founder JPL Research.

Over time, you have the false sense that everyone agrees with you, because everyone in your news feed sounds just like you. And that once you’re in that state, it turns out you’re easily manipulated, the same way you would be manipulated by a magician. A magician shows you a card trick and says, “Pick a card, any card.” What you don’t realize was that they’ve done a set-up, so you pick the card they want you to pick. And that’s how Facebook works. Facebook sits that and says, “Hey, you pick your friends. You pick the links that you follow.” But that’s all nonsense. It’s just like the magician. Facebook is in charge of your news feed.

Roger McNamee: Venture Capitalist (founding partner Elevation Partners) and early investor in Facebook.

(58:41) At YouTube, I was working on YouTube Recommendations. It worries me that an algorithm I worked on is actually increasing polarisation in society. But from the point of view of watch time, this polarization is extremely efficient at keeping people online.

(59:43) People think that the algorithm is designed to give them what they really want, only it is not. The algorithm is actually trying to find a few rabbit holes that are very powerful, trying to find which algorithm is closest to your interest. And then if you start watching one of those videos, then it will recommend it over and over again….

(1:00:33) The flat-Earth conspiracy theory was recommended hundreds of millions of times by the algorithm. It is easy to think that it is just a few stupid people who get convinced, but the algorithm is getting smarter and smarter every day. So today they are convincing [some other] people that the Earth is flat, but tomorrow they will be convincing you of something that’s false.

Guillaume Chaslot, at former engineer at “YouTube”, CEO at “Intuitive AI” and Founder of “AlgoTransparency” (from The Social Dilemma)

Do we really fund all this revenue, by being brainwashed into choosing products who allocate part of the purchase price to paying Facebook and Google to brainwash us? That can’t be real! Surely products who can allocate enough money to advertising to afford that would all be more expensive and not sell. Using AI and getting people to believe crazy and polarized things to make them gullible sounds like science fiction.

Perhaps this being brainwashed happens to other people, but not me.
Nor anyone I know, or my children.

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