The dirty business of refining extremely low-grade data

This metaphor by Cory Doctorow for the “externalities” of the dominant advertising-based business model of the internet is simply brilliant!

It’s as though Mark Zuckerberg woke up one morning and realized that the oily rags he’d been accumulating in his garage could be refined for an extremely low-grade, low-value crude oil. No one would pay very much for this oil, but there were a lot of oily rags, and provided no one asked him to pay for the inevitable horrific fires that would result from filling the world’s garages with oily rags, he could turn a tidy profit.

A decade later, everything is on fire and we’re trying to tell Zuck and his friends that they’re going to need to pay for the damage and install the kinds of fire-suppression gear that anyone storing oily rags should have invested in from the beginning, and the commercial surveillance industry is absolutely unwilling to contemplate anything of the sort.

You can read the whole post here, worth a couple of minutes of your time. Cory is known for his criticism of mass surveillance—policy with a business model— and it’s been clear for years that amassing huge dossiers on everyone who used the internet would create real problems for all of society that would dwarf the minute gains these dossiers would realise for advertisers. Maybe nothing new, but remember that metaphors matter.


Featured Image: Owen P. Oily Rag

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