#1420 Alexa Is Not Your Friend (Digital vs Democratic Futures) (Transcript)

Air Date 6/1/2021

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left Podcast, in which we shall take a look at the world of surveillance capitalism and the current age of techno optimism that is just the newest iteration of the age-old efforts to consolidate power and wealth by undermining individual freedoms and democratic self-governance. 

Clips today are from Future Hindsight, a TEDTalk by Sharon Weinberger, Land of the Giants, Wisecrack, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,  the OECD Podcast, the ISF Podcast, and New Economic Thinking.

Surveillance Capitalism: Shoshana Zuboff Part 1 - Future Hindsight - Air Date 7-16-20

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: [00:00:39] So what does it mean exactly that our human experiences have become a commodity? How does it work?

SHOSHANA ZUBOFF: [00:00:46] Private human experience could be translated into data, behavioral data; that those data could be analyzed; and they could be turned into commodities that could be sold and purchased. 

Let's say you're walking down the street and this is a private human experience. And let's say you're smiling, which is also a private human experience. Well there are cameras and sensors now that take your face without your knowledge. Therefore it's a unilateral action that by definition cannot be based on your consent. 

Now taking something without the other person's knowledge or consent any eight year old would tell you that is stealing.

So the whole logic of surveillance capitalism begins with this what I refer to as the original sin of theft, of stealing. You're back on the street. You're smiling. Your face is taken along with your smile and all the little muscles in your face that are creating the specific dynamics of your facial gesture at that moment. Now by taking your face with these sensors and cameras, your face is immediately translated into data -- in this case, the behavior of the muscles in your face. Those data are fed into complex systems of supply chains that are picking up experience and rendering it as data from all kinds of different domains: your car, your home, your walk in the street, your telephone call, your location, et cetera, et cetera.

So these supply chains are now complex sets of pipes, ecosystems. They're fed through your phone, they're fed through your laptop, every internet-enabled interface. These data now flow into the new factories. What are these factories? They're what people call artificial intelligence, machine learning. 

What happens in the factory though, is what has always happened in a factory, which is factory makes products. What kinds of products does this new factory make? Well, as a computational factory, it makes a computational product, specifically a prediction of your behavior. 

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: [00:03:22] Now that we know what it means for our experiences to be a commodity, what happens to all that knowledge about us? How does it all get monetized?

SHOSHANA ZUBOFF: [00:03:32] So everyone has heard of online targeted advertising. And I think many people understand that online targeted advertising markets are what have created the trillion dollar market capitalization of a company like Google, which was the originator of surveillance capitalism, and the nearly trillion dollar market capitalization of Facebook, which is also a major mover as a surveillance capitalist.

So these online advertising markets, when you just zoom out a little bit, what you can see is that these are markets that are trading in human futures. 

Very specifically, the first globally successful computational product to predict human behavior is what Google called the click-through rate. What is a click through rate? It is simply a computational fragment that predicts a fragment of your future behavior. Namely, what kind of ad you are likely to click on, and if you are likely to click through to the website behind that ad. That's the click-through rate. That's a prediction of your behavior. 

And so there is prima fascia evidence here that these human futures markets are hugely lucrative because they have created these information empires in record time.

But it's also worthwhile to note that while this logic of surveillance capitalism began at Google, migrated to Facebook, became the default economic logic within the wider tech sector, neither of these markets nor the economic logic behind them is any longer confined to the tech sector. We now see that surveillance capitalism has spread through what people think of as the normal economy.

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: [00:05:35] The perfect example is how the Ford Motor Company has been transformed by surveillance capitalism from a car manufacturing company to a data company. In a pursuit of price/earnings ratios of the likes of Google and Facebook, Ford decided that it would stream data from the millions of people who drive Ford vehicles and then combine it with the data that they have from Ford Credit. In sum, instead of designing a car that everyone wants to buy, Ford is now in the business of transportation operating systems. 

SHOSHANA ZUBOFF: [00:06:13] This is how we see surveillance capitalism moving through every sector: products and services, insurance, real estate, finance, education, health -- literally just about every sector that you can think of is moving toward this economic logic as a way of claiming these margins that come from what I call the surveillance dividend. So instead of working to figure out what are the products and service that people and society really need today, they're working to figure out how do we commodify personal experience, turn it into data and make money on that, because every kind of business wants to know what their users or customers or clients are likely to do next. 

This has become a scourge on our economy. And as we talk about it, we can explore the ways in which this has also been revealed to be a profoundly anti-democratic economic logic that is on a collision course with democracy and certainly market democracy.

Sharon Weinberger- Inside the massive (and unregulated) world of surveillance tech - TEDTalks - Air Date 12-1-20

SHARON WEINBERGER: [00:07:28] The Genesis of this spy bazar goes back some 18 years to a Hilton Hotel in Northern Virginia, just a few miles away from the US Central Intelligence Agency. A few dozen people, mostly dark suited men, gathered there in the spring of 2002 for a conference with the unassuming name of ISS World. At first glance, this conference probably looked like dozens of events that used to take place around the Washington DC area, but this event was unique. ISS stands for Intelligent Support Systems and the people who were there were from companies that built technologies to spy on private communications.

In other words, these are sort of wire tappers for hire. And the reason they were there was that less than a year earlier, the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington had spurred the Congress to press through legislation known as the Patriot Act. This gave the government broad new with authorities to monitor communications, emails, internet activity, phone calls, even financial transactions.

This created an instant demand for data and in the true American entrepreneurial spirit an industry rose up to help collect this data. But back in 2002, this was still a pretty modest affair. Only about 10% of the world's population was even online using the internet, so most of what was being collected were simple emails and phone calls over landlines and cell phones. But over the next few years, the way that we communicate began and to change rapidly. There was the introduction of Skype, Facebook, and then crucially the iPhone, and within a few years, billions of us were walking around with little computers in our pockets that do everything from monitor our exercise habits to help us find romantic partners.

And suddenly you didn't necessarily need the advanced capability of the National Security Agency or big telecoms to monitor everyone's communications. In some cases, all you needed was access to that device in their pockets, and that gave birth to an entirely new type of industry. Not many companies can build missiles or aircraft, but it doesn't take a lot of capital to create software that can hack into someone's smartphone. Computer hackers have been around for years, but now their skills could be used to build technologies that were in high demand by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and soon dozens and even hundreds of companies were getting into this wire toppers market. 

And that little conference in Virginia, it grew and soon became known as the Wiretappers Ball. Well, not much was known about the Wiretappers Ball in those early years because the conferences were closed to everyone except the companies and their government customers, but journalists did begin to see and hear reports of companies getting into this private spy market, spooky entrepreneurs going around the world, doing deals often with authoritarian regimes. And it was from the start a really loosely regulated market. Some countries do require permission to sell these technologies abroad, but rarely with the type of scrutiny that is given to traditional arms. So, for example, the Italian based company Hacking Team reportedly sold its technology to authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Kazakhstan. The Israeli based company, NSO Group has reportedly sold its technology to the regime in Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of harassing, and even one case, killing one of its political opponents. 

And we do think of weapons as things that kill people, but in the information age, some of the most powerful weapons are things that can track and identify us. This is something that the Pentagon and CIA have recognized for years, and they've tried to build technologies that can track people, suspected terrorists, around the globe. The Pentagon has invested in something called Smart Dust, little micro sensors the size of specks of dust that you could scatter on people without them knowing it, and then use it to track their location. The Pentagon, through its venture capital firm, has invested in a beauty products company once featured in Oprah magazine to build a device that could surreptitiously collect DNA just by swiping across the skin. 

But something remarkable has happened over the past decade. In many cases, what the private marketplace has been able to do has far outstripped what the Pentagon or CIA even thought was possible. Back in 2008, the Pentagon had a secretive database of DNA from terrorists. It had about 80,000 samples. Well, the private company Ancestry DNA, today has samples from over 15 million people. 23 and Me, the second largest genealogical database, has samples from over 10 million people. So now maybe you don't need these James Bond worthy techniques of collecting DNA if we're willingly handing it over to private companies and even paying for the honor of doing it. 

Well, what could you do with a sample of someone's DNA? In the United States and China researchers are working on using DNA samples to build images of people's faces. So if you pair DNA with facial recognition technology, you have the basis of a really powerful surveillance system that could be used to track individuals or entire ethnic groups. And if you think that sounds a little bit paranoid, keep in mind that the Pentagon last year sent out a memo to all of its service members, warning them precisely not to use those commercial DNA kits over concerns that information could be used to track them or their family members. 

And yet even with the Pentagon raising concerns about this technology, almost nothing has been done to reign in this market. One American company, Clear View AI, has been collecting billions of images of people's faces from across the internet, like those pictures you post on Instagram of you and your friends and family, and then selling its facial recognition services to US government and law enforcement agencies. And even if you think that's a perfectly acceptable application of this technology, there's nothing to stop them from selling to private individuals, corporations, or even foreign governments. And that's exactly what some companies are doing. 

That Wiretappers Ball that started in Northern Virginia, today it's held in multiple cities around the globe. Thousands of people now attend the ISS trainings and conferences, and more the companies showing up are coming from the middle east and China. The spy Bazaar has gone global and at arm shows now around the world you'll see companies displaying facial recognition technology and phone hacking software, displaying right next to traditional arms manufacturers with tanks and missiles. And walking around these arms shows, it's pretty easy to go down a distopian rabbit holes, thinking about future surveillance technology that will track our every move. And I remember one Pentagon advisor telling me that what the military really needed were space-based satellites that could track people anywhere on earth based just on their DNA -- it's enough to make you invest in tinfoil hats. 

But the truth is, we don't know what sort of technology the future will bring, but we know that today, in the absence of regulation, this marketplace has already exploding. And in fact, one of those companies accused of selling surveillance technology to authoritarian regimes, today it's offering to help track those infected with COVID-19. And of course, technology does offer the tantalizing promise of helping control a pandemic through contact tracing, but it also opens up another door to privatize mass surveillance.

So what do we do about this private spy bazar? We can hide, go offline, get off social media, ditch our smartphones, go live in a cave, but the truth is we're not trained to be professional spies. We can't live under false identities or with no identities. And even real spies are having a hard time staying below the radar these days. It doesn't matter how many passports Jason Bourne has if his face or DNA's in someone's database. 

But if even governments have lost control of the tools of spying, is there anything we can do about it? One argument I've heard is that even if the US were to restrict companies from selling this sort of technology abroad, companies based in China might simply step in. But we regulate the arms trade today even if we do it imperfectly. And in fact, there was a multilateral proposal several years ago to do just that, to require export licenses for surveillance software. The United States was among those countries that agreed to these voluntary regulations, but back in Washington this proposal is simply languished. We have an administration that would rather sell more weapons abroad with fewer restrictions, including to some of those countries accused of abusing surveillance technology. 

I think to move forward, we would need to revive that proposal, but even go one step further. We need to fundamentally change how we think of surveillance technology and define these tools as weapons. This would allow government to regulate and control their sale and export the way that they control traditional arms, advanced aircraft, and missiles. But that means recognizing that technology that tracks who we are, what we do, what we say, and even in some cases what we think, is a form of advanced weaponry and these weapons are growing too powerful, available to the highest bidder, and according to the whims of the spy bazar.

Surveillance Capitalism: Shoshana Zuboff Part 2 - Future Hindsight - Air Date 7-16-20

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: [00:16:16] Let's go straight to how this is a threat to democracy. You talk about an instrumentarian society and how it comes directly from the mining of our personal behavior and our preferences that we, even with our consent, submit to Google or Facebook. And also of course, when it is stolen from us in the public sphere.

So what does it mean to have instrumentarian power, and how does that translate to being profoundly anti-democratic? 

SHOSHANA ZUBOFF: [00:16:50] Thank you for asking the most important question right away, because if our listeners can understand instrumentarian power, so much of what is going down in our world today is going to be easier to grasp, and it's going to inspire, I think, a lot more of us to mobilize and understand exactly what is at stake for our future. 

I want folks to know that what we're talking about here is an economic logic. An economic logic has its own internal dynamics, its own iron laws, if you will, and produces its own economic imperatives.

A lot of what I've done is to ask myself the question, what are the competitive dynamics of these human futures markets? What does it mean to compete in predictions of our future behavior? Because what surveillance capitalists are selling is they're selling certainty. Everybody wants certainty, and you can go as far back in human history as you can possibly reach.

So in order to do this, they need to have great predictions. And in order to have great predictions, it turns out that three things are really necessary. 

Number one, you're going to feed an AI and you want great predictions to come out, well you need a lot of data. So the first thing is economies of scale. We need those supply chains full. We need them coming from every direction in every domain. 

Number two, turns out that scale -- volume -- is essential, but it's not the whole story. We also need varieties of data. This began with search and browsing online, and then it went into a social connection online and social media and the Facebook milieu.

But actually now we have these supply chains that are tapping into every conceivable kind of data, whether it's coming from your car, coming from your home, you're walking around the world with this little computer tucked in your pocket. You have apps and the apps are picking up all kinds of personal information about you, information that you never intended to disclose, and don't even know that you are disclosing.

So now we have something called "scope" -- varieties of data. So we have economies of scale and we have economies of scope. And when it comes to scope, we've seen this almost demonic audacious drive over the last decade where literally it seems like there is nothing left untouched. We even have Facebook writing about its experiments to turn human brainwaves into speech, into words that can be automatically translated and rendered and made available as data. So there is actually no sanctuary left when it comes to private experience in the race for economies of scope. 

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: [00:20:10] Ultimately, it turns out that predictions of future behavior are most accurate when surveillance capitalists actively intervene in people's behavior. Based on what they know from our past actions, they can come back to us and coax our behavior in a way that optimizes their predictions about what we are going to do next.

SHOSHANA ZUBOFF: [00:20:35] So a lot of folks have heard about Cambridge Analytica. The techniques that we saw being utilized are actually the techniques that were invented inside surveillance capitalism, as they learned how to tune and herd people's behavior. So for example, this is the use of subliminal cues. The manipulation of social comparison dynamics. Using psychological knowledge about you in order to compose triggers that are aimed specifically at your interests or your weaknesses, your fears, your obsessions, the things that have been pulled out from their analyses, from the wealth of personal information that they now have about you, as points of vulnerability that may trigger attitude changes or even behavioral changes. And they've also learned how to manipulate rewards and punishments in real time, including using gamification structures to drive your behavior in specific directions. 

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: [00:21:57] Remember the augmented reality game Pokemon Go, the game that uses GPS to locate, capture and train virtual creatures which appear as if they are in the player's real world location? In the book we learn that this game was incubated at Google for many years by the same leadership as Google Earth. So the same people who are responsible for filming our streets and houses are also the people who made us play Pokemon Go. Zuboff explains, it really was not a game. It was hidden surveillance at its best.

SHOSHANA ZUBOFF: [00:22:31] What Pokemon Go was a living, breathing human futures market. What they were doing was using the gamification of the Pokemon Go game, as people were searching for creatures and getting up the ladder of rewards and so forth, to drive people toward establishments: Starbucks, McDonald's, Joe's Pizzeria, that we're already in agreement to pay for footfall.

So footfall in a real life establishment, your real feet on your real legs and your real body in a place where you're going to spend money. That's the precise equivalent in the physical world to "click through rate" in the online world. Click through, you're walking with your fingers. Footfall, you're walking with your body, but it's the same thing. You're going to a place where they want you to go, where they are predicting that you will go and you're spending money. 

And so Pokemon Go was learning how to herd people through the city, to the places where these folks are going to pay Pokemon Go. And that's how the whole game was monetized. 

So now we have economies of action. What does this mean? This means that we have gone through an arc. In engineering, this is called the arc from monitoring to actuation, where we now have so much knowledge about a system that we can use that knowledge to remote control that system. Now we translate that process from engineering systems of machines to human systems, of individual, group, and population behavior. 

So now what we have is surveillance capitalists amassing enough information about individuals, groups, and societies, to be able to use that information to come back into the system and achieve these economies of action to actually modify our behavior in the direction of their preferred outcomes that optimize their revenues.

So this is now an extraordinary new form of market-based power. It works through the digital milieu to modify our behavior in the ways that advantage the surveillance capitalists and their business customers. 

Alexa, What's Amazon Doing Inside My Home? - Land of the Giants - Air Date 7-30-19

JASON DEL RAY - HOST, LAND OF THE GIANTS: [00:25:13] When I talked to Amy Webb, the futurist, she stressed that she thinks the stuff Amazon's creating has the potential to benefit humanity, but she did have this critique of the data gathering that Daniel Rousch is talking about here. 

AMY WEBB: [00:25:25] Amazon's not great when it comes to transparency. Why certain data are being collected, under what circumstances, and for whom is almost never made understandable to the general public nor to investors or researchers or anybody else. 

JASON DEL RAY - HOST, LAND OF THE GIANTS: [00:25:42] She's got a point. Next time you're at Amazon's website, go to the Alexa's FAQ page. Want to know what specifically your voice data is being used for? They have some answers but it's mostly generic answers, like this one "Alexa uses your voice recordings and other information including from third party services to answer your questions fulfill your requests," and here's the vague ending "improve your experience and our services." So that's basically all Amazon tells us, but Daniel Rousch he disagrees that Amazon is not transparent enough. He actually says transparency and control are things customers want And get from Alexa devices. 

DANIEL ROUSCH: [00:26:30] They want it to be transplant. For example you have access to everything that Alexa heard in the sense that Alexa's wake word is invoked and then those utterances are visible to you whether that's in the application or online, and so there's complete transparency about that data. And then, lastly, control. So you as a customer can go in, you can access that set of utterances, you can delete them one at a time or all at once. So we build all of our experiences on that backbone of privacy and security for customers. And we're very proud of that. 

JASON DEL RAY - HOST, LAND OF THE GIANTS: [00:27:04] They're talking about two different things. Rousch is talking about giving us the ability to see what's being recorded but that doesn't answer Webb's question about all the other ways Amazon could be using the data. Webb's concerned mostly just because we don't know. So I asked Rousch about that. I asked him, are there teams at Amazon listening to skeptics and then working backward to make sure skeptics fears don't actually become reality? 

DANIEL ROUSCH: [00:27:31] When we're at our best, we're as a team spending almost all of our time living in and thinking about the future. I know on my best days that's really what I get to do, but it's not working backwards from skeptics, so to speak, it's working backwards from the important things we can do for customers. 

JASON DEL RAY - HOST, LAND OF THE GIANTS: [00:27:48] So it sounds like it's almost always starting from a place of optimism about how technology could improve the future versus starting from a place of doubt. 

DANIEL ROUSCH: [00:28:03] Deeply optimistic about it. 

Surveillance Capitalism: Shoshana Zuboff Part 3 - Future Hindsight - Air Date 7-16-20

SHOSHANA ZUBOFF: [00:28:04] When people talk about these forms of digital control, they're often thrown back onto older models of power. And so we hear phrases like digital totalitarianism, digital authoritarianism. My argument is that old language actually prevents us from grasping what is new, unprecedented and very dangerous about this new form of power.

What we have here is what I call instrumentarian power. Instrumentarian because it works through the instrumentation of the digital milieu. These are forces that work through the medium of the digital. And part of what makes them so pernicious, so dangerous, is the very way that they're camouflaged. Because they're likely to come offering us things that come under that huge catchall "convenience." They're likely to come offering us a way to do something that actually makes our lives easier. And so they come disguised as our friend. And this makes them very difficult to discern. But in fact they are not our friends, because they are learning how to control social behavior without our knowledge, without our consent, and therefore in ways that take direct aim at human autonomy and human agency at the very most elemental experiences without which a democratic society is impossible to imagine. 

Where you see these instrumentarian ambitions most eloquently expressed, Mila, are in discussions about "the Smart City." Now Google has been one of the most aggressive purveyors of the Smart City paradigm. But whenever you hear the word "smart," you have to ask yourself three questions. Number one: Who has the knowledge, who is smart? Number two: Who has the authority to decide who gets the knowledge, to decide who gets to be smart? And number three: Who has the power to decide who has the authority to determine who gets to be smart? 

In the Google version of the Smart City, it is Google who knows. And when you read Google's descriptions of its ambitions for the Smart City, such as the proposals that it made to the city of Toronto over the past couple of years, in order to take over the Toronto waterfront and create a quote "smart city that would be operated by something called Sidewalk Labs" that became very clear that this Smart City was going to be a place that they called, in their own language, long after I developed the terminology of instrumentarian power, but they call it the "instrumented city." Everything is internet enabled. Everything is an interface to access all behavior, all experience, translated into data and have it flowing to sidewalk labs and their AI. They even write about the idea that if you live in the zone and you opt out of sharing your data, you will not be able to take advantage of the services in the zone. You won't be able to use the transportation services or you won't be able to use the security services. So here we have a perfect example of using rewards and punishments in real time, in order to get people to behave in the way they want for their own market advantage. 

Now let's come back to the subject of democracy. The great punchline here, Mila, as I'm sure, is that just a couple of weeks ago, sidewalk labs withdrew from Toronto and it withdrew after long years of very detailed proposals. At the beginning, Sidewalk Labs believed that it was just going to be a slam dunk. It could make its proposals, it could extract its demands, which by the way, include setting aside municipal law so that Sidewalk Labs can impose the policies that it sees fit. This is part of the long game of surveillance capitalism, and how it brings us back to the discussion of democracy.

What instrumentarian power is at its foundations is a political project intended to substitute computational governance for democratic governance. So in the instrumentarian view the idea was we no longer need laws. We no longer need regulations. We simply need AI. For example, if we decide that the decibel levels in a part of the city should not go above a certain sound point, we don't have to have policies and laws and regulations to govern that. We don't need neighbors coming together and meetings to talk about their different points of view and debate. Instead, these decibel levels are decided through algorithmic computation. And then the algorithm monitors the sound in that part of the city and parameters are set. And of course the devices are blanketing every place in the city, so that when a decibel level exceeds the algorithmic parameter, there are automated systems that simply loop back to those local devices and they can simply shut down remotely whatever it may be that is driving the decibel level above the standard.

So here we have automated governance, computational governance, replacing municipal governance, which is democratic governance, and all of the inputs that come from the rich life of people living together in a city. 

So the story of Toronto becomes such an interesting story because they were finally going to achieve what has been a longstanding Google objective of having a zone where they could exercise computational governance, and show the world how much more effective and efficient that is, including how lucrative it is. Instead, what happened in Toronto was a grassroots movement: neighbors, citizens, community groups, some elected officials and administrative officials coming together to say, our city must remain a democratic city. It is to be governed by the people in the beautiful, slow, messy, marvelous, hard won, cherished processes that we call democracy.

We celebrate the messiness because that is what makes democracy human and enduring. And it was a grassroots movement that gathered so many people to it that finally had Sidewalk Labs coming to the conclusion that they were not going to be able to impose this project at the scope that they had hoped. And they withdrew. 

MILA ATMOS - HOST, FUTURE HINDSIGHT: [00:36:41] As we've seen in this example of who's smart and who has the power to decide who gets to be smart, surveillance capitalists have succeeded in creating an inequality of knowledge, which creates an asymmetry of power in our society. 

SHOSHANA ZUBOFF: [00:36:57] Surveillance capitalists have been able to amass so much knowledge about us, that it has actually created a new form of inequality.

I call it "epistemic inequality", an inequality of knowledge. It's expressed in the difference between what I can know and what can be known about me. 

So now we have these huge asymmetries of knowledge, which represents more of a feudal, ancient pattern, not a futuristic modern democratic pattern. And with these asymmetries of knowledge come huge asymmetries of power. The ability to use all of this knowledge about us now to feed back in that process of, from monitoring to actuation, to actually experiment with, hone and perfect ways to influence, shape, control, and ultimately modify the behavior of individuals, of groups, of cities, of societies in ways that favor the market outcomes of surveillance capitalists and their customers.

This is a direct assault on autonomy from above. And we have been slow to recognize it because it comes camouflaged as a sheep, but actually with the teeth and power of a Wolf. That is what we are up against today in our society, and why this is such an important fight. An instrumentarian future is by definition not a democratic future.

That Time Disney Built a Creepy Government - Wisecrack - Air Date 1-15-21

MICHAEL BURNS - HOST, WISECRACK: [00:38:50] Disney also promised in EPCOT, there will be no slum areas because we won't let them develop.

People will rent homes instead of buying them, and at modest rentals. There will be no retirees. Everyone must be employed. So sorry, grandma, you can't come unless you work until you drop dead. I don't make the rules. I just ride It's a Small World five times a day. 

Using this pitch for a grandiose utopia where everyone had a job, Disney got buy-in from the state of Florida before he had any solid plans for how he'd actually achieve it.

It was also supposed to be housed in a 50-foot climate-controlled bubble, which I just needed to fit in here somewhere. 

Anyway, Florida approved the creation of a unique local government spanning two newly formed municipalities. The corporation would get the incredible powers of self-government the following year.

Although the amounts of control Disney was given was unprecedented, the idea wasn't entirely new. It was just the latest version of a company town. In America and Europe, company towns are places where one company owned literally everything: housing, businesses, schools, even churches. If you live in the town, you had exactly one employer to choose from. Worse, your employers wouldn't even pay you real money for you to save up and move somewhere else. They were paid in scrip, which is like 19th century V bucks that you could only spend at company stores. Company towns in the US were characterized by industrial paternalism, a kind of social engineering that forces middle-class values onto working-class employees. It basically meant the companies that ran these towns imposed a ton of rules on its residents, like banning gambling, drinking, and unions. Many founders of company towns framed this as a moral obligation. They were teaching lower class workers good values and providing them a life in a model community in exchange for their labor. They indoctrinated people with company loyalty, all the while keeping workers indentured to their jobs and towns for incredibly low pay. Sometimes their housing would even be fenced in or guarded. They literally couldn't leave. 

While company towns were very popular during the industrial revolution, they declined in America in the 1920s because among other things, workers living conditions deteriorated and they weren't allowed to vote or change anything, leading to massive strikes and riots. Old school company towns were out of vogue by the time of EPCOT. Disney's paternalistic vision for it was eerily similar, if not more ambitious. His only major deviation from traditional company town ideals, while everything would be owned and operated by Disney, EPCOT would also rent building space to local industrial leaders like General Electric, and at expos sponsored by big corporations showing off the newest technology.

And while people would earn real money instead of scrip, there would be plenty of ways to give that money right back to Disney. After Walt's death, his brother Roy took over to carry out the vision, and the Reedy Creek Improvement District was formed. Disney can now design and maintain its own infrastructure projects, enforce its own zoning and building codes, maintain its own police force and fire department, and levy taxes.

It would be entirely governed by its landowners, which you know, is pretty much just Disney. Governing officials would be chosen by landowners. Again, basically just Disney, because who needs a mayor when you have a benevolent multinational corporation looking after you, right? Couple that with Disney's public aversion to drinking -- no alcohol was allowed in the Magic Kingdom until 2012 -- as well as antagonism towards unions and aggressive promotion of mid-century middle-class nuclear family values, and you've got the makings of the most ambitious company town in history. Too ambitious, because the City of Tomorrow never actually happened. After imagineers realized they couldn't figure out who would live there or how kids would go to school or how families would actually function, the plan was scrapped. EPCOT became another very clean theme park with very good crowd control.

Uh-Oh, Nevada Wants To Let Corporations Form Their Own Governments - The Late Show with Stephen Colbert - Air Date 3-4-21

STEPHEN COLBERT - HOST, THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT: [00:42:26] That's an issue, which brings me to my recurring segment, Uh-Oh!

Where we examine issues that, once you start thinking about them, you really wish you could stop thinking about them. 

Tonight's Uh-Oh: Big tech companies love to make promises in order to suck up those sweet, sweet state subsidies. Like the proposed Wisconsin Foxconn plant that promised 13,000 jobs, and for which the Foxconn tore up a small town, razed homes and crops, and was promised more than $4.5 billion in government incentives. And to this day, that plant still hasn't been built. Plus, the Foxconn CEO promised 76 trombones plus copper bottomed timpani and horse platoons and double bell euphoniums and big bassoons. That fellow has been a raspberry seed in my wisdom tooth for too long. 

Plus now tech companies have realized there's a major problem with stripping local communities for their gold fillings and tax base: the hassle of having to lie first. 

But there's a solution to the problem of any public accountability, because in order to attract jobs and investment, a new Nevada bill would allow tech companies to create their own governments, establishing new business areas where they can form separate local governments, which provides services and impose taxes.

Uh-Oh! I for one do not want to live in the principality of Googletown. You won't be allowed to buy Google milk at the Google Mart unless you buy a Google glass. No one wants it. Stop trying to make a Google happen! 

Now encouraging innovative companies to come to your state is a good thing, but not if they replace the state. That's exactly what this proposes, which leads to my Uh-Oh subsegment, Yikes! 

These corporate governments wouldn't even be subject to local government. That'd be carved out separately as so-called innovation zones and would be given the same authority as counties. Yikes! We already have a word for masters of the universe who holds the same power as governments. It's called feudalism. Do you really want to establish a society based on the middle ages? Good luck. Because the hospital you will no longer have the corporate taxes to pay for is now just going to be a bucket o' leeches, sucker. 

Now you might be asking, can anyone who owns a Radio Shack franchise found their own government in Nevada?

The answer is no. But that's somehow less comforting, which leads me to my Yikes sub-sub-segment: Gulp! 

According to the proposed law, the only people who could apply for an innovation zone would need to have enough money, acres upon acres of undeveloped land, and an innovative technology. Gulp! 

Those are three conditions, better known as the Bond villain combo.

And it's happening. As I speak, a company called Blockchains, LLC has already committed to building a smart city that will run on its technology. Gulp! Blockchain is what they use for cryptocurrency. You know, the made-up money for drug lords, hitman, and guys on Tinder who want to explain what blockchain is, is a bad road to go down, folks.

Because if we start handing over our independent government to the interests of private industry, just for jobs and investment, well, the next thing you know, we'll be spending billions in public funds to a league that pays no taxes for football stadiums that are only used for eight games a year.

What data and digitalization could mean for your democratic future with Shoshana Zuboff - OECD - Air Date 12-19-20

SHOSHANA ZUBOFF: [00:45:53] Now the pandemic has become the latest canvas against which all these stages of the epistemic coup are on display, vividly, even as it further accelerates the reach of this new iron cage and reveals just how vulnerable our democracies are to the effects of the epistemic coup. Let me mention some highlights just briefly.

First of all the most obvious effect of the pandemic when it comes to the epistemic coup is of course the growth of surveillance capitalist revenues, and with it, the growth of epistemic inequality. As more people in more places find themselves wholly dependent on remote services, largely controlled by the institutions of surveillance capitalism, including remote schooling, remote working, tele-health, e-commerce social media, even as our governments too frequently rely on surveillance capitalism's tracking data, producing a result that citizens are stricken with mistrust in every direction. 

Consider education for a moment. This is so concerning for me, and I know for all of us primarily because education is targeted at vast, captive and vulnerable populations of our dearest human beings on the planet, our young people. This year, as Google's remote education was exploding around the world, New Mexico's attorney general, Hector Balderas, launched a lawsuit. Literally, he launched it in February just as Google Classroom was literally doubling and tripling its presence all over the world. He launched a lawsuit citing Google's Classrooms educational tools for illicit data extraction practices aimed at children. 

And I'm going to quote briefly from his lawsuit. It says, "Google tracks children across the internet, across devices, in their homes, and well outside the educational sphere, all to collect massive quantities of data from young children, not to benefit schools, but to benefit Google's own commercial interests." Google Classroom doubled active users to more than 100 million in one month alone between March 2020 and early April. And of course, UNESCO calculates that school closures now affect nearly 2 billion students in at least 150 countries. Gives you an idea of the canvas against which these new operations are being played out.

Now, let's talk about the second phase of the epistemic coup in the pandemic, which has become a global ground zero for epistemic chaos. Right from the start, the virus was intentionally politicized. It wasn't difficult. All they had to do was exploit the routine mechanisms that produce epistemic chaos and social media on a daily basis. There's a great deal of research on this and I will cite only one excellent study by Avaaz published in August. They exposed 82 websites of spreading COVID misinformation, reaching a peak of nearly half a billion Facebook views in the month of April alone. The other thing is that there was no shortage of high quality COVID information available to Facebook users that month. 

But Avaaz found that the top 10 of those 82 nefarious websites drew four times as many views on Facebook, four times, nearly 300 million, as did the websites of the 10 leading health institutions, like the WHO and the CDC only about 70 million. Their extensive analysis concludes that Facebook's modest content moderation efforts were no match for its own operations of algorithmic amplification that favor provocative, high engagement content while ignoring meaning, just as Bosworth described. In other words, the institutions of surveillance capitalism prevailed, even in the face of an historic life and death emergency. 

Finally, the pandemic creates an opportunity for surveillance capitalists to build epistemic dominance by extending their presence in the domain of health, data, and body tracking. Coveted territory for these companies, a long game, that is the focus of significant investment. As the Wall Street Journal put it not too long ago, the healthcare industry represents the last bounty of personal data yet to be scooped up by these companies, an $8.7 trillion opportunity worldwide. Applications and wearables are key to their strategies. An Apple-led research study on wearables concluded, "the ubiquity and remarkable technological progress of wearables provides rich longitudinal information that can be mined for physiological and behavioral signatures."

Companies are now peddling wearable trackers as critical to pandemic safety. And these are often targeted at another captive population, employees. This, of course, is the context in which Google developed its determination to acquire Fitbit. As early as 2013, that activity tracker was already praised by the CIA, noting that Fitbit data discloses, gender, height, weight, and provides a 100% guarantee of identification just from assessing a user's gait. In fact, any computational product that reliably predicts the future of a person's health will be unimaginably lucrative, sold to markets far beyond advertising from insurers to employers, landlords, lenders, credit card companies, dating services, retailers, my friends, the list is endless.

So what does all of this suggest about our historical condition? The questions of our digital future and our democratic future are now inseparable. I've argued that this is not a story about technology and data, but about law and institutions. This is not a pronouncement of doom, but rather a call to action.

Steve Durbin — Identity Is Weaponized - ISF Podcast - Air Date 3-29-21

STEVE DURBIN - CEO, ISF: [00:53:17] But the three areas to watch here, Tavia. So the first is all about digital doppelgangers that are going to undermine identity. A vast array of intimate data about individuals is going to be stolen repurpose, repackaged into fully formed malicious digital identities, which complete the backstory, the narrative of an individual, real or imagined. Digital doppelgangers that look, sound or behave like real people will make the existing challenges around your surrounding identity theft immeasurably more complex to address, as you can imagine. Well-resourced and sophisticated attackers will begin to create an arsenal of weaponized digital identities at speed and with frightening accuracy. They'll use these digital doppelgangers to spread disinformation, compromise identity and coerce high-profile individuals.

Technologies such as AI, biometrics, behavior analytics are all starting to mature, resulting in early examples of deep fakes, and we've talked about that specifically last year as well in our threat horizon reports. But it's the evolution of these technologies that will culminate in digital doppelgangers and that poses a far greater threat. These credible facsimiles, if you like, will undermine trust, shatter the reputations of individuals and brands alike and become widely used mechanisms of fraud to finance, expanding number of criminal activities. 

TAVIA GILBERT - PRODUCER, ISF: [00:54:34] Let's talk about how biological data is driving a rash of breaches. What can you tell us about that concern? 

STEVE DURBIN - CEO, ISF: [00:54:42] This particular threat is really around organizations gathering increased volumes of data, derived from biological factors. And this data will not only underpin many novel identity verification mechanisms, but would also have value in its own right. And this inevitably is going to become the target of relentless cyber attacks by nation states, commercial competitors, and I think organized criminal groups, putting customer trust in real jeopardy. Biological data will provide organizations with unique insights into their customers. So by analyzing the treasure trove of data generated by, I don't know, smart health devices, for instance, and other wearables, organizations will be able to better tailor services to their customers' personal preferences and develop innovative business practices.

This is going to include monitoring lifestyles to generate recommendations that help people avoid chronic health conditions. So some good stuff in that, but organized criminal groups are going to recognize the rich prospects of monetizing that trove of really versatile biological information as well. And I think they will seek to exploit it in a variety of ways, including identity theft, extortion, of course. Other adversaries will endeavor to profit from this valuable information too, through corporate espionage, which I think will derail the development of, potentially anyway, targeted treatments and pharmaceutical compounds.

 

TAVIA GILBERT - PRODUCER, ISF: [00:56:00] As biological information becomes increasingly valuable as a commodity organizations then really need to ensure that they understand what data they're capturing and that they are protecting it. And organizations that store biological data really have to be ready to effectively and securely process it. Is that right? 

STEVE DURBIN - CEO, ISF: [00:56:20] Yeah, that is right Tavia. Organizations must determine what biological data certainly has been collected and the key here as well as classification. So it needs to be classified appropriately. They also need to ensure that biological data and associated IP are protected, of course, by the appropriate controls. And businesses need to review their log-in processes that involve biometric and other biological traits to verify their effectiveness. Some of the longer term solutions, I think to this particular threat, include the design and implementation of an employee awareness program focused on the use of biological data.

Businesses also need to enhance security architecture for all systems involved with biological data. And inevitably they need to be consulting with regulators on restrictions that are governing the collection, the use, and the storage of such information.

TAVIA GILBERT - PRODUCER, ISF: [00:57:08] So, with an increasing reliance on digital identity, organizations really need to gain a better understanding of the tactics, the techniques, and the procedures that target identities and algorithms. And it's going to be imperative for them to have the necessary technical and organizational measures in place to detect and respond to the weaponization of identity and to protect the use of personal data, including as you described, biometrics, credentials, and behavioral insights.

STEVE DURBIN - CEO, ISF: [00:57:40] It's not just technology, it's the access to the technology, the access route. And I think that that's one of the big shifts. We talk so much about protecting data and we talk about how we can beef up the processes you need to go through in order to access that data, but if those access routes and the things that you have put in place to improve security themselves, then come under threat or are no longer reliable you're back to square one. And that's the real challenge with, I think that whole sort of biometric. It was founded on the principle that it would be much more difficult to crack, to hack, and with the advances that we're seeing in technology, of course, that may not be the case.

Rana Foroohar: The Surveillance Economy - New Economic Thinking - Air Date 8-22-20

ROB JOHNSON - HOST, NEW ECONOMIC THINKING: [00:58:22] In this globalized world, I know Joe Stiglitz, Danny Rodrik are working on my INET [Institute for New Economic Thinking] commission of global economic transformation, and they're very concerned about how globalization has weakened governments and their ability to protect people. And we're seeing in some of the authoritarian and nationalistic backlash, a reaction to those excesses. But we're faced with a very interesting dilemma. I believe that we have, at one level, if you go to global governance, all the things that affect mankind, humankind are under the rule of the global governance. But the sensitivity to people is not likely to be high. The ability to detect suffering and pain is not likely to be easily accomplished from on high. But if you go to local governance, people can see what's painful, but the domain of the sovereign is much smaller than the scope of the market.

And so, when you get to local governments you can find out what's wrong, but you can't fix it. How do we strike this balance between local -- I know Raghuram Rajan's book, the Third Pillar, is about government markets and local -- how do we work, especially given the tensions between US and China, on the energy transformation and climate change, which will affect everybody and requires everybody from on high to do their part. If India doesn't get support and make changes it will affect Ohio and Los Angeles and Brussels. And so I find these dilemmas of governance and as we talked about a little bit earlier, the technology accelerates the tensions. 

RANA FOROOHAR: [01:00:46] It does. It absolutely has accelerated the tensions. It's very much like the advent of the printing press where, okay, great, suddenly everybody can read the Bible in their own language, but now you've got 150 years of religious wars. It feels very much that we are in that period right now. But, just to look on the bright side for a minute, I would say that there's also a possibility that technology could be a vehicle to bring forward some of the more positive aspects of decentralization. 

I actually see two countervailing trends there, and let me explain what I mean. There's a school of thought, and I would say it's probably the conventional wisdom, that we're living in this age, in which whoever has the most data will be able to plug it all into the algorithms and come up with the best AI and own the high growth industries of the future, and that's why we need these giant tech companies to be our national champions. And certainly that's explicitly the paradigm in China with the BATs [Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent]. It's the tech companies themselves in the US and in their dealings in Europe are trying to use the same argument. 

You probably remember it was over a year ago now when, during one of the Senate hearings around antitrust and privacy, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, was asked to testify, and after he was done arguing that, oh, you can't possibly regulate us, can't break us up, it'll destroy the business model, it'll destroy all the wonderful things we're doing for society, I believe it was a Reuters reporter snuck up and took a picture of his notes, and it had a talking point that if he was asked about a breakup of Facebook, that he should say, no, Facebook is the national champion in the fight against China, which is just so ridiculous and hypocritical in so many ways. And it also underscores the point that these companies and many of the people that run them, they may, who knows how they vote these days, but in the past Silicon valley has voted liberal, it's libertarian. These companies are profit-making entities and they will go whichever way the political winds favor them.

So to think of them as national champions for anything is ridiculous, but then you get into what I think is a more interesting and fruitful technological argument about, is top-down centralization the best model in the new world? Is maybe de-centralization the way to both innovation and to protect liberal democratic values? And just on the point about innovation, I would note that there's a lot of research to show that most innovation happens in small organizations, in smaller companies, certainly before they go public, it's individual academics that fuel innovation, so smaller tends to be better from an economic point of view, growth point of view. 

But in terms of protecting liberal democracy, a really interesting counterpoint to the top-down Chinese surveillance state model is what's happening in Taiwan. And there you have an incredibly sophisticated political economy that's been digitalized, in which people can weigh in online on any number of topics. You have huge amounts of digital voter participation. It's not surveillance, it's participation via all these decentralized technologies, which then builds more trust in government as an institution, which is something that we desperately need in order to elect politicians that can work cohesively within their national systems to come to these agreements at a global level that you're talking about.

And so I see some potential there, and it's interesting, there's a bunch of fascinating roots up movements that are happening, where technologists are trying to develop these tools to both empower small companies, but also to empower people that want to support democracy, liberal democracy in their countries, in their area. Glen Weyl, you probably know, has done a lot of work on this. His book Radical Markets is a terrific one to read.

So there's a light side and a dark side, and frankly, I don't know which one's going to win, but we're right in the thick of it. And the virus of course, has created this added complication opportunity where everyone is focused now on, okay, we have to move to, we are going to come out on the other side in a totally different economy. We've got to shift structures and institutions to that, but you also have companies really better poised, even than governments in some cases, to collect data to be involved in some of these mass surveillance projects around public health. 

I am very hopeful that we're going to see some strong legislation that whatever data is being collected right now to fight the virus has to be used only for that purpose. There have to be some really hard walls put into place. You do see it just in the US, on both sides of the aisle, bills coming up along these lines, but you also see a lot of squabbling about the details. So it's a very tricky time. I don't have a silver bullet answer.

Summary

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:05:47] We've just heard clips today, starting with Future Hindsight in three parts, featuring Shoshana Zuboff explaining how private experience is converted into data, how data is converted into predictions and manipulations of our future behavior, and why this asymmetry of knowledge and power are a threat to democracy. A TedTalk by Sharon Weinberger focused on the integration of surveillance capitalism into the weapons trade. Land of the Giants highlighted the fundamental disconnect between the blind optimism of tech executives and the warnings about how their products are impacting society. Wisecrack looked back at Walt Disney's vision for Epcot, the experimental prototype community of tomorrow, which was really just another iteration of the company town. After which, Stephen Colbert drew the same conclusion about the proposed innovation zones to be handed over to tech companies. And finally, the OECD Podcast also spoke with Shoshana Zuboff about the real world impacts of misinformation and its threat to democracy. 

That's what everyone heard, but members also heard a bonus clips from the ISF Podcast, which didn't make things any better by explaining that identity theft, though a big problem, is only in its infancy because the continued collection of personal data will eventually allow for the creation of full digital doppelgangers to be made by criminals and used against us. And New Economic Thinking discuss some positive visions for future tech, where the infrastructure is decentralized and the systems are used to strengthen rather than weaken democracy. 

Now, if you're still left with questions, that's normal, this is a big issue, so I just want to add a couple of clarifications that didn't make it into the show, at least four Shoshana Zuboff. She argues for the abolition of human futures markets, just as we have banned human slavery markets and human organ markets, so if you were left wondering, okay, but "what do we do?" that's her proposal. That said, she's not a Luddite either. She never calls for putting a stop to digital technology or anything like that, as she puts it, "let there be a digital future, but let it be a human future first." So I hope that clarifies some things. 

For non-members, as always, those bonus clips are linked in the show notes and are part of the transcripts for today's episode, so you can still find them if you make the effort, but to hear that and all of our bonus contents delivered seamlessly into your podcast feed, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support or request a financial hardship membership, because we don't make a lack of funds, a barrier to hearing more information. Every request is granted. No questions asked. 

And now, I actually have another special lesson for you.

Lesson #2 Alternative option explained 6-1-21

Now as a quick refresher for this segment, I received a message recently that included this sentiment. 

CRAIG FROM CLEVELAND: [01:08:55] Your show is an aggregator, right? You pull things from other shows. So, why should I donate to your show? I would rather give my money to the actual people who are doing the original content themselves.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:09:06] So that got me thinking that I needed to do some clarification about what I actually do, and previously I explained the difference between aggregation and curation and likened the work that I do to that of a museum curator, curators design coherent exhibits so that museums are functional rather than just giant warehouses full of labeled crates. And creating exhibits is, I think, a good analogy for what I do, but the warehouse is an unfair comparison for the alternative. See, I work on the internet, in the media, in the business of organizing the world's information. Does that sound familiar? So the analogy that I was using implies that all of the uncurated information, about progressive politics in my case, is in the equivalent of a warehouse, but that's not right because there are already attempts being made to organize that information.

So to complete the analogy more accurately, media on the internet it is being presented in a museum like exhibit, but it's being organized by algorithms search and recommendation engines, whose goal is to have you never leave the museum. We, on the other hand, do not vie for every second of your attention because we believe in the concept of enough. In the rest of the attention economy, more content means more money, but curation is about giving you what you need while respecting your time and giving you nothing more than what you need. If I got paid by "time on site", like the YouTube algorithm does, I would make a completely different and much less useful show. By limiting the content, we are elevating the value. 

So here's a little bit more from some of the research I did. This is described as the first of the five laws of the curation economy. "People do not want more information, they want less. We're overwhelmed in raw, unfiltered, context-free data. Humans want it to stop." And then quoting from the article, continuing, "the simple fact is this. The web used to be a relative, heavily closed community of makers. In the past, anyone could browse the web, but content creators needed to have tools, literacy, and time to create and publish. In the past few years the growth in mobile devices along with the widening definition of content from contextualized data to raw data has opened the flood gates of participation. The cure for information overload is coherent curation. Data-driven discovery managed by skilled, thoughtful, and in some cases, expert curators. Curate or be curated, that is the new face of digital content in the always on world." 

So it's clear that curation is necessary, but as we know, there's more than one way to curate a listicle of cat memes. So continuing, "It's likely that most of us are already consuming curated content. This might be trending news items on Facebook or Twitter, or top 10 lists on YouTube, Buzzfeed, or Mashable. We're relying on crowdsourced content in the form of number of views, number of likes, and frequency of user comments to identify trends and memes. This is one way of picking out a signal, but it's important to remember that much of the system is automated, i.e. algorithmically derived and consequently, the quality, accuracy, and relevance of the content is only as good as the algorithm. The real benefit of content curation is dependent on the skills, knowledge, and competencies of a human content curator. Social media has given us the tools to find and filter raw content, but it can't tell us what is right or what is useful." 

So now we know why humans are better at curation, which leads to the fifth of the five laws of the curation economy, yes, I'm jumping around a little bit, which says, "Curation within narrow, focused, high quality categories will emerge to compete with the mass media copycats who are filling the curation space with lists, cat videos, and meme links."  which pretty much sums up where I come into this story. 

But given the show that we've just heard and all this talk about the economics of curation, I really should mention the decision that I made at the end of 2019. I told everyone about it at the time, but you probably don't remember because why would you? The ad sales company that I was working with back then, who organized all of our advertisements that went into the show, let me know that they would be switching to a business model entirely dependent on dynamically inserted ads, which depend on all of the tenants of surveillance capitalism we just learned about today to gather information on each and every listener, to feed them a targeted ad based on the predicted click-through rate in the market of human futures. Of course, I didn't describe it that way almost two years ago, but that's what it was. 

And I told that company, which was pretty good at selling ads in the old analog way and was helping support the production of this show with those ad dollars, I told them then that I wouldn't be able to follow them into this new business model because it went against the ethics of the show to take the data of our listeners and funnel it into the factory of surveillance capitalism. So that was that. By refusing to go along with the new way of doing business, we took a financial hit from losing access to that source of ad sales. And even though we ran a membership drive at the time, it didn't entirely fill that gap. So, we are more and more dependent on direct support from members as ad dollars continue to flow into surveillance capitalism style ad campaigns. They're still going into podcasts, they're just going into podcasts that depend on surveillance capitalism. It may not be ethical, but it's profitable. 

Now there's more to be learned about the value of curation in future lessons, so keep an ear out for those, but if that's enough reason already to want to support us financially, we would appreciate it. You can get started at bestoftheleft.com/support, which is also linked down in the show notes, right on the device you're using to listen. 

And now, we'll hear from you.

Mere aggregation - Diana

VOICEDMAILER: DIANA: [01:15:45] Oof, the latent librarian in me shuddered at the reduction of this podcast to "mere" aggregation. As the exponential growth of content is already impossible for our minds to truly appreciate, I am genuinely glad for your quality curation on such important topics. I know I could do it myself but I have a lot of other demands on my time and energy and you do it so much better than I ever could. And I get to pay you for it! It's a win all around in my book. So thank you, very generally, for this show at large, the podcast I've listened to longest and most regularly in the past decade, and thank you more specifically for this especially prescient episode, just in time to share it with friends and family awakening to this issue.

Use It or Lose It copyrights - Jonathan from Florida

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:16:25] Thanks to all those who called into the voicemail line or wrote in their messages to be played as a VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record a message at (202) 999-3991 or write me a message to [email protected]

That is going to be it for today. Thanks as always to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Yeah. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Dan, and Ken for their volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, and on and on. And thanks again, of course, to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support as that is absolutely how the program survives. 

For details on the show itself, including links to all of the sources and music used in this and every episode, all that information can always be found in the show notes on the blog and likely right on the device you're using to listen. So coming to you from far outside, the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left Podcast coming to you twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com. 

VOICEMAILER: JONATHAN FROM FLORIA: [01:17:45] Hey, Jay!, this is Jonathan from Panama City, Florida. I'm calling about the voicemail that Nick from California left. So I wanted to add my 2 cents. I am a very big fan of "use it or lose it" copyrights. There's not only various properties that aren't actively being used and no longer being worked on. Also a lot of culture just disappears because, say it gets locked up in a vault and it's no longer in the public domain for 130 years -- think of old video games or board games, or even a lot of books go out of publication within five, 10 years -- and all that culture and history is just locked from everybody, because nobody's actively publishing it, even in a digital space where it's basically free for them to do.  

And then additionally, for a lot of actual intellectual property, characters, or universes and such, we have what are called orphan works, where nobody actually knows who owns the copyright , or it's split across multiple different parties and there's no way to license such a thing. And that's just a real shame for that to happen. 

The last thing I wanted to touch on was about Mickey Mouse in staying exclusively Disney's copyright. I'm not sure that Mickey Mouse itself is in particular is a bad one for Disney to retain. I will say that when you look at the creative space around, say, the Star Wars or Star Trek expanded universes, where they're very liberal with their licensed work, so pretty much allowing whoever wants to use them to get that license and go ahead and use it. You can see some very creative works of fiction and other expansions on the universe. And they don't actually detract from the original conception of everyone else. There's just something else out there that people who enjoy it can find to explore. 

Anyways, that's all. Thanks for everything you do, Jay! Take care.

Final comments to say thanks

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:19:45] Thanks to all those who called into the voicemail line or wrote in their messages to be played as a VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record a message at (202) 999-3991 or write me a message to [email protected]

That is going to be it for today. Thanks as always to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Yeah. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Dan, and Ken for their volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, and on and on. And thanks again, of course, to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support as that is absolutely how the program survives. 

For details on the show itself, including links to all of the sources and music used in this and every episode, all that information can always be found in the show notes on the blog and likely right on the device you're using to listen. So coming to you from far outside, the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left Podcast coming to you twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.

 


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