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Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Birthday Present I Don't Need

     My fellow dinosaurs on the internet may have heard about some trendy website called Instagram (hereafter referred to as Instaspam), the demon spawn of Facebook. It's one of those hot new domains we hear about from online friends and news articles about five times a day that nonetheless remains tucked away in the recesses of our uncool, reptilian brains, thereby insulating us from opening an account in a desperate, pathetic attempt to be trendy and "with it."
     Apparently, our forbearance, however prescient, was the right choice as not signing up with Instaspam has proven to be beneficial for those of us who may have had a problem with FB's spawn essentially self-dealing itself the right to appropriate your images, sell them to advertisers and to do so without any compensation or notice whatsoever. The backlash was literally immediate. Within hours of Instaspam announcing the new TOS on their blog, people began deleting and pledging to delete their Instaspam accounts. The backlash was so fierce that Instaspam was forced to rescind the policy that would've taken effect on my birthday, January the 16th.
     Ironically, this is also the date chosen by Chicago School of Economics godmother, Ayn Rand, in the only play she ever wrote, The Night of January 16th. It was based in part on the suicide of corrupt industrialist Ivar "The Match King" Kreuger, who killed himself when his business empire began to crumble under charges he'd worked in collusion with various governments to corner the match market. Rand, typically, recast Kreuger as a tragic victim and businessman of vast ambitions in her play. In a final irony, much as in Thornton Wilder's more famous play, Our Town, different audience members are invited to participate by playing the jury.
     In a mockery of Rand's usual mantra of a man's right to establish and declare his self-worth in the world, Fakebook and Instaspam have proven just how little they regard the individual rights and worth of its users with their new policies by boiling it all down to the mere monetary value of those rights and individual sovereignty with their grubby and borderline creepy money-making schemes. (As proof of this, Fakebook took away their users' right to vote on their new policies when they saw the backlash to them. Highly popular FB user George Takei, for instance, has been very vocal about these ridiculous scams disguised as policy changes. Takei's intern was infamously suspended last May and the image abruptly taken down when some troll(s) reported him for obscenity.).
     For months now, Fakebook gave itself the right to use your likeness for ads and, in the wake of the Hindenburg of an IPO that made lots of money for "favored investors" like Mark Zuckerberg and Paypal founder Peter Theil while leaving smaller investors holding the bag, began charging people to get their updates to the top of the inboxes of their FB followers. Now, in the next phase of harvesting money from people they still designate as users instead of paying subscribers (hence no chance of sharing in the IPO money), they're allowing others, including people you never friended such as spammers and advertisers, the chance to insert their spam into your inbox for the price of one thin dollar, which is over twice the cost to mail a letter and exactly one dollar more than it costs to send off an email. But if you're a corporation with deep pockets, then that dollar multiplied by thousands or even millions becomes a very cost-effective strategy that stovepipes spam directly to victims (Despite a survey last June that showed most users ignore ads they see on FB, leading them to spend less time on it.).
     This is essentially paid stalking, made legal by a typically ass-covering TOS that contradicts itself by capriciously suspending through its lazy algorithm users who've been reported, usually by trolls, for inappropriate friending. Paying Fakebook to allow you to actually insert yourself in the inboxes of people you neither know nor who follow you, is a way of paying FB a bribe to keep from getting suspended for 7, 14 or 21 days or outright banned.
     Meanwhile, if you're Firedoglake, for instance, and you wish to get your latest, legitimate, updates to your many followers, the cost to ensure reaching all of them could easily run in the thousands, which is plainly prohibitive to a liberal blog that's always running pledge drives to pay for bandwidth or to one cause or another. As PCWorld says,
The immediate concern with $1 messages is that it could open the door to spam or other unwanted messages—for instance, harassment from an ex-boyfriend or bullying students—even if that's not Facebook's intent. And now that there's no way to prevent non-friends from sending messages, there's no way for users to opt out of getting paid messages.
     You read that right- there's no way to opt out of these paid features, because that would infringe on the rights of capitalism and the free market. And in a broader sense, when one thinks of Rand's much-ballyhooed and much-maligned Objectivism, it's difficult to see how Rand could reconcile the championing of the rights of individual man with the sociopathic, bottom line-driven needs and ambitions of corporations whose last concerns are empowering individuals and promoting the common welfare. Perhaps the people that Rand sought to empower were merely those like Zuckerberg who have the rapacious enterprise to harvest money from hundreds of millions of "users" without even giving them the basic right to opt out save for deleting their FB accounts as I had this summer and certainly with no thought to bring them in as paying partners.
     It's a classic case of Fakebook and Instaspam not seeing the forest for the trees. While people are capriciously banned and suspended for stalking and spamming every day with no real apparatus to redress ones grievances or to appeal a software-generated decision, Fakebook nonetheless opens the door for spammers and stalkers who have the money to reach those who want nothing to do with them.
     And under Instaspam's short-lived revised TOS, they reserved for themselves the right to not even designate as a paid advertisement advertisements that would've used your images in order to trick your followers into clicking on the ads. While there are certainly millions of other things for which we ought to be reserving our anger and loathing, such as drone strikes, the counterproductive fight over the so-called fiscal cliff, Obama's insistence on keeping us in Afghanistan, an onerous health care "reform" bill and the president's willingness to put Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare on the butcher's block, it's easy to see how this would infuriate IG and FB users who increasingly see themselves as sheep who are looked upon by these internet behemoths as merely a flock to be sheared of revenue.
     And regular internet users have probably noticed, just in the past year, how more viciously aggressive and devious advertisers are getting. You may have noticed the little box at the top right corner of a pop-up ad isn't a way to x out the ad but is merely part of the enabling link that doesn't close but open up the ad or a mouse click on any part of a page automatically opens up an ad in a new, minimized window that immediately disappears but stays active unless you hunt for it, and are forced to look at it, when you go to x it out. At least half to two thirds of all Youtube videos force you to sit through at least five seconds of half minute or minute-long ads before your video starts. All this, as Fakebook proved, is guaranteed to do is to drive ad-weary users away from their favorite websites.
     And perhaps comedian Lee Camp has the final word on the subject in his latest Moment of Clarity, a morality tale of what happens when corporations, and we proles, do things strictly for money.

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