On net fetishism and why Silicon Valley companies are not different


We now know that net companies cheerfully send along our data to NSA. Their perkiness about being niftily different is evasive PR fluff. “Fetishism of Digital Commodities and Hidden Exploitation: the cases of Amazon and Apple” explores net fetishism and more in an article translated from Italian. Given that Jeff Bezos has just bought the Washington Post, it’s instructive to remember the appalling working conditions in Amazon warehouses in the US. And of course Foxconn treats workers like serfs. Apologists for this say these conditions are exceptions to the rule. But that’s just more evasion.

Until we realize that Apple is like Monsanto, that Google is like Novartis, that praising a corporation is the most toxic narrative we can choose, whether we are dealing with Google, Fiat, Facebook, Disney or Nestlé—-until we realize all this, we will stay in the net like fish.

Let us ask again then: who are the bosses of the net? And who are the exploited of the Net, and by the Net?

It is not that difficult to find out: it suffices to read the “Terms of service” of the social media you’re using, read the licenses of the software you keep on your computer, digit “Net Neutrality” on a search engine—-and keep in mind stories like those of Amazon’s warehouses and Foxconn’s factories.

Only in this way, I believe, we will avoid such bullshit as the “Internet for peace” campaign.

Social media, Silicon Valley are “surveillance marketers” for NSA et al

Richard Stallman, Julian Assange, with picture of Edward Snowden. Credit: Wikileaks
Richard Stallman, Julian Assange, with picture of Edward Snowden. Credit: Wikileaks

Bruce Sterling has a must-read piece about Snowden and NSA, nailing the complicity of internet companies with the national surveillance state. Rather than being plucky little startups that made it big due to grit, determination, and new ideas, the Googles and Microsofts of the planet were hugely aided by big helping hands from government spooks offering contracts, money, and connections. The companies were only too happy to oblige, chirping all the while about how they were different from those tacky old traditional companies. “Do no evil” now seems a cynical in-joke and ploy among billionaires who sold us out long ago rather than a corporate slogan that was  actually followed. Emphasis added.

Microsoft, Apple, Cisco, Google et al … are intelligence assets posing as commercial operations. They are surveillance marketers. They give you free stuff in order to spy on you and pass that info along the value chain. Personal computers can have users, but social media has livestock.

Sterling asks, why is it that Wikileaks was the only entity that really helped Snowden? I’d say it is because Assange is genuinely, perhaps even fanatically, committed to his cause and at this point has nothing left to lose.

It’s incredible to me that, among the eight zillion civil society groups on the planet that hate and fear spooks and police spies, not one of them could offer Snowden one shred of practical help, except for Wikileaks. This valiant service came from Julian Assange, a dude who can’t even pack his own suitcase without having a fit.

Activists. Read this. Political uprising must have clear-cut goals and leaders. Or else the results probably won’t be what you want or expect.

Even if the proles rise up in a wave, busily Twittering away, you’re gonna get an Arab Spring, followed by a regretful military coup once people figure out that networks just aren’t governments.

Even the electronic civil lib contingent is lying to themselves. They’re sore and indignant now, mostly because they weren’t consulted — but if the NSA released PRISM as a 99-cent Google Android app, they’d be all over it. Because they are electronic first, and civil as a very distant second.

However, Sterling is actually quite optimistic. Richard Stallman, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden now have the initiative and are genuinely making governments tremble. Super empowered inviduals can do that…

A super empowered individual, in my view, is autonomously capable of creating a cascading event that grand strategist Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett has termed a ” system perturbation”; a disruption of system function and invalidation of existing rule sets to at least the national but more likely the global scale. The key requirements to become “superempowered” are comprehension of a complex system’s connectivty and operation; access to critical network hubs; possession of a force that can be leveraged against the structure of the system and a wilingness to use it.

Let’s all become superempowered individuals.


Silicon Valley denials unconvincing about government surveillance

Silicon Valley hearts NSA
Silicon Valley hearts NSA

Silicon Valley firms are either not responding to questions about allowing government surveillance on servers or are issuing bland non-denial denials.

Apple and Facebook say they don’t provide the government provide direct access to their servers, while not defining what “direct access” is and then saying they will comply with court orders. Google essentially said the same thing, that they have no “back door.” Their statements are utterly unconvincing. So, if you haven’t already figured this out, anything you post online, can and is being intercepted, read, and stored by the government – with a nod and a wink from for allegedly “Do Not Evil” Silicon Valley.

From Doug Henwood on Facebook:

Privacy? Ha! A college classmate of mine who spent some time in the CIA just informed our class list: “All that we enter and access on the internet is recorded and stored at an NSA site for later review (including this listserv).”

The data could go anywhere, which is troublesome. False positives will happen too. They will be able to track considerable amounts of information about us and of course it will be used against political opponents.

Putting that much data into a coherent form where is can be queried is a huge task to be sure – and is something Google and Facebook do every day. Surely the government can do it too. A bill collector client told me, once we have their social, that’s the magic key that unlocks everything. This much data is many magic keys.

What recession? Real estate is bubblicious in Silicon Valley

March 21, 2012. SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com

Homes in Silicon Valley are going for way over asking price and are on the market for just a few days before being sold. Bidding wars have returned.

Once Facebook goes public, prices will soar even more, as new millionaires buy homes. Some homeowners are waiting until after the Facebook IPO to put their property on the market, assuming they will get more.

The same thing in happening in San Francisco. An aging 1800 sq ft house in Noe Valley (where the views are admittedly spectacular) went for $1.5 million, 40% over ask.

This is all being fueled by the tech boom. Apple and Google are doing great. Startups, venture capital, and buzz are everywhere.

America, you want to revitalize yourself? Then take a look at what SF Bay Area geeks are doing and emulate it for your own area in your own way. Seriously.

Former Sun CEO on prospects for Silicon Valley now

Scott McNealy, founder and former CEO of Sun Microsystems, talked with the Wall Street Journal about employment and the economy in the supposedly booming Silicon Valley. He thinks much has been lost and may not come back. His comments about the Valley apply to the state and country at large too.

It’s not a terribly job-filled recovery. Productivity gains continue to push the need to hire out. A lot of the jobs today are around two areas: government-sponsored green initiatives and the social-networking space.

I’m skeptical that the green jobs are [going to drive the recovery]. So far, the track record’s been terrible. That’s going to be a challenge for the people here who stuck their neck out to go green.

Much as I strongly support cleantech and renewable energy, he’s right. There’s just no way that government-mandated cleantech initiatives will create jobs anywhere on the scale needed for California. Plus, many such initiatives are wrong-headed and doomed, like California’s coming cap-and-trade system or forcing dump trucks to get new engines, something which will certainly drive many of them out of business.

Then there’s social networking, which is a pretty interesting phenomenon. There’s a lot of energy there, but that’s not a terribly labor-intensive kind of activity. I don’t think social networking is the jobs driver.

Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the social networking sites can maybe create 100,000-150,000 jobs. Again, that’s not going to spur a recovery in the state .

I see a migration from the early days of the Valley. We aren’t doing manufacturing; we aren’t doing design; we aren’t doing computers. It’s all moving to Asia and other places where there are lots of technical engineers who are willing to work at a more reasonable salary because they don’t have to spend $3.5 million on a home and pay half of it to taxes.

Hey, so someone graduates from a prestigious college with a degree in engineering, math, or programming and goes to work for a big tech company in Silicon Valley for $100,000 a year. He’s got it made, right? Not really. He might get a one bedroom apartment for $1500 a month. A car, insurance, utilities, food, and that big student loan could easily chew up another $2,000 a month. So that’s $42,000 a year in expenses. Federal taxes at that bracket are 33% and state tax is 10%. Toss in another 7% for the combined totals of sales taxes and country and city fees and you get 50% tax. Out of that $100,000 a year salary, $7,000 remains after basic expenses and taxes. Yikes.

I think every new transition has created less job opportunity as technology has become very leveraged. I don’t think our education system, our regulations, our government policies have kept pace with the changes that technology is driving.

Our education system is becoming a shambles. Everyone knows it is crumbling yet not much of real substance is being done. Why is this?

I’m not young with my whole future in front of me. My kids are the ones who are going to have to learn Mandarin. I’ve suggested that to all four of them.