1. Whatever can be digitized will be
2. Whatever can be informated will
3. Every digital application that can
be used for surveillance and
control will be used for
surveillance and control.
And now we are in the age of The
— or Surveillance Capitalism.
= the largest boycott
in human history
Blocking ads and tracking gives individuals
unprecedented leverage in the market.
This has been Mozilla’s calling from the start — or even before, going back to Mosaic, the first graphical browser, and the one that got the whole revolution started.
This calling is also desperately needed right now, because nearly the whole tech business world is in thrall of making us all super-slaves. Or worse: cattle bred to yield data, with a business model in the middle that is morally and technically repugnant, yet could not be more highly normal, entrenched and rationalized.
To illustrate this, I’ll borrow some images from the excellent video produced by our people in Hamburg, called…
… The Hidden Business of the Internet: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LcUOEP7Brc>.
Indeed, while the Internet was made for everyone…
… it is being hijacked by big corporations…
… which are turning people into products without their knowledge or consent.
As a result we are fully exposed, even in our own private spaces.
So, what we say here — Don’t let big corporations access your data — is a good sentiment, and an excellent differentiator for Mozilla and Firefox against their competition, and…
… “take back control” is a good message for the same reason: most people haven’t.
We are also up against an extremely entrenched system, that actually obeys some laws. Let’s visit those.
Shoshana Zuboff is a colleague of mine at the Berkman Center, and a Harvard Business School professor of long standing. She began in the 1980s, writing about the situation in which we now find ourselves. Here is what she started saying back when she wrote In The Age of the Smart Machine. Today these are known as Zuboff’s Laws. There are three.
Whatever can be digitized will be digitized. This is what happens when everything has a digital representation, so it can be processed by digital systems. Whatever can be informated will be informated. This means whatever can be put to use will be put to use. And because what can be done will be done… Every digital application that can be used for surveillance and control will be used for surveillance and control.
And as a result we now live in an age dominated by what she calls The Big Other, or Surveillance Capitalism. These will be unpacked in her next book, titled Master or Slave? The Fight for the Soul of Our Information Civilization, which will be published first in Germany in 2016. In fact she has been publishing her work first in German, then in English, at Frankfurter Allgemeine Fueilleton (Culture) section. I highly recommend her collection here: <http://www.shoshanazuboff.com/new/recent-publications-and-interviews/>.
To illustrate how The Big Other works to make us slaves, I present…
… a giant poster, produced by IBM and the analyst firm Aberdeen, called “The Big Datastillery.” What we see at the top is a mess of plumbing, nearly all of it pouring data into a giant hopper. The data is gathered from people, usually without their explicit permission, consent or awareness. Below the hopper is more plumbing for “distilling” the data. At the bottom we have this:::
— A conveyor belt of beakers filled by “distilled” marketing goop. Those beakers are human beings: you and me. The spigot on the left is “customer interaction optimization,” which offers no interaction at all. On the right is a “marketing optimization” spigot, with more of the same. To the right of that spigot, a beaker farts gas, which is collected in a funnel and fed back into the top. On the far right is a giant “137%” below which are two numbers from which the big one is derived. These say 6.2 and 2.6 percent, both of which, anybody who works in the business knows, are gross exaggerations, since response rates tend to run at less than 1% online. For Click Through Rates, it’s rhns down to the 100ths or 1000ths of 1%. Regardless of what the right numbers might be, their reciprocal numbers say that the beakers actually reject way more than 90% of what’s fed to them by this system.
So why, twenty years into the Internet we know today, do we still have this crap? The short answer is that the Web was designed that way.
The name for this design is Client-Server, which I am told was chosen because “Slave-Master” didn’t sound very good.
Another name for it might be calf-cow. Because that’s the relationship. We’re the calves that go to sites for the milk of HTML and cookies to follow us around. So how do we get from this norm today —
— to this aspiration for tomorrow, which I shot with my phone at the talk this morning. Calf-cow is not about user choice and control. In fact it’s about the opposite. If we want user choice and control, we’ll need to escape from the calf-cow model.
And we can, because we’ve done it before. Take a look at this slide, and think about open source. Mozilla was born of the open source movement, which was a very deliberate one. So let me give you some history on that.
You might think the term ‘open source’ has been around forever, but it has only been in common use since early 1998. That’s when a collection of geeks — myself among them — decided to make open source a thing. And Mozilla was right in the middle of it.
Before then, what we now call open source code was called “free software.” The term was confusing and didn’t take, because it required explanation: “Free as in freedom, not free as in beer.” We chose “open source” because it would be good for business, and business could understand it. If it took it would need no explanation at all.
So, when Netscape released the source code for what’s now Firefox, they called the source code open. I wrote about it in Linux Journal, above. That piece also contains one of the most remarkable one-liners ever uttered about technology. It came from Marc Andreessen, who said “all technology trends start with technologists.”
We have those. We can start technology trends, and we can start memes.
To show you what I mean about open source being nowhere as a meme before 1998…
… have a look at Google Books, which stops in 2008; but you see what happened.
Geeks did that. It was intentional. The world is talking about open source today because we decided to make that happen. And we did it with no Twitter and no Facebook. There were just websites and blogs and publishers we could spin.
And that wasn’t the only meme I worked on. Here’s another…
The Cluetrain Manifesto was a rant on the Web that became a book, by four guys. I was one of them. The term “cluetrain” didn’t exist before 1999. Now it’s in more than ten thousand books and mentioned on Twitter many times every day. Look it up.
We named the meme Cluetrain after an old Silicon Valley epitaph: “The clue train stopped there four times a day for ten years and they never took delivery.” We called it a Manifesto because that worked for Marx, and we came up with 95 Theses because that worked for Luther.
The most quoted thesis is the first one: “Markets are conversations.” That was mine. When you hear marketers or politicians talking about “joining the conversation,” that started with Cluetrain, and I was the guy who launched the meme. It’s also a chapter in the book. But the clue that mattered most came above all the theses. This is it:::
“We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it.” Chris Locke, one of the other three authors, came up with that one. It’s what energized the four of us and got us to put the Manifesto up on the Web.
What we were doing there was speaking as ordinary human beings, about what the Internet does for all of us: make us more powerful than any entity trying to control us. Especially in business.
But there was one problem with that statement: it wasn’t true. Our reach did not exceed their grasp, or we wouldn’t be beakers on a conveyor belt being filled with marketing goop. And we wouldn’t be calves to the cows of websites filling our browsers with tracking cookies and plugging us into a system of surveillance capitalism. So this is still a problem, and it might be worse than ever.
But we do have a chance to fix it, this next year. It might be our only chance. So let me tell you a bit more about how we’re going about making our reach exceed the grasp of those who want our data without our permission.
Cluetrain the website went up in Spring of ‘99. The book came out in January 2000, and was an immediate business bestseller. It still sells well, in nine languages.
In 2006, however, when I got a Berkman Center fellowship at Harvard University, I felt I needed to do something about the fact that the primary claim of Cluetrain wasn’t yet true: our reach did not exceed marketers’ grasp.
So I started ProjectVRM. The term VRM stands for Vendor Relationship Management. It’s the customer-side counterpart of Customer Relationship Management, the $50 billion business that gives us call centers and junk mail and has companies thinking they know how to relate to us when they don’t. They make the sound of one hand slapping, rather than one hand shaking another. I wanted to give customers a hand business could shake. And, since I had already been an editor of Linux Journal for ten years, covering countless new software developers, I knew how to evangelize an idea that developers could adopt. So I made ProjectVRM an evangelical one.
The idea behind VRM is to give customers tools and services that equip them with two things that help their reach exceed anybody’s grasp. One is Independence; the other os means for engagement. The end state we aim for is one we heard about on the stage this morning:::
The “Internet of Me.” You won’t get that without giving people both independence and means of engagement.
There are now many dozens of VRM developers around the world, working on VRM tools and services. Mozilla is one of them.
As we know, Mozilla has ambitions. Specifically, to unleash a wave of openness, empowerment, safety and independence. To help get there this year Mozilla hired The Searls Group — my consultancy — to help the Internet of Me happen. Naturally, to do that, we need —
Tools. This is another image I grabbed off one of the talks on screen this morning. What kind of tools?
We need tools for signaling, both ways, between demand and supply.
To achieve this ambition — illustrated by another slide from this morning — you need to give the individual powers she doesn’t have right now. (By the way, I’d rather not use the term “consumer,” because in the networked world we produce as well as consume)
Without those powers, people are still beakers. Calves. Slaves.
What do we need tools for? Let’s start here…
Data. Here’s another slide from this morning: “I am in control of my own data.”
How do we do that? Where does that data live, for example?
Many VRM developers are working on what we call personal clouds, or PIMS, for Personal Information Management Systems.
This slide comes from Phil Windley, a Ph.D. computer scientist who described different approaches to personal power in a book called The Live Web. On the lower right is personal clouds, a term that first appeared in 2014. It was one of many, but I like what this chart shows, which is decentralization. Clouds need to be personal and not just corporate. They need to be independent, but also support engagement. One example of how this will work is —
— “intentcast” to the whole market. For example, you can say you need a stroller for twins at the Epcot Center in the next two hours, and not have to go through any centralized system such as Amazon or eBay, though your signal might go to both. You drive. You do the advertising, while staying anonymous until you’re ready to do business. You are also in charge this way:::
“I live my online life on my terms.” Again from this morning.
What are those terms? Can you name one? Every day we “agree” to terms that are onerous, one-sided, and give us no choice if we want to suckle on the cow that requires them. This is NOT living our online lives on our own terms.
So here’s how we’re dealing with that in the VRM development community: We are writing terms we assert when we deal with companies.
These are sample terms that Customer Commons, a nonprofit spun off of ProjectVRM, is working on with the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard and other groups. What this says, for example, is that I’m only sharing data with the second party — the site — which can keep it as long as they want, but just for site use, as long as they respect my Do Not Track request.
Why would any site obey this? A few years ago — even a few months ago — this wasn’t even thinkable. Because we had no clout as individuals. No power. We were calves.
But not anymore. The reason comes down to two pairs of words: Ad blocking and Tracking protection. More of us every day are blocking ads and tracking. We do thatbecause want to drive our own browsers in our own ways and on our own terms.
Let me give you some background on how we got here.
This is a Google Trends record of searches for five terms used by the online advertising business, better known as adtech. As you see, none of these were in use before 2007.
Here are four more that showed up in 2010 and later. Now let me add one more term to these four: retargeting.
Here is how the same chart looks with retargeting added. Note that retargeting appeared in 2007 and only went up.
Retargeting is how this happened…
An Onoin story about retargeting.
Now look at this chart…
Searches for “how to block ads” rose along with with searches for “retargeting,” eventually outpacing the latter.
Correlation is not causation, but there is a lot of correlation here. The big issue s tracking. You can see that confirmed in this next chart:::
Note that searches for “ad blocker” go back as far as Google Trends goes, to 2005. Note also how it “do not track” appears in 2007 and then starts to take off in 2011, peaks in 2012 and falls off after that, while searches for ”ad blocker” hockey-stick. Let’s look a bit closer to the rest of what’s going on here.
Adblock was invented in Denmark by Henrik Aasted Sørensen, as what he called “a procrastination” project at his university. Adblock Plus came along in 2006. But interest stayed flat while interest grew around Do Not track, which was invented by these three guys: Sid Stamm, then of Mozilla/Firefox, and cyber security gurus Dan Kaminsky and Chris Saghoian. Chris was then at the Berkman Center. It got support as well, in various ways, from Apple in Safari, Microsoft in Internet Explorer and eventually even Google in Chrome. But in 2012 and 2013 the online advertising and publishing industries gave it the middle finger, and made life hell for Mozilla. Then here’s the key thing: after Do Not Track failed, and advertising and publishing failed to obey the obvious wlll of the people, those same people took matters into their own hands, and started blocking ads in droves. That’s why searches for “ad blocker” hockey-stick upward when it became clear that Do Not Track was a failure. And that’s why ad and tracking blockers are listed among our VRM developers. They provide independence.
This is from a PageFair/Adobe study published last August, and current through last June. This shows the same hockey-stick of interest and usage in 2012 and 2013, reaching …
200 million-plus people blocking ads. This is the largest boycott in human history. Not surprisingly, we now also have…
A war going on. Note how “adblock war” takes off as a search term in 2012, and grows in 2013. Here at Mozilla we have taken sides in that war, allying with those 200 million people — a population that is growing rapidly. We are also marketing our stance on tracking.
Here’s what we’re advertising in New York with large billboards right now.
Note how well that expresses exactly what we said in the Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999.
And yet, for all our good work, it’s still not true. This is why we need to do more than fight business as usual. We need to help business move past what clearly isn’t working for them. Because the fact is that tracking us in many ways is one big fail today, and ad blocking proves it. So does every privacy study you can lay your hands on. The whole market is rejecting it. So, while —
— Blocking ads and tracking gives individuals unprecedented leverage in the market. It also sets up Mozilla to do something positive for business, by equipping individuals not just to block ads, but to engage in better ways than ever before: to actually make this happen…
Put the individual in full charge of her online life.
This is a Mozilla aspiration, again borrowed from a slide show we saw this morning.
But it can’t happen if we’re busy fighting on one side of the adblock war against the very companies we need to have the woman in this image connect with.
On the other hand, if you look at what surrounds that woman as the Internet of Her Things, there are enormous opportunities to improve relationships with the companies that make and service those things.
Open source code for doing it already exists. Mozilla is the only browser maker in position to normalize those. Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft all want her in their silos.
So: here is our mission, copied out of one of our cool new t-shirts.
I’m here to tell you we can’t make this happen unless what’s good for each of us is also good for business.
Ad and tracking blocking are a clear signal to business of what’s wrong. Now we need to signal what can be right, by making tools for engagement and not just for independence.
Today the silo-makers — Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and the rest — have their own separate and controlling ways for each of us to deal with each of them. Only Mozilla is in a position to come up with tools for engagement that not only start with the individual, and give her unprecedented abilities to help business by helping herself. And our tools will be open and standard, so others can adopt them as well.
We have a real chance to lead here: to give individuals superpowers. It helps that there are hundreds of others already working on some of the pieces we need. But it will help a lot more if Mozilla is in the front of the parade.
I’ve laid out the future here — in The Intention Economy. It was published by Harvard Business Review Press in May 2012. What it describes are superpowers for individuals in the marketplace, and how that’s good both for people and business.
I would hardly change a thing in it today, except for the pioneering companies I use as examples. Because most of them, as tends to happen with pioneers, are gone. We need a new leader here: one that has millions of users already and wants to change the world for the better. Mozilla is it. Nobody else is in position to do the job, because only Mozilla works for each of us, and not for some company.
We’ve already let almost four years go by. Let’s make it happen now, before it’s too late for Mozilla, and for the world.