Collateral Damage

The damage caused by aggregators to our economy, society and information is beyond our comprehension. They distort our economy, society and information through economic inequality, the aggregation of control, taking our privacy

Maps distort the territory

A street map which lies about the streets in a city doesn’t change the city. That’s because the city is independent of its maps.

Our economy, society and information, however, are highly dependent on aggregators’ maps because they’ve been created by them.

On literally trillions of occasions, we have used their maps to receive offers and choose our interactions. And because the maps were distorted, our choices were distorted.

Trillions of our choices have been distorted by aggregators. The damage caused is beyond our comprehension.

Economic Inequality

Capitalism creates and distributes wealth when markets are free and diverse.

For hundreds of years, newspapers, television stations, supermarkets, shopping malls, search engines and other aggregators have concentrated wealth with two-sided marketplaces which are centralized, homogeneous and distorted.

Aggregators may be the single largest driver for inequality in our economy.

Learn more: Economic Inequality


Control

Our economy, society and information have been centralized by powerful aggregators.

Learn more: Control


Collapse?

Bleeding the economy dry.

Of aggregators. Of the economy. You may have noticed that the two different strategies used by aggregators are at odds with each other – some maps are raising prices, others are lowering them. This cannot be sustainable in the long term and, therefore, there

parasitoid (noun): Any organism that is parasitic during part of its life cycle, especially one that eventually kills its host. (Wiktionary)

Learn more: Collapse?


Other Problems

My primary focus in looking at aggregators has been the economy, but other problems have been well-documented in recent years – privacy, misinformation and the impact on our relationships.

Privacy

We have lost privacy to aggregators because we’ve delegated our offer processing to them.

By typing our search terms into Google, for instance, we are revealing our criterion for information (because we’re asking Google to return results which are relevant to that criterion).

By sharing with friends and family through Facebook, we are revealing enormous quantities of personal information (because we’re asking Facebook to receive, store and transmit that information to the people we are sharing with).

The only way to avoid revealing our preferences is to either:

  1. broaden our search criterion (and post-process the results to find what we are really after and don’t wish to reveal), or
  2. do our own offer processing (and not use aggregators at all). [1]

Misinformation

For hundreds of years our maps of information have been biased by mass media’s heuristics (particularly the heuristic of being newsworthy or entertaining which is not the same as being important, valuable, admirable, educational, underrepresented or any other heuristic we may prefer to use).

Google’s application of one heuristic (popularity) to the entire public web has distorted the information found there. We produce information for Google (in order to rank on Google) not for other humans.

The information on Facebook is distorted by its engagement heuristic which prioritizes fake and sensational content that users have emotional responses to (and are prompted to engage with it).

This key problem with misinformation in these platforms is the single algorithm used for billions of people, giving bad actors the ability and incentive to game that algorithm and, therefore reach many people with misinformation.

The only solution is to:

  1. introduce diversity in the system (have each person choose their own maps based on their choice of algorithms), and
  2. allow trusted third parties to offer white, black and gray lists for content and content providers which our offerbots use to process information (which has problems of its own, but can be a step in the right direction).

Relationships

The attitude of moving fast and breaking things has, in some ways, broken aspects of our relationships.

Our relationships have become commidotized and simplified.

Friendship is a link. Dating is a swipe.

We’ve lost the art of conversation. People used to visit each other. Then they called before visiting. Then they stopped visiting and only called. Then they messaged before they called. Now they only message each other.

A new technology can’t fix this problem, but if we control that technology then we have a chance of using it (rather than it using us).

The Solution

Now that we understand the problem and the severity of its consequences, we’re ready to look at the solution.

Next: The Solution


Footnotes:

  1. It’s worth noting that, even with offerbots (see the solution), there will always be a trade-off between privacy and processing power (and bandwidth). If your offerbot is requesting offers from another offerbot, the only way to hide the nature of your request is to request many (or all) of the offers available to you from the other offerbot. If your offerbot asks for a specific set of offers (such as ‘size 5 soccer balls in white or yellow which are for sale’), however, then the offerbot is revealing your preferences to the other offerbot and its owner. This would suggest that people with less processing power and bandwidth (presumably because they have less money to pay for that processing power and bandwidth) will be at risk of losing their privacy unless we come up with solutions to mitigate that (such as using offerbots as proxy servers, possibly to the extent of using onion routing).