Tech, Treat and Trick


            New Orleans       When it comes to Big Tech these days, we live in their world, and they are constantly putting that fact right in our faces.  Their mission seems to be to make every day Halloween.  If you want their treat, though it might seem freely offered, there’s a trick somewhere embedded in the mess.  They mask up as good guys, doing no evil, making the world a better place, blah, blah, blah, but it’s really all about them and a pile of greenback dollars.

Many have made the point that we aren’t tech consumers, but actually the product many of them are selling.  Our hopes for privacy are reshaped into their business plan for profit.  Recently, tech scholar, Times’ columnist, and resident seer of modern life in my book, Zeynep Tufekci made this point in spades about default settings for various applications.  She starts with Venmo, the cash transfer system so popular among younger people, as a case in point.  Through a bizarre carom she reads in the Guardian about how lawyers donated to Clarence Thomas for a Supreme Court Christmas party via Venmo, because, now pay attention to this, its transactions are public, unless you have made them private through a byzantine procedure.  Big whoops all around!  Venmo, like the rest of the tech tribe, takes no responsibility, and claims that it is up to the users to protect their privacy, not the company.  It’s a seven-step procedure that she hadn’t known, and believe me 95% of Venmo users would find this to be big news as well, I bet.

Is this a tech industry trick that is the industry norm?  Oh, yeah!  Apple in April 2021, as she relates, finally changed the default setting on iPhones and other of its devices, so unique identifiers on the phone wouldn’t allow customer tracking, ending the user struggle to eliminate the default.  Turned out that Facebook/Meta alone said it would lose $10 billion last year because of this Apple move.  In its current antitrust trial, Google revealed “it paid $26.3 billion in 2021 to be the default search engine on various platforms, with a substantial portion of the money going to Apple.”  It was also “paying Apple 36% of its search advertising revenue to be its products’ default search engine.”

They aren’t the only ones playing this trick or treat game.  Hewlett-Packard printers are a notorious example, where they sell the printers cheaply, but the ink expensively, and shutdown the machines often or stall them, when you try to use ink that isn’t their brand.  The ink, frequently, costs more than the original computer.   With Amazon, you’ll suddenly find that you have Amazon Music and never signed up for it, or Optic on Fire TV, same deal.  Some of this mess is even more serious than being fleeced a couple of dollars here and there.  New documents show that Meta/Facebook deliberately designed its products “to take advantage of young users’ brains.”  Scary, but true.

It goes on and on like this.  Tufekci is uncomfortable that it’s only through the graces of Tim Cook, Apples’ CEO, that iPeople aren’t being tracked now…sorta.  She speaks for billions on that score, arguing we need real regulation, if we could get Congress to stop playing footsie with the techies for campaign donations.  The last part is more my words than hers, but it comes down to the same thing.  She hopes the default, if the feds don’t do their job, might be California and Colorado, but, hey, what about the rest of us?  We need privacy, too, don’t we?  A friend of mine’s son noted his dad had never gone on YouTube.  It was funny for a minute, but maybe he had his reasons.  Reading this, you have to wonder.