Much like Chomsky’s explanation of the media in Manufacturing Consent, the tech media is an advertising vehicle for the practices and policies of the “elite technologists” and their conglomerates. Rather than investigate, think independently and critically, and demand accountability on behalf of the public, they preach conformity in myriad ways at the hands of their corporate masters.
When Google announced an external advisory council to “guide the responsible development and use of AI in our research and products” a small portion of the company’s employees published an open letter in protest of one of the council members. That member was Kay Cole Jones (KCJ), President of the Heritage Foundation, one of many think-tanks for the Koch brothers, and outspoken critic of LGBTQ rights. The fraction of employees voicing their concern, 81 at current count, seems marginal when considered against the company’s near 100,000 employees (per parent company Alphabet’s listed 98,771 in their Q4 filing). Perhaps each on-record employee accounts for 1,000 off-the-record ones, but there is something about the announcement that reveals Google’s real slogan, paraphrased, “Be Evil and Pretend Otherwise”.¹
Notably, none of the reporting journalists felt compelled to investigate deeper into these connections or even ask meaningful questions, all notions of injustice left at the PR door of “diverse perspectives”.
The Heritage Foundation is an instrumental tool in the Koch Brothers’ mission to push their political and economic policies, which equate to the maxim “all for me, none for you” (noted by Adam Smith and familiar to any Noam Chomsky readers). We could even expand on that maxim to be “all for me, nothing but death and misery for you”. A claim substantiated by multiple accounts, the most damning on-record being the crimes documented by investigative reporter Tim Dickinson for Rolling Stone Magazine.² These crimes have been refuted and denied by the Koch Brothers which is to be expected. Perhaps more revealing is the Koch Brothers’ direct admission of their political tactics via a leaked document.
Google’s appointment of KCJ highlights the company’s true motivations and intents, “all for me, nothing but death and misery for you”, under the typical and poor disguise of “diversity” that is frequently used by the tech industry elite to vindicate their frequent and morally-perverse decisions. In this instance, “diverse perspectives” was the operating euphemism.
Google has since disbanded the council, a move that fits into their perfected push-pull strategies,³ and the tech news sites, and media at large, had their notions of potential injustice predictably satisfied—the glimpse behind the corporate curtain forgot.
To return to the “all for me” maxim, a 2015 study found that “Google tracking infrastructure is on… 923 of the top 1,000 websites” establishing a substantial surveillance network for the company.⁴ Four years later and one can imagine the spread.
A sample browse across many tech news websites with the Tor browser revealed some compelling insights into that proliferation (click images to enlarge, then hover over to see any captions):
Tech Crunch / Engadget / Et al
Oath is a Verizon creation (AOL was acquired by Verizon) intended to launch Verizon into the surveillance capitalism pot.³
When it came to Ars Technica, we checked out their “Consent Tool” and discovered that they are part of the Condé Nast network—so what we discovered can be generally applied across all tech organizations that also belong.
Perhaps most depressingly, we discovered that Ars Technica, one of the most reputable and respected tech news websites, is not very different from the worst offenders of surveillance capitalism. And, whether knowingly or not, they are active participants. Be aware that many of these pop-ups we encountered are never visible or shown to visitors of other browsers because their browser is not effectively blocking the collection network—there’s no need to tell someone to stop blocking the network if it isn’t blocked.
If you want to replicate our results, then use the Tor browser and take a cruise around your favorite tech news websites.
The tech media could rise up against their masters and begin investigating the true means and purposes behind the technology products and privacy policies they push on people, they could make the arduous transition to being solely sources for journalism and advice rather than the most effective sales team a tech company has ever had. They would surely face a backlash from the industry and most would have to scale down their operations as a large portion, if not all, of their revenue would be temporarily cut off.
We are optimistic here at the blog and believe that, whatever is likely to occur, the tech media certainly has the power to help the world push back against this new “frontier of power”.³ With a steady and loyal viewership whose thoughts are formed from, and minds shaped by, the flow of articles produced across their platform, the tech media could be a formidable opponent to surveillance capitalists.
We’re guilty ourselves of often turning to these sources for any sort of news or investigation into these topics. A quick look through our articles will reveal a steady stream of quoted tech news sites (The Verge and Ars Technica being a majority). Where else is there to look? And real news is there, but it is buried under a mountain of ads and propaganda masquerading as such.
At the bare minimum, the tech media could at least be discussing these issues and raising the public awareness. That’s what we do here at the blog since we have yet to acquire the resources to transition away from our hosting company (Squarespace—a facilitator in surveillance capitalism) and onto our own infrastructure (a necessary step to better protect our own users from surveillance—readers can help speed up that transition by donating).
In the meantime, the result of the tech news sites’ journalistic failings is a “Wild West” for the tech industry as they run largely free and un-scrutinized.
But it’s not just a lack of scrutiny, now the tech media organizations have been roped into facilitating, generating, and increasing the power of the conglomerates by embedding surveillance capitalist tracking network technologies on their websites and forcing users to accept the same corrupt privacy policies.
The result is a barren landscape for truth and reciprocity.
It is imperative, for we are in a drought so severe that our minds, and very nature, may never recover.
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Shoshana Zuboff - The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (must read)
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¹ Tracinski, Robert. Bullying A Leftist Think Tank Pierces Google’s Carefully Cultivated ‘Don’t Be Evil’ Image. The Federalist: September 1, 2017.
² Dickinson, Tim. Inside The Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire. Rolling Stone: September 24, 2014.
³ Zuboff, Shoshana. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Public Affairs: 2019.
⁴ Altaweel, Ibrahim, Good, Nathan, Hoofnagle, Chris Jay. Web Privacy Census. Social Science Research Network: December 17, 2015.