Friday, January 25, 2019

Don’t blame Capitalism for Facebook ‘Scandals’

According to Jacob Silverman, The Facebook scandal isn’t really about social media. It’s about capitalism. He wrote for the Washington Post:

The Times’ reporting offers a necessary window into the surveillance economy and the emerging economic logic of “surveillance capitalism.” We are beginning to see how the trade in data — much of it done behind the scenes — is also an exchange of influence and power. We are becoming aware of companies’ astonishing information appetites, according to which all data is potentially useful. Even carmakers like Ford are beginning to tout consumer data as a major revenue stream on par with the selling of automobiles. In other words, the Times’ reporting doesn’t just implicate Facebook: It’s an indictment of the whole economic system in which we participate today.

I left these comments:

The “economic system in which we participate today” cannot be called capitalism. It is a mixed economy--a politically corrupted economy of government controls (statism) and limited economic freedom (capitalism), in which the government has almost unlimited power to dish out economic favors and punishment on behalf of politically privileged special interests. Often called “crony capitalism,” a more accurate name for today’s system is crony socialism.

Capitalism features a government that protects individual rights, but otherwise respects laissez-faire for those who violate no one’s rights. Information gathering for commercial purposes is not inherently bad. It’s good in that it enables companies to more effectively meet consumers’ desires. Abuses can occur, as in all areas of human endeavor. But abuses of the use of data--data used in ways consumers did not explicitly or implicitly consent to--is the province of law to deal with. If anything gets the blame for the social media privacy scandals, besides the companies themselves, it’s the government for failing to keep the law up with an evolving economy. No, this is not about capitalism. Blaming capitalism for privacy breaches is like blaming freedom of the press for copyright infringements.* This is about modernizing our privacy laws. “Surveillance capitalism” sounds like another scare tactic to frighten us into even more statism.

* [The analogy I used in my original comment was “Christianity for the Catholic Church sex scandals.” But on reflection I thought the freedom of the press analogy worked better.]

Related Reading:

What is Capitalism—Ayn Rand

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