“People that read Max Weber also read 50 Shades of Grey“, Amazon tells me. This is not true. But it works, I can now talk about the 50 shades of Protestantism, ask me about it, when you see me next.
Once upon a time Amazon sold mainly books. A couple of years ago, when Google started scanning the world’s supply of written words, many predicted that Amazon was on its way out. It had missed the next big innovation. But obviously being a social media corporate is not about innovation as much as it is about accumulating users. Amazon is now the “everything store”. It is hard to leave, and there’s simply no need to purchase goods anywhere else. Its users are captured in a space that only adds ease and efficiency to their boring lives.
Dancing crabs, pizza slices and party hats
All the while, Amazon has remained dominant in its original market. Though we all know that Amazon is as bad for books as batteries are for chickens, but as long as Amazon continues to “put consumers first“ people seem unconcerned about the long-term effects on intellectual life on this planet.
Two companies whose similar ideologies have been intercepted by reality are “don’t be evil”-Google and Facebook that only wants people to “like” and “share” random stuff. Since Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp last week, the only media software people seem to like less than the former is the latter.
WhatsApp – the cute (though recently slightly dysfunctional) independent app – that made the SMS feel like etching into a stone tablet and replaced human contact and emotions with an incredible collection of dancing crabs, pizza slices, party hats and rabbits is now seen as green virus, a data snatcher, and more pertinently: a sell-out! We seem to love all start-ups until they actually start behaving like corporations and sell out to conglomerates.
We know that conglomerates (alias monopolies) are, in the long run, bad for consumers and for public life. But social media conglomerates have escaped the scrutiny applied to steel, oil, and telecommunication giants. They prefer not to pay taxes and get away with it, they needn’t justify their actions against trade unions because they don’t really have any employees (WhatsApp has 55) and billions of users willing to test their products for free. They are not harassed with regulations because governments don’t understand the industry and seem to have a conflict of interest when it comes to protecting personal data “too much”.
Facebook says that it purchased WhatsApp to “make the world more open and connected“. This was quickly translated into “Facebook is the new NSA“ and “Facebook now owns your phonebook (and a about million more of your precious “cat selfies()”:http://tumblr.tastefullyoffensive.com/post/50589230060/cats-taking-selfies-previously-cats-stuck-in#.UwoyYEKwYk4)”. Economically, this was the obvious next step for a conglomerate that cannot afford to lose users or even have them swim outside the control of their tides, where beguiling competitors loom just below the surface.
What is not true is that the world is more open. Most Internet traffic is now trapped in completely closed spaces owned by Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple. These companies own our data, our movements, our habits, interests and secrets. Our response to WhatsApp’s purchase is heartening, to a point: like in the movie Inception, we have now exited the ‘deep’ level of the dream, and recognise these monopolies won’t act in our own interest for long. But we’re still in a dream where companies are the arbiters of our interest and freedoms.
Enough cash to sanitize sub-Saharan Africa
A notable new company to capture this idea is “Telegram”. Whilst this is insignificant to Facebook, Google and Amazon, it adds a new feature: secrecy. Currently, encrypting your emails is not only a bit of a hassle, but also makes you looks suspicious. But with 100 new users a second switching to Telegram, which allows you to send “secret messages“ and have them deleted automatically, encryption may come into common use.
Anyway, if you can’t revolt against your government or the NSA, why not take a swing at WhatsApp. Its previous owner now apparently have enough cash and Facebook shares to sanitize sub-Saharan Africa, or buy up the US Porn Industry just to shut it down. Or something.