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Slavery 2.0: Them, Us, and Me

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There is an incredible post written by Karl Dubost here on his blog about Web 2.0 and it being ‘about you.’ It is amazing, and it is in French, but because it is so amazing, I will take some time and translate it for you. But go visit his blog, because this is his content, not mine.

I quit Flickr, much to the surprise of a number of people. The shock of my departure for those that appreciated my photography will not last more than a month or two. The first question that was asked to me was: “Why?” The answer is complex.

Everything started one morning with my reading an article on MSNBC (which also appeared in Newsweek) that started like this:

“Why is everyone so happy in Silicon Valley again? A new wave of start-ups are cashing in on the next stage of the Internet. And this time, it’s all about… you.”

The New Wisdom of the Web, Steven Levy, Brad Stone

The relatively long article insists that the new generation of web services have been created to be in service to you, do make you happy… If there is one thing I cannot tolerate in the field of customer relations, it is intellectual laziness. I do not think that Stewart Butterfield and Catherina Fake are either stupid, or naive. One does not drive a commercial enterprise like Flickr to the level that it currently, nor sell it to a multinational like Yahoo! if you do not have any business sense.

I’m not swallowing it. No, no, and no, it is not “all about me.”

All of the web 2.0 companies are there for commercial purposes, to exploit your personal data in order to bear them to fruit, sometimes even by getting you to pay for it. Technorati doesn’t respect robots.txt files, Google uses your content for the purpose of advertising, even if your content is under a non-commercial license, etc. We have to stop taking people for idiots. Using the concepts of liberty, creativity, of goodwill, of community in order to better take advantage of you, in order to better pump out of you what makes you a well-identified consumer is pathetic.

Slavery 2.0

We are seeing the birth of a new kind of slavery. In a chain of production, what often costs the most is manpower. In a society where the value of things is based on information, the market is searching for the best sources of it. Beforehand, marketing studies were expensive because they required a certain manpower, which was expensive. Finding out what kind of consumer you were, what your favourite vacation destinations were, what your favourite desert is – that is expensive, very very expensive.

But this is the new age of the web, the age where each of us spreads what we like or don’t like to the entire planet, and not only to our close friends. To give you an idea of what happens in reality, imagine that, as of the moment you wake up, there is a silent person next to you with a notepad that records everything that you read, that you seem to like or not like. This person will compile it every night and create a report in order to sell it. When you are really well-identified, they will send you an advertisement that will know how to reach you. It’s not an advertisement anymore, it’s a service!

Why do you think that companies are investing into “social networking” (the irony of the term) – no, not in order to help mankind, but because within it, there is a key of their commercial interests. Why are they betting on you? Because you are doing all this for free, or more precisely, you are taking the time and using your expertise without them needing to pay you.

Imagine for a minute that you consider your personal information to be a resource (like petroleum or minerals) and that you know how to exploit this resource. Certain people need your resources (personal information) to create products, so they negotiate a purchase price. If you don’t want to sell it, the buyer can’t do a thing (except when it’s a world superpower and they take over another in order to access its resources).

Certain countries still do it; all of the European countries have done it over the past few centuries. One of the results of this has been massive exploitation of minerals (pillaging) and of humanity (slavery) in these countries, which became colonies.

Because I want to exercise my right of choice and that I do not want to live in such a society, I am quitting. This has a “cost” like every other choice that you make against an institutionalized society. I am blocking their ability use my information for their own purposes, whichever they might be; I am leaving Flickr. Since we are in this new paradigm of information and social networking, the first pressure has come from the reaction of my peers. That is where the system can cause harm.

Therefore, I am sorry for all of you that consider it a convenience, but I am exercising my right, defined by their phrase: “It’s all about you.”

(See also: It’s not about you)

* Filed by Julien at 4:11 pm under random


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

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8 Responses to “Slavery 2.0: Them, Us, and Me”

  1. ella Says:

    I agree with everything he says, but at the same time I don’t see why a canny consumer shouldn’t be able to take advantage of the system they provide us with to our own ends. As long as you’re aware that there are numerous powerful bots taking and collating all this data in order to try and sell it back to us, why not take advantage. It’s sort of like customer loyalty cards – you’re giving them all that info, but it’s not necessarily for free – as long as you keep on taking the discount & cashing in on the points, and only using the card for stuff you don’t mind being attached to your personal info, then the consumer is still coming out basically ahead. Especially as they (ideally) use that info to provide us with more stuff we actually want as opposed to all the crap we don’t give a shit about. Members of our culture are doomed to spend hours every day staring at ads anyway, I don’t really see much harm in making those ads at least marginally more relevant. It comes down to giving them the information you want to give them, as a conscious decision.

  2. Boris Anthony Says:

    Ella, I don’t think it is Karl’s intention, and I know it is not mine, to say “do not use these services!” outright. Karl’s action and my words are purely to try to help raise people’s awareness so that they *can* make an informed decision. What offends Karl the most I think in all this is, as he says, the dishonest marketing and press (which is just advertising too).

    I still use all these services, and I know very well what is going on. I made my decision, and Karl made his.

  3. jpg Says:

    All that rationalisation for leaving Flickr? Please. To compare, in high-minded, wounded terms, the act of signing yourself up to various content-sharing websites to being dragged from your home halfway across the world to spend the rest of your days working in bondage – if you ever made it, that is – is utter tripe. And surely this laser-targeted personal advertising will only have an effect if you choose to buy the product it’s advertising. Hardly coercion, is it?

    OK, so maybe this is about “raising awareness” of seedy online marketing techniques. But really, if you sign up to all these sites without realising the potential drawbacks of releasing so much personal material, you’re a bit behind the times, no?

  4. Rob McDougall Says:

    Great article. I have been thinking around this issue for a few years now, and in my day-to-day internet usage, I try and be careful with what I sign up for – what I actually agree to. Although there are days when I’ll just go ahead and click “agree” without even looking at the T&C’s… I respect Karls decision to remove himself from the whole shebang but I think it’s a little drastic – there is a middle ground!

  5. ella Says:

    Well rock on for trying to raise awareness, that’s great. I’m just kind of perplexed as to why such consciousness raising is neccessary, as it all seems painfully obvious to me.

  6. mark - tartanpodcast.com Says:

    I say get over it already. Go find an alturistic society to live in and be happy.

  7. karl Says:

    I had not seen the replies.

    @ella: Why painful? Choices are part of life. There are roads we decide to take, dirt path, we prefer to walk on. It is a bit the same. I usually prefer to walk in the forest and on the country side more than on the path which has been drawn for me at Disneyland Park to attract me from the wheel to the restaurant and then to the shop.

    @mark: Nothing to do with an alturistic society. :) It seems that I have written in a way which led you to this conclusion. My main point is to have a bit more conciousness on what is really happenning and more to have a more ethics way of doing commerce. Web 2.0 is really « not about users » it is fully about my wallet, my consumers profile. Why not saying it upfront and then let people decide? Maybe many people would accept to be analyzed against a service. I just do not want services telling me that it is for a better life, that the services are free. Choice with conscience. Just. What. I’m. Saying.

    @Rob: What is the middle ground?

  8. You Will Not Always Matter « in over your head Says:

    [...] if everyone knew that I would make very little difference to their bottom line? If I choose not to share, or don’t know how to, I become less significant. There is a real cost to opting out of the [...]

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