“Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair”

“Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair”

The line comes from the poem, “Ozymandias,” fyi, and for some reason, we could bot get it out of our head.

Last week, Marc Andreessen tweeted, “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?”

In one tweet, Andreessen revealed the perhaps hitherto unspoken agenda of the Silicon Valley oligarchs, which The Atlantic summed up most eloquently: Facebook and the New Colonialism Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.

No, Zuckerberg hadn’t had the best week when one of his board members tweets with such unmitigated hubris. Andreessen did quickly delete the tweet and posted several ‘apologies.’ Spin control is a nice idea, but despite all of the disruption and disintermediation that technology has managed to accomplish in so relatively short a time, the remark set off a tweetstorm and one still can’t get that damned toothpaste back into the tube once it’s out now, can you?

Zuckerberg quickly called Andreessen’s remarks ‘deeply upsetting,’ but let’s not forget that ‘Free Basic’ was originally called ‘internet.org.’ There’s subtly for you, and between that and Andreessen’s remarks, the difference is…

“Though the language of net neutrality was used by India’s regulators in making their decision, the result was no doubt anti-colonial—it rejected the expansion of a massive, multinational, US-based company, and its impositions on culture and infrastructure,” wrote Derek Reed in Motherboard. “By bringing not just its product but access itself—which in this case are intrinsically tied—Facebook’s global expansion will bring a version of the internet modeled after itself, producing colonies in local markets that are built in the Facebook image. In that light, parts of Facebook’s report sound, as Carmel DeAmicis put it, ‘super imperialist.”

“Free Basics is the solution to connecting the next billion at the bottom of the pyramid,” Facebook contended, but that was hardly the case, according to Sumanth Raghavendra in his Medium post, A data-driven argument on why Marc Andreessen is wrong about Free Basics. Great read, with real numbers and debunking some of the myths about what Zuckerberg and Andreessen contended that Free Basic offered – “Free Basics was hardly something aimed at poor people and even less so, targeted at people who have “no connectivity” — this entire narrative painting it as a choice between some connectivity and no connectivity is false and disingenuous.”

‘“In digital capitalism—another stage of imperialism?—capital and corporation underwrite free-ness,” Bahri, the Emory professor, told me,’ wrote the Adrienne Lafrance in the Atlantic piece. ‘“That’s why Facebook can claim to be always free.” Incidentally, “users” is a term that Facebook now discourages, favoring “people” instead. Though “users” was, at least, an improvement over “dumb fucks,” which is what Zuckerberg called the people who signed up for Facebook when it was new, according to online chat transcripts that emerged as part of a lawsuit several years ago.’

Nice, and Facebook isn’t the only SV unicorn that has been facing problems and push back of late. Zenefits’s Regulatory Headaches Are All Too Common in Silicon Valley and according to this piece, “On the same day that Zenefits said it was being investigated, car-hailing service Uber Technologies Inc. said it agreed to pay $28.5 million and change its marketing language touting “safe rides” to settle a pair of class-action lawsuits in California. Five thousand miles away, in Paris, Uber representatives clashed in court with opposition lawyers over charges that two executives incited drivers to offer illegal taxi services in France… Meanwhile, blood-testing company Theranos is currently being examined by federal inspectors for five major infractions that violate the federal law governing clinical labs ….  And fantasy-sports sites DraftKings Inc. and FanDuel Inc. have been tagged by some state attorneys general for promoting illegal gambling. DraftKings is especially feeling the pressure, this week unwinding an exclusive advertising partnership with Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN and watching investor 21st Century Fox Inc. write down its investment by 59%.”

“Many great internet companies start (get traction) with a crime.  Facebook harvested student headshots from Harvard admissions.  YouTube digitized Comedy Central and Saturday Night Live shows.  Napster even became a verb, as in to digitally steal something.  Startups were even proud to say they are “Napsterising” their target market” said SOS member (and Shufflrr founder) James Ontra in an unrelated conversation. “Once you’ve committed a crime, you have to commit more and more crimes because you don’t want that sweater to unravel.“

So, are lies, deception and criminal behavior de rigueur/par for the course in certain corners of Silicon Valley?  A sort of fake it till you make it for the even less ethically inclined?   In the case of Facebook, according to Wikipedia, “The website was shut down by Harvard executives a few days after it opened. Mark Zuckerberg faced charges of violating copyrights, breach of security, and violating individual privacy for stealing the student pictures that he used to populate the website. He later faced expulsion from Harvard University for his actions. However, all the charges were eventually dropped.” Youtube was posting Comedy Central videos and SNL videos – without bothering about matters so mundane as copyright infringement.

Our favorite video of the week came out of the DLD conference: The Four Horsemen: Amazon/Apple/Facebook & Google–Who Wins/Loses (Scott Galloway) | DLD15 and take a look around minute 7, where Galloway says, “Facebook has pulled off the greatest bait and switch in marketing history. They convinced many of the brands in this room to spend hundreds of millions to build their communities and telling them that they would be their communities and they would have access to it. They then put a walled garden around it and said ‘just kidding’ and you have to pay for access to that community. The organic reach on Facebook is now 6% , meaning that if you are P&G and you want to speak to the community that you paid to build, only 1 in 16 messages will reach a consumer – they should be telling clients that they should assume organic reach of zero.”

But when has truth or ethics been an issue in the free-wheeling, ask-forgiveness-not-permission, move-fast-and-break-things, winner-take-all-world of Silicon Valley? The world, or at least the tech press, had been enthralled by the accomplishments of the tech companies for quite some time, and the waiter always does eventually come around with the check. The world, or at least parts of it, given the events in India and with Zenefits et al more locally, has had enough of the shenanigans. It may be that that sweater is starting to unravel, after all, or that a lot of the dumb fucks out here are just tired of being treated as if we’re we the sheeple.  Onward and forward.

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