[iDC] Google Buzz and the Surveilance Economy

Elijah Saxon elijah at ucsc.edu
Fri Feb 19 07:49:59 UTC 2010

On 02/14/2010 06:23 PM, Christian Fuchs wrote:

> Google Buzz: Economic Surveillance – Buzz Off! The Problem of Online
>  Surveillance and the Need for an Alternative Internet

I think we can be more blunt!. I suggest "surveillance capitalism" now
that surveillance has become the primary business model of the internet.

> As a result, more and more precise user data and aggregated data can
>  be sold to advertising clients that provide the users with 
> personalized advertising that targets them in all of these everyday 
> situations with information about potential consumption choices.

One aspect of Buzz that is particularly interesting is the marriage of
expanded surveillance with the ideology of open systems [1]. The key
technical innovation of Buzz is its embrace of open protocols [2].
Google's long term strategy is to break the data-silos of facebook and
twitter by making social information an open protocol, like email,
rather than a privately controlled commodity.

Of course, the silicon valley ideology around web 2.0 has always had
these two aspects fused together: open systems, one the one hand, and a
recognition that "users add value", on the other [3]. Yes, users add
value, and their labor is free, but they add even more value if you can
monetize the data you collect on their behavior. In some ways, I think
these twin aspects are inseparable [4].

On 02/15/2010 08:14 AM, Andreas Schiffler wrote:

> Attempting to rebuild the internet, as you suggested, seems like a 
> daunting, time consuming task.

And an Orwellian one. One of the goals of the Clean Slate project [5] is
to create new designs for the internet that will facilitate lawful
surveillance. Ever since the clipper chip debacle, it should be clear
that you can either build a system that is secure, or you can build one
that facilitates surveillance but is broken and vulnerable, but there
is not any middle ground.

> While we wait, I'd like to suggest some links for practical measures 
> every Mozilla user can take immediately: limit exposure one ad at a 
> time with http://adblockplus.org, then mess with the search trail 
> emanating from your IP with http://mrl.nyu.edu/~dhowe/trackmenot/.

At riseup.net, we also suggest people use these firefox plugins:

http://googlesharing.net/ -- all your google traffic gets routed through
an encrypted proxy and then you are assigned an open cookie from a pool
of cookies that is shared with all the other googlesharing users. So
far, this is the best available defense against google tracking.

http://taco.dubfire.net/ -- easily maintains the opt-out cookie for 90
behavioral surveillance ad services.

Individual solutions, however, only go so far. We don't want people to
get distracted by online technologies of the self. Labor intensive
"privacy hygiene" is not going to solve the systemic problem, and has in
some cases been probable cause for increased surveillance from the state

I do believe, however, that much of the solution is technical. One of
the primary goals of riseup.net is to provide alternatives for social
movements that are easy to use but are also automatically more secure
without any added user intervention. In addition to email, mailing
lists, and social networking [7], one new service we are testing is
personal vpn [8]: you install the client once, and then all your traffic
is securely routed to riseup.net before it goes out onto the internet.
This allows you to bypass deep packet inspection, censorship, location
tracking, p2p blocking, and a whole host of ways in which corporations
and states are breaking the internet.

On 02/14/2010 06:23 PM, Christian Fuchs wrote:

> It might be time for thinking more about strengthening alternative
> Internet platforms and the potentials for constructing an alternative
> Internet.

Here here! A growing number of us are working to do just that.


[1] http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/12/meaning-of-open.html


[3] http://oreilly.com/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html


[5] http://cleanslate.stanford.edu/

[6] http://zine.riseup.net/assets/digital_security_for_activists.pdf

[7] https://mail.riseup.net, https://lists.riseup.net,

[8] https://we.riseup.net/riseup/testing-personal-vpn

Elijah Saxon
Sociology PhD Student
University of California at Santa Cruz

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