FaceBook and the McDonalds-izing of the Internet – plus Greece and Arizona

“Arizona is … a warning of what a state can look like when it’s run by talk-radio demagogues and their television cohorts.”
(Too bad they went with Rush Limbaugh and Chris Beck and not Jon Stewart.)

Here, for your horror and amusement, a roundup of some headlines and excerpts from the news of the last couple of days concerning FaceBook, Greece and Arizona – all in the one post as I am probably as sick of reading and writing about this stuff as you are of reading and thinking about it.

The truth is, I found the topics mostly either too aggravating (Arizona) or too complicated/outside my area of competence (Greece) to really have much worthwhile to offer beyond a handy crib sheet / set of links to what I found useful and interesting in my own reading.

I did feel that I might have something to offer on the matter of FaceBook. Most of the commentary I read focused on the threat to privacy angle or on FaceBook’s ambitious growth strategy – and covered these topics fairly well.

But I also thought these were not perhaps the most interesting or troubling aspect of FaceBook’s recent moves. The most interesting – and most negative – aspect was what I guess we could call the McDonalds-izing of the internet – which seems to be not just a scary scenario but actually the heart of their strategy:

McDonalds – it’s everywhere you go, from San Francisco to Shanghai to Skopje, from New York to New Delhi to Old Blighty, and everywhere pretty much the same. It’s unhealthy, bland, culturally and nutritionally denuded and pumped full of pretty packaging and preservatives, salt and sugar to make up for its lack of taste, appeal and interest. It’s very cheap, and not worth it – but nonetheless becomes a big part of the diet of people who are locked out, scared off or ignorant of better choices. McDonalds: bland, banal, unhealthy, homogenized, corporate, ubiquitous.

To the extent that FaceBook succeeds in its ambitions, the internet will become a blander, more homogenized, and more regimented and commodified experience.

The computer world has seen other monopolies and hegemonies come (and sometimes go): Windows is not quite the force it once was, though it’s still pretty powerful; likewise Microsoft Office. Google clearly has hegemonic aims and seems to be doing a good job of achieving them, but that battle is not yet over.

But somehow, the idea of a hegemonic FaceBook seems to me somewhat more serious. I suppose because it is a social network, and has to a large extent taken over from IMing and email as a central means of communication for many people. And also become a major force in organizing groups, inviting people to events, sharing photographs, indicating likes and dislikes in shopping and other forums, and so on.

These were all activities that used to be enacted through separate platforms, sites and applications. Smaller sites operating in more competitive arenas, and generally with more responsiveness to their users than FaceBook has shown. And in many cases, at least initially, much less commercial, much less “monetized” and surveilled.

FaceBook hopes to end all of that, bringing all of those activities into its grasp, and analyzing and monetizing our every activity, and targeting us with ads tailored to our precise demographics and desires.

“One Site to rule them all…”

FaceBook

Despite my personal apprehensions (which are, naturally, well-founded and not at all the paranoid fantasies of some left-wing conspiracy theorist), the rest of the blogosphere has quieted down a bit where FaceBook is concerned, after the first rush of responses – positive and negative – to announcements at FaceBook’s developers’ conference. The two main interests continue to be the privacy issue, on the one hand, and evaluations of the new developments from a technical and business perspective on the other; on both, we may have to wait a little while for more in-depth discussions.

In the meantime, here’s PC Magazine chiming it with its advice on securing some privacy in the wake of FaceBook’s changes:

Facebook Privacy: 8 Ways to Protect Yourself: pcmag.com — You want to use Facebook, but you also want to keep your private information from being spread all over the Internet. The key is to understand how Facebook works, where your information is going, and how to navigate the service’s labyrinth of privacy controls.

(via Digg.com.)

Early last month, before FaceBook’s developers’ conference, Bruce Schneier, one of the most respected commentators on computer security, wrote of the issue of privacy and control, specifically addressing FaceBook:

In January, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg declared the age of privacy to be over. A month earlier, Google Chief Eric Schmidt expressed a similar sentiment. Add Scott McNealy’s and Larry Ellison’s comments from a few years earlier, and you’ve got a whole lot of tech CEOs proclaiming the death of privacy — especially when it comes to young people.

It’s just not true. People, including the younger generation, still care about privacy.

Read the whole discussion of “Privacy and Control” in Schneier on Security.

An article in The New York Times on a new extreme sport fun run – “Tough Mudder” – parenthetically provided a concise picture of just how targeted FaceBook ads already were, how well they knew us, before this current round of changes:

The [Tough Mudder] Web site went online in early February, and $8,300 was spent on Facebook ads aimed at specific demographics — young professionals, runners and extreme athletes, police officers and firefighters, and those in the military who lived in the vicinity of Allentown and within 50 miles of New York and Philadelphia.

(via NYTimes.com.)

Imagine what they’ll be able to do once they know your every like, your every move.

Enough of that… Here’s what’s been happening in the less important realm of offline events. (For some reason, the mainstream news media has been paying a lot more attention to Greece and Arizona than FaceBook…)

Greece

Greece nears deal for ‘€120bn rescue’: “Greece’s embattled government was tonight engaged in desperate negotiations to thrash out what is expected to be the largest bailout in history.

The ruling socialists conducted fierce horse-trading with experts from the EU, European Central Bank and IMF amid mounting pressure for further austerity measures in return for a reputed €120bn (£104bn) in aid.

….

In a week that has seen Greece’s turmoil not only worsen but spread across Europe, the prospect of a deal was met with immediate relief. In Athens the stock exchange rebounded after days of dramatic losses with the general index up nearly 8%. Pressure on Greece in capital markets also dropped with the spread on Greek 10-year bonds narrowing to 6.48 percentage points over their German equivalents from 10 points on Wednesday.

However the spectre of more austerity measures to keep bankruptcy at bay was greeted with anger from the country’s labour force. Unions announced further stoppages – including a 24-hour general strike on 5 May.

….

After the toughest austerity programme the country has seen since the second world war – a mix of wage cuts and tax hikes – the income of the average Greek is down nearly 20%, with low- and middle-income earners especially hard-hit.

Mounting anger over the perceived inequity of the measures has created a febrile climate as crime has also risen and the mood in city centres has become increasingly edgy.

There is widespread speculation that the IMF will pour further fuel on the fire by demanding that the government steps up the unpopular policies to rein in a public sector deficit of 13.6% and €300bn debt over the next three years.

Among the measures under consideration is said to be a 2 to 4 percentage point hike in VAT from 21% currently, a further 10% increase in levies on fuel, alcohol and cigarettes, and a cut in bonuses.

(via guardian.co.uk.)

Greece may need €150bn rescue, analyst warns: “Economist says current €45bn bailout will not cover country’s borrowing needs but believes Europe is unlikely to come up with extra funds

(via Business | guardian.co.uk.)

Greece’s fiscal woes threaten the U.S.: “Los Angeles Times – By Don Lee – Apr. 29 (News Report) – A widening financial crisis in Europe is threatening to put a damper on the economic recovery in the U.S. and abroad just as the American economy is gathering steam.”

(via NewsTrust.)

Greek rescue is ‘matter of survival’: “Greece’s PM tells opponents of €120bn bailout that the stringent austerity measures are necessary for the ‘protection of the country’

The Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, today called the country’s austerity programme a matter of national survival….

…measures expected in the IMF’s three-year austerity programme are the end to collective bargaining – bound to cause opposition from Greek unions – a two percentage point rise on VAT and the scrapping of public sector bonuses amounting to two months’ extra pay.

…A general strike – the third this year – has also been called for next Wednesday. ‘We want to help the country exit the crisis but if the government continues with these policies that hurt workers only, we have no other choice but to oppose them with all our might,’ said Ilias Iliopoulos, head of the civil servants’ union….

Although most Greeks understand the severity of the crisis, and appear willing to accept some belt-tightening, the latest measures are widely seen as a step too far. Echoing the public’s growing anger, Alexis Tsipras who heads the radical Left party, lashed out at Papandreou. He said the reforms would unleash untold misery on Greece. ‘These measures will bring disaster to this country,’ he told parliament. ‘Not since the second world war has Greece seen anything as catastrophic.'”

(Via guardian.co.uk.)

Last word on the situation in Greece has to go to that sexy beast, Paul Krugman: “To understand the euro-mess — and its lessons for the rest of us — you need to see past the headlines…” And he has an Op-Ed column on “The Euro-Trap” to help with that.

I must say, I like the euro. I like the idea of unity, of breaking down borders, of de-nationalism that it seemed to represent. I certainly liked the simplicity it brought to traveling in Europe. As for the problems that Krugman raises… well, I’m not really able to comment competently. But I will say this: I tend to think most things having to do with “economy,” particularly those having to do with stock markets, are a crock, a con, a shell-game, and I think the debacle of the global financial crisis and the antics of Goldman Sachs that are now coming to light tend to support this view.

Arizona

Desert Derangement Syndrome – by Timothy Egan: “… [Jon] Stewart, the Mark Twain of our day with a New Jersey quirk or two, got it right with his meth lab jab. But Arizona is more than a laboratory for intemperate times: this place is a warning of what a state can look like when it’s run by talk-radio demagogues and their television cohorts.

The crackpot laws owe their genesis to the crackpots who dominate Republican politics, who in turn cannot get elected without the backing of crackpot media.

Arizona has always had a Looney Tunes side: who can forget Governor Evan Mecham, the car dealer with the bad toupee who used a tired insult to describe black children, told a Jewish audience that the United States was a “Christian nation” and canceled the holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He made history of a sorts: the first American governor to be removed from office by impeachment in nearly 70 years.

(via Opinionator Blog – NYTimes.com.)

Ariz. Sheriff Says He Will Refuse to Enforce Immigration Law: “abcnews.go.com — An Arizona sheriff said today that he has “no intention of complying” with the state’s controversial new immigration law, calling it “abominable” and a “national embarrassment.”

(via Digg.com.)

Officer sues over immigration law: “A police officer in Tucson, Arizona, asks that local law enforcement be exempt from enforcing the state’s new immigration law in a lawsuit filed in federal court on Thursday. Officer Martin H. Escobar claims in the suit that the law will ‘seriously impede law enforcement investigations and facilitate the successful commission of crimes.'”

(via NewsTrust.)

Immigration Law Ignites Fury In Mexico: “Mexico’s government has strongly condemned Arizona’s controversial new anti-illegal-immigration law. Political leaders say Mexico must send a strong message to Washington that harassment of its citizens in Arizona will not be tolerated.”

(via digg.com: Stories / Popular.)

Arizona’s Immigration Bill: Views From Across The Border: “Arizona’s new immigration law has provoked impassioned reactions across the border in Mexico and Canada. Mexico’s Foreign Ministry warned Mexican tourists to keep passports and visas on them at all times in Arizona to avoid being ‘harassed.’ Commentators and authorities in Mexico and Canada respond to Arizona’s new immigration bill.”

(via digg.com: Stories / Popular.)

Un-American Activities – by Paul Krugman: “So Rep. Duncan Hunter wants to deport people born in America — if their parents were illegal immigrants.

As everyone who knows anything about the Constitution knows, this would be unconstitutional: if you were born here, you’re a citizen, no matter who your parents were.

But it’s not just a matter of the letter of the law: it’s about who we are as a nation. What America means to me is a land in which you are judged for yourself — not by your race, your ethnic origins, or what your parents do. Saying that citizenship depends on whether your parents were here legally crosses a fundamental line; it’s not far from there to making all kinds of rights hereditary rather than inherent in the simple fact that you were born in the USA.

It fits in, of course, with the idea that people can be arrested if they aren’t carrying the right papers — or be implanted involuntarily with microchips.

Anti-immigration fever is deeply un-American — at least as I understand America.”

(via Paul Krugman Blog – NYTimes.com .)

Baseball union hits out over Arizona: “Professional baseball players’ union hits out at Arizona’s immigration law for its ‘negative impact’ on America’s pastime

Opposition to Arizona’s immigration law is springing up from all quarters, including an unlikely duo of Shakira and Florida’s former Republican governor Jeb Bush, the brother of George W. And the players of America’s national pastime, baseball, have added their opposition to the law that makes it a crime to be in the state of Arizona….”

(Via guardian.co.uk.)

The New Arizona: “From Bring the Ruckus – By Joel Olson
In the midst of the Arizona state government passing the most outrageous anti-immigrant law since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, several happenings pass unnoticed by the national media. At a packed Flagstaff City Council meeting discussing the law, waves of people declare publicly that they are undocumented, practically daring law enforcement officers to arrest them. At the same meeting, a member of a radical immigrant rights group receives thunderous applause for demanding the repeal of all anti-immigrant laws and declaring the right of all people to ‘live, love, and work wherever they please.’ Even the most conservative city councilman admits he liked the notion. Down in Phoenix, high school students spontaneously organize a school walkout through mass texting, without direction from the established immigration reform organizations. This infuriates the organizations because it pre-empts ‘their’ planned protests. And then these same students chuck water bottles at cops when they arrest one of their own.

Welcome to the new Arizona….

(Via Anarchist news dot org – News for anarchists and their friends.)

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