If you got swag in the Matrix, you’re broke here.

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“Totalitarianism is not only hell, but all the dream of paradise– the age-old dream of a world where everybody would live in harmony, united by a single common will and faith, without secrets from one another. … Once the dream of paradise starts to turn into reality, however, here and there people begin to crop up who stand in its way, and so the rulers of paradise must build a little gulag on the side of Eden. In the course of time this gulag grows ever bigger and more perfect, while the adjoining paradise gets even smaller and poorer.”
– Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Schufa, the credit rating agency in Germany, which is run as a public company, wants to use data from social networks to determine private individuals’ credit worthiness [Sorry, no English link available yet. Google's translated version is almost decipherable]. Some are going to see in this capitalism’s reconstruction of the individual for its own purposes. There’s something to that, but it’s been done.

Let’s try this instead: the medium is the message, and Facebook is just a medium for people to market a certain version of themselves, the identity that they’d like to have. Schufa just wants to wiretap the medium. Facebook is fun as long as it’s just playing dress-up. Look at me, mom, I have a sword! I’m a Jedi/pirate/knight/Viking/gladiator/samurai! It’s paradise because it’s transparent, but it just lets others see your idealized version of yourself, which need not be real. The medium is free and easily modified, so the message is frivolous and incorporeal. What happens when Schufa makes it real, when it has consequences, when, if you claim to be a Viking, you’re expected to pillage a village or go back to Vinland? All of a sudden the Monopoly money becomes real, so how’s your portfolio looking? Hope you’ve got a couple of railroads/rich uncles. 

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8 Responses to If you got swag in the Matrix, you’re broke here.

  1. English link to story here. Key quote:

    NDR said Schufa would gather data on relationships, listed interests, addresses and other private details from a range of online media sources including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

    “Web-generated information will be linked to other information through Schufa and evaluated from a business perspective,” NDR quoted extracts from Schufa’s project proposal as saying.

    I would be very surprised if this kind of thing isn’t done already by others, which would mean that this story is really a pitch for the “Pirate Party” in Germany which supports privacy, etc. Supporting this belief is the fact that 1/2 of the news story is indeed about the Pirate Party.

    • Or says:

      I’m not sure if this has changed, but as of a couple of years ago, anybody using an app on Facebook allowed it to see their list of friends and their friends’ lists of friends. Which means you only need a very small number of users to install a sketchy app in order to piece together the global network topology before Facebook shuts you down, so somebody out there has almost certainly mined that data to predict things about you based on who you know even if you have an empty profile and zero activity.

    • Guy Fox says:

      You’re probably that, even if the idea came from elsewhere, the Pirate Party is going to be the massive body around which the rest of the story gravitates. The response of the Christian Democrats, who are now saying that they need to stomp such practices with EU regulations, is even more informative. For ideological (e.g. we want to do the same thing for internal security) and demographic (old, non-tech savvy voters) reasons, they normally wouldn’t care, but even they are worried about the Pirates eating their lunch.

      Party politics aside, here’s a metaphor that kind of captures where I’m coming from: remember those bar code tattoos that seemed so popular about a decade ago? Well, it’s as if your friends are the ones inscribing that bar code on you, each gets a line or two, but only those with tricked out tech and much to gain can read them. Thou art thy brothers keeper, and Schufa shall judge thee.

  2. bogart says:

    What if, instead of hating the demo that likes Real Housewives, I hate the demo that uses Facebook. Maybe, you might think, it’s for all the same reasons mentioned here.

    The problem, though, is becoming less about me and more about them. The Facebook demo is causing the reality outside of itself to change, it’s not self-contained, even if you opt out and focus on more productive things, the tentacles of the Facebook demo are still reaching you – and not in pleasing ways – they’re beginning to now wrap around my creditworthiness, among other things.

    What to do?

    At some point: “A man who cannot bear to be tattooed in a society where everybody is tattooed is out of luck; in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man must put out his remaining eye to stay alive.”

    And this, my friends, is the cause of the hate: In the not too distant future, I know I must pluck out my remaining eye to stay alive – and I really don’t want to do that!

    But hate is just the first respondent emotion, it’s not very well articulated nor directed. Maybe it’s helplessness, the kind of feeling you would feel standing in line to be plugged into the Matrix, with no other options available…

    It’s becoming singular: you’re plugged in – there will be no other existence.

    • robotslave says:

      With or without Facebook, the people in a position to loan you money will also be in a position to figure out which economic caste you belong to.

      This was true in the imaginary small-town-America of the middle-distant past, it was true in the earliest hypothetical anarchist societies, and it was true in any Socialist community, real and imagined (though you might need to substitute “allocate” for “loan”, and “resources” for “money”, and “according to his ability-needs” for “caste”).

      But OK, sure, get mad at a Harvard grad who wears athletic attire in business meetings. We can all agree to hate on that, can’t we?

      • bogart says:

        It’s not about a Harvard grad who wears athletic attire, it’s about everyone who clicked “I Agree” to the “Terms” of service, a wholesale surrender of all Freedom and Dignity of yourselves, and very soon me too. What will we get in return? Slavery!

        Big Data! You have no idea – no idea – what people are working on now – now that they have access to such rich data at such a paltry price. Who would have thought: no demands; no uprisings; nary a complaint. It’s a gift from god, the Holy Grail, for anyone who wants to rule the world (the race has started). And it was just handed over to them…

        The genie is out of the bottle, the precedent is set, we’re already accepting it as the new normal, there’s no going back…

  3. robotslave says:

    There’s a certain charm in the naive assumption that any part of the data Schufa care about are to be found in the self-reported identity nonsense we’re all conditioned to reflexively sneer at when we hear the word “Facebook.”

    What finance firms care about is who you know (and Facebook does, for the most part, provide real names) and what their credit scores look like (which can be obtained elsewhere, provided real-enough names).

    This is completely obvious to anyone who does financial risk analysis, and utterly opaque to anyone who does journalism. Your social network maps directly, for all practical purposes, onto your financial safety net. Perhaps journalists are a bit willfully blind to this, but who can blame them, eh? Journalists do, by trade, have extensive social networks, after all.

    • bogart says:

      “What finance firms care about is who you know” – guilt by association?

      “Your social network maps directly, for all practical purposes, onto your financial safety net.” – except for when it doesn’t.

      The allure, not doubt, is tantalizing for big data, but is this where *we* really want to go?

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