The Boycott: the unused tool to combat corporate tying

I live near UC Berkeley, and am studying Economics on my own. Brad DeLong teaches just up the hill and my landlord suggested I audit his classes. So I checked out his curriculum and in the process ran across a farewell he had written to Milton Friedman. I was a little irritated that DeLong brushed away any controversy concerning the impact of Friedman’s attitudes and policies on the public, so I wrote a short rebutting reminder to be posted as a comment on the blog where I found his obit.

You can contribute – yup. But you need a Facebook account; or you need some identifying key obtained from something controlled by Facebook; or you need something from some other entity, but when you check, you see that that entity — is an aspect of Facebook.

Now, DeLong is an economist and that’s what he does. He might use the web as a tool but I doubt that he spends much time considering “what he does” online, or more to the point, whose tools he uses. Because his item is posted inside Facebook, and Facebook’s policy is that to respond, you must be a member, DeLong has effectively said that the price for participating with him is to also be a member of Facebook. Did he intend to force people to join Facebook? Probably not. But that is what he has done — unconsciously — thoughtlessly — because he wasn’t paying attention to the tying that Facebook does. I can’t speak for DeLong because I haven’t met him or read any of his works yet, but as a matter of general irritation with “the mainstream mindset of economists” as cheerleaders for Capitalism, i.e. “making profits”, I’d suspect if you challenged DeLong about this he’d dismiss it saying “they’re entitled to do [whatever] to increase their profits”, forgetting that the question was about excluding public participation based on “membership” in a corporation’s client list.

When Microsoft owned Salon and required the use of “Microsoft Passport” or “Microsoft Wallet” or whatever the hell it was, in order to be able to respond to articles on Salon, I quit reading Salon altogether. I boycott Facebook for the same reason: I refuse to play along with that corporation’s artificial balkanization of the public into who is and is not one of their members – that they would put a barrier to communication between me and one of their members if I was not a member. It ought to be at the election of the member as to whether to accept comments from the open public or to restrict them to other members – otherwise we’re living with Facebook’s coercive paternalism, and they should be boycotted.

To people who claim that Facebook’s 770,000,000 members indicate that “Facebook must be doing something right”, I’d say, no – Facebook is doing something obvious, and unthinking human nature creates the “lemming” phenomenon, behind it and behind all similar hyper-popular sites such as Google.

I’ve complained about Google elsewhere, suffice it to say that Page and Brin are but two people and there are a lot more “really smart people” around than just those two. They’re resting on their search laurels when those expired long ago. What is Google, except another megalomaniac corporation a’ la Microsoft, with the expectation they can totally dominate one or more entire sectors of our economy? Isn’t it fascinating to watch the press discuss the imminent capture of decisionmaking for the Internet as a whole by these two jerks, as if to allow such a thing to happen makes any sense? Oh — right, if it has an economic (a neoliberal economic) justification, then forget if it totally flies in the face of Democracy.

Fine. I am but one grain of sand on the beach. But, I boycott Google to the extent that I can, and I encourage everyone else to do so as well. The really strange thing is that boycotts do work once enough people get involved. So if you face the persistent existence of certain crap in your face – it’s natural to boycott it. Refuse it. Say No. I use “www.yippy.com” to do web searches; “google” is not a verb referring to web searches any more than Google is a noble selfless corporation, the sycophants at the dictionary notwithstanding.

Quit lying to yourself. If they can buy you with convenience, then you are easily bought. In a market where every joker competes with so-called “free” stuff, then hold high standards for that free stuff. The correct answer, though, to the free stuff, is to ignore it.

Google encourages people to use its software. Hey — it’s free, except of course you give them clickthroughs every time someone accesses your website. They don’t pay you anything based on the benefits they obtain from that, but they do use the hits to convince people how important they are. I wonder what their APIs do that people find it automatic to use them? Witness the corporate penetration of the software “idea” market, that a package like Dojo automatically references Google items as standard defaults in various modules. Use AdBlock in your browser and see how many sites automatically tie into Google through the use of their “free software.”

I think it’s time to take an elitist stance: if I see that your website uses Google’s components underneath, it tells me that you are not competent to write a website on your own. If you would blindly use Google’s software to support what you do — then you shouldn’t be any entity supposedly operating in the Public Interest — and vice versa. The ACLU should not use Googleware. Nor should the EFF. Nor, in fact, should any place that wants your trust per se. Blindly going along with the subornation of your internals by Google while pretending to the public that you are defending its interests is to strongly lie to the public that this subornation by Google is acceptable, tolerable, normal. It is not. It is the takeover of computing by a jerk corporation that has arrogated unto itself this “leadership role”, thanks to unthinking millions of unconscious users doing what seems easiest at every step. Go ahead and let Google write your web code for you – and you help insure that everyone must interact with Google, like it or not.

I think it’s time to call for a reversion to “self-owned websites” that do not gratuitously tie into APIs from corporations. One way to enforce that upon the producers is to boycott them when they refuse.

Whenever a place that should “know better” randomly ‘endorses’ a corporation by using its software, let that place know that you don’t want them so associated. If they flip you off: then boycott them. It may cost you – but your self-respect, I think, is worth more than sheer convenience.

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