Christian Porter Trial by Media? Interview with Denis Muller

In an emotionally-charged media conference in Perth last week, federal Attorney General Christian Porter owned up to being the Morrison cabinet minister accused of rape allegations.

Strenuously denying the claims, an often tearful Mr Porter portrayed himself as the victim of a media smear – referring to a “whispering campaign” which could “totally destroy the rule of law in Australia.”  Legal and business experts say there is no “rule of law” issue with the AG. University of Sydney’s Professor Ben Saul told the Guardian it was “par for the course” in the Australian legal system for non-criminal inquiries to investigate potential criminal matters – without threatening the rule of law.

But is this a case of Trial by Media? Despite many conservative publications arguing that it is (),  ABC’s Media Watch says no.

To discuss Trial By Media, I caught up with journalism guru Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, at The University of Melbourne…

You can find Denis’ article here: Has Christian Porter been subjected to a ‘trial by media’? No, the media did its job of being a watchdog at the Conversation.

Listen to the interview (which went to air on RTRFM on 9 March 2021) below.

Surveillance Capitalism: Research Report/Lit Review – Allan Boyd 23 October 2020

Owning all the data all the time: aspects of Surveillance Capitalism

Abstract

This report attempts to survey some elements surrounding the notion of Surveillance Capitalism, a term initially defined by Zuboff (2015) to describe how – by surreptitiously collecting user-data from everyday digital connections between apps, operating systems, devices and their capitalist masters – private human experience has been digitised and commoditised, and behaviour is modified. The paper is an effort to provide a broad literature review of some aspects related to this burgeoning field of research. This report does not seek solutions, it simply endeavours to offer a brief overview of several disparate concepts within this complex digital environment.

PDF of this Article: Surveillance Capitalism Research Report Lit Review – Allan Boyd 23 October 2020

Introduction

As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, throughout the Global North, the data-detritus of our digital existence is a raw, natural resource for data-mining tech giants to create rampant wealth – as they quietly invent a highly successful new type of capitalism (Pettis, 2020; Sandberg, 2020). The relatively new hypothesis of Surveillance Capitalism can be described as the economic process of tracking, collecting, analysing, and commodifying personal user-data to modify human behaviour (Andrew & Baker, 2019; Naughton, 2019; Zuboff, 2016). Originally coined by Harvard Professor Shoshana Zuboff (2015), this predominantly furtive version of digital capitalism utilises data generated from everyday internet use – a user’s individual digital footprint – and allows data-tracking oligopolies, mostly large big-data tech companies and media corporations to reap a profit from user behaviour (Kelley, 2020) – with a view to modify and commoditise that behaviour.

Surveillance Capitalism goes beyond the scope of simply targeted advertising, rather the practice is based on selling predictions of our futures to businesses who are willing to pay for it (Zuboff, 2019c). The Surveillance Capitalists hope to maximise profit by knowing exactly what people will do next – and this is fodder for profit. Notably in insurance, real estate, health, education, government – ostensibly every sector within the contemporary capitalist ecosystem (Zuboff, 2019a) – but at what cost? Does this relatively new economic reality, this secret process of data capitalism without real consent, undermine democratic and human rights?

Literature Review and concerns

Google/Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft – often known as the big five or “FAAMG” – leaders of the so-called now economy (Weinstein, 2020) – develop comprehensive data-profiles of users as they traverse increasingly essential platforms and devices throughout their virtual lives (Wood & Monahan, 2019). This often surreptitious and mostly misunderstood practice of mandatory data collection generously gifts an enormous amount of real-time personal information to a relatively small number of global enterprises (Robertson, 2020).

The big five, motivated by neoliberal market ideals, have been described as the “gatekeepers to all online social traffic and economic activities” (van Dijck, 2020). It is said that their combined services directly and fundamentally impact society, affect democracy and drive the global economy (Maas, 2020; Schia & Gjesvik, 2020). Indeed, during the pandemic recession of 2020, the tech conglomerates – including those producing hardware devices – accounted for around 40% of the S&P 500, with the greatest ever historical share of the U.S. stock market, surpassing even the dot-com boom heights of early 2000 (Amrith, 2020; Kshetri, 2020; Ziemba, 2020).

The apparently innocuous user-data is collected and analysed within the technology frameworks of big data, using widespread sophisticated algorithms, including artificial intelligence and machine learning to create monetary streams – signalling the logic of data capitalism (Robinson, 2020). Data capitalism, in which the commoditisation of data results in a lopsided redistribution of economic power, slants toward those with exclusive access to evaluate that information (Jacquinet, 2019; West, 2019) – i.e. the big tech giants.

As an example, Google’s suite of products, including its market-dominant and highly ubiquitous search engine, its Google Assistant and Google Home products; Amazon’s Alexa; and Apple’s Siri are all potential extraction conduits for personal data to be commoditised in myriad ways (Chaudhary, 2020). Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp to list a few are also prime fodder for surveillance capitalism corporations (Lyon, 2019).

Whilst the “use of personal data in advertising, strategic marketing, and client management is nothing new” (Cinnamon, 2017), Surveillance Capitalism’s goal is to “predict and modify human behaviour as a means to produce revenue and market control” (Zuboff, 2015). This goal becomes easier as more data is created and collected. And data growth is indeed abundant as we consume more devices and consume/create even more data. Today, “the number of smartphone-users worldwide surpasses three billion and is forecast to grow by another several hundred million over the next few years” (Statistica, 2020b). The overall amount of data collected doubles every two years, with an estimated 44 zettabytes – one zettabyte equals one million petabytes or one billion terabytes (Yu & Song, 2020) – by the end of 2020 (Martha, 2020). Recent analysis shows that 3.96 billion people used social media in July 2020 – accounting for roughly 51 percent of the global population; more than 376 million new users since July 2019, which equates to approximately 12 new users every second (DataReportal, 2020).

From this massive and increasing usage comes increasingly massive amounts of user-data. Bigger data-sets allow deeper insights from the data exhaust created from the movement across virtual connections – indeed the resource of residual user-data has become a “data gold mine” for business optimisation, embracing the move toward a digital capitalist revolution through the ongoing use of big data and its cousin, big data analytics (Ochs & Riemann, 2018).

There are many documented benefits of commercial and proprietary apps which, by tracking digital exhaust, can provide useful insights into aspects of life. Data about behaviour can assist with: health issues, enabling users to improve health based on otherwise unknown data – sleep patterns and mental health for example – yet issues of digital privacy and breaches of confidentiality remain (Haidt & Allen, 2020; Lustgarten et al., 2020; Milne-Ives et al., 2020); collecting contact tracing information in a pandemic, albeit often without governance (Leith & Farrell, 2020; Rowe, 2020); in remote work and work-from-home situations, as mobile enterprise applications improve the organisation of people and data, and add value for stakeholders, but may also destabilise once hard-fought-for equitable workplaces (Leonardi, 2020; Molin, 2020).

According to Zuboff (2019a, p. The Definition), Surveillance Capitalism is: “a rogue mutation of capitalism marked by concentrations of wealth, knowledge and power unprecedented in human history.” The furtive way big tech companies, indeed, any company, can mine user-data is often considered ethically dubious: click-wrap, browse-wrap, I-agree-button consent and other ambiguous click-through legal agreements where contract terms are not immediately conveyed to the consumer (Casey et al., 2020; Mozingo, 2020) are widely used. Surveillance Capitalists will claim legal ownership over, accumulate and analyse users’ personal human-experience as a free source of raw capitalist material; raising the “rich predictive signals” (as Zuboff calls it) of human behaviour and turn that into useful behavioural information for their purposes – often in a highly opaque manner. This method of capitalism has been described as a manifest shift from ‘mass production’ in favour of ‘mass predictive personalisation’ (Fia, 2020; Yeung, 2018).

If consumers of platform services care to read the terms of agreements and privacy policies of big tech corporations, they may be concerned (Meier et al., 2020). Facebook’s for example will advise users that all data, as well as connections with other users, or third-party users will be gathered up, shared and used for whatever purpose the company desires; users of Google’s Search and Gmail must automatically accept that their “emails and searches are reviewed for future customizations” and further, “will send the user’s browsing information to Google and its partners” (Vianna & Meneghetti, 2020).

With the ongoing, ever-expanding acceptance of online devices and apps, users of mobile phones, desktops, laptops, tablets, phablets and a plethora of smart devices, generate a vast and escalating volume of personal data as they negotiate their way through the necessary virtual networks of daily life. According to Statistica (2020a), almost 4.57 billion people were active internet users as of July 2020, comprising 59 percent of the global population. Add to this the Internet of Things (IoT) which incorporates billions of connected devices, sharing data between each other – with minimal human intervention – yet leaving digital traces of packet traffic with every connection. Note too, that IoT is one of the fastest developing fields in the history of computing, with an estimated 50 billion devices expected by decade’s end (Al-Garadi et al., 2020).

Increasingly our lives are wholly dependent on internet connectivity. IoT has enabled the world around us to be linked ubiquitously to people and machines. And whilst the potential security vulnerabilities of a smart, ultra-connected environment are often noisily posited as a threat (Alladi et al., 2020; Yu et al., 2020), the more recent concept of Surveillance Capitalism has so far been overlooked.

The primary purpose of IoT technology is to streamline processes across various systems, to ensure greater efficiency and improve quality of life (Nižetić et al., 2020). From smart speakers, door-bells, watches, cameras, cars, fridges, TVs, toys, thermostats, lighting, medical devices etc, IoT is edging into the regular lives of people across the planet (Langley et al., 2020). Further, the Internet of Everything (IoE) develops IoT with digital relationships between data, people and processes – as the strings and code of real-time data flow between smart systems. Data security, as traffic moves from the pervasive and inexorably expansive IoE ecosystems and into the cloud sphere, is a major factor (Karthiban & Raj, 2019; Nezami & Zamanifar, 2019).

Nevertheless, the accumulated digital data, housed on integrated “cloud-computing” platforms can be collected, analysed and used for further purposes such as digital marketing opportunities for businesses – to enable competitive advantages, and can have significant impact on business profit (Saura, 2020; Wedel & Kannan, 2016). Data scraped from personal experience is entered into a supply chain for use in what Zuboff describes the “new factories,” where Artificial Intelligence creates computational products which “predict our behaviour” (Zuboff, 2019b).

Whilst these “prediction products” are indeed about us – they are not for us; they are not products designed to enhance our own lives. Rather, these surveillance products are computations that endeavour to predict precisely “what individuals and groups will do now, and into the future;” they are sold to business customers who want competitive advantages on future behaviour (Zuboff, 2019c). And, rather than the internet being a mere platform of convenience, in almost every aspect of contemporary survival – in order to live an effective life – users are forced to parade through the supply chains of Surveillance Capitalists.

Surveillance Capitalism is not dissimilar to the concept of platform capitalism. Big tech platforms like Amazon Web Services, which maintains around 32 percent of the cloud infrastructure services market (Stastica, 2020), are focused on building (and owning) the platform systems needed to collect, analyse, and deploy data for other companies to use – the collection of immense volumes of data is key to their business model and these platforms provide the necessary systems to aggregate and analyse huge amount of big data (Srnicek, 2017, p. 89). This platform capitalism – a corporate model successfully demonstrated by Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Uber et-al – uses software-as-a- service to disseminate user-data for profit (Dyer-Witheford, 2020).

In platform capitalism every user interaction is a basis for “profit extraction” – trading products/services or selling user-data on to third parties. Digital platform development enables platform capitalists to collect and commoditise data, and deliver bespoke messaging to users as they cruise the surface of the world wide web (Balayan & Tomin, 2020), and as such, the concept merges well with Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism.

As users increasingly leave their digital footprints (consciously or not) across the various pages and portals of the world wide web, this shadow behaviour data from mobile/smart phone usage, social media interactions, credit card usage, search history, swipe cards actions, smart travel cards on transport systems, smart-wear sensors etc – known as data exhaust, digital exhaust or digital breadcrumbs – were once considered waste material. Now, this highly valuable user-data user is described as a consumer digital portrait (Krasnov et al., 2019). Digital exhaust from browsing, shopping, socialising and the increasingly essential daily use of internet services (MyGov, Centrelink are an example) has intensified researchers and marketers to explore the value of the digital footprint (Arya et al., 2019; Huberty, 2015).

Indeed, at the genesis of the internet, this exhaust – otherwise a user-behaviour data by-product – was ignored and considered as waste, but in 2001 the then fledgling dot com company Google, realised these data streams were indeed useful “rich predictive signals” – the behavioural metadata which Zuboff has referred to as behavioural surplus has become a profitable tool for the Surveillance Capitalists (Azar, 2020; Ball, 2019; Mills, 2020).

The utilisation of cloud computing services, such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, data mining, data sharing, data processing and other data analysis helps reveal insights about user behaviour, enabling organisations and businesses to make more informed decisions to increase income streams (Microsoft, 2020; Wang et al., 2020).

This sheer volume of accumulated user-data – that is, data which cannot be presented, processed, or analysed using traditional technologies – is known as Big Data (Lee, 2017). The rise of Big Data is seen as a radical step up from traditional data analysis and possesses three main traits: volume, variety, and velocity (Ghasemaghaei & Calic, 2020). Volume implies the quantity of data, which are created and stored; variety relates to the different types of gathered data, and velocity represents the speed of data creation, streaming and aggregation (Gerhardt et al., 2012; Kaisler et al., 2013; Sagiroglu & Sinanc, 2013)

Big Data, as Hashem et al. (2015) notes, has three key attributes: the data is abundant; the data is impossible to organise with normal database systems; and the data streams are generated, captured, and analysed quickly. Big Data analytics refers to the methods used to analyse, process and expose otherwise obscure underlying patterns, interesting relations and other insights (Iqbal et al., 2020). Surveillance Capitalists now utilise big data analytics to create new profit streams (Marr, 2017).

In 2020, it is estimated there are over 1.5 billion websites (Forum, 2020). Digitalisation encroaches every aspect of life today – it is a virtual requirement of the 2020 human experience (at least for digital residents of the Global North) to always be connected to a network (Costabile et al., 2020). Access to cheap tablets, smartphones and an increasing array of smart-wear enables network access to almost anybody, anytime, anywhere (Gaines, 2019). Within a relatively short space of time we cannot escape the digital hyperconnectivity of life – where everybody is connected to everybody, everywhere, always. Over the last decade we have become addicted (arguably by design), checking smartphones over 150 times a day (Neyman, 2017) to an rapidly increasing amount of digitality to endless digital content, everywhere and all the time (Brubaker, 2020; Pillay, 2020).

Thwaites (2020) outlines concerns that big tech corporations are rapidly increasing their market control over hyperconnectivity – that the human condition is at stake. Globalisation and technology are:

“promoting a rootlessness for human societies. Deregulation, outsourcing and relocation in the world of work, international business open 24/7 globally, and the powerful technology giants often replacing or overriding the foreign policies of nations and the autonomy of city states, all generate an instability in social life.”

And hyperconnectivity is not just about people, it includes IoT and is always listening, continuously capturing troves of personal information so vast and voluminous the “data deluge” must be stored in so-called data lakes (Beheshti et al., 2020; Laurent et al., 2020).

 

The data interactions between machines, apps, operating systems and humanity’s insatiable desire to document their lives online (via the platforms of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube TikTok etc) mean that a “large portion of everyone’s daily activities and communications are part of a semi-permanent record” (Fredette et al., 2012). Once captured this data no longer belongs to the data subject (Hummel et al., 2020).

 

The implications of big data surveillance are vast. It was not until 2013 when Edward Snowden, a security contractor for the US Government revealed how an expansive global surveillance infrastructure – used by the “Five Eyes” countries (and other nations, including Singapore, Germany, South Korea and others) of the secret service global cabal – monitors and analyses the real time data of millions of citizens (Couch, 2019; Heikkilä, 2020; Lyon, 2015). The big data tech companies implicated in Snowden’s surveillance revelations include Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Microsoft (i.e. the big five) – as well as other big data practitioners use, in Fuch’s words:

“algorithms that use instrumental logic for calculating human needs… automate human activities and decision-making in order to meet those needs. The problem is that algorithms and machines do not have ethics and morals.” (Fuchs, 2019, p. 58)

The same could be said of the Surveillance Capitalists. At its most basic, capitalism takes things from outside a market and configures fresh ways to bring them into the marketplace to create new products and services to be sold and purchased. In the 21st century many natural resources are becoming increasingly depleted – and ironically incorporated and consumed into digital technology – and new sources of revenue are required for capital growth and evolution and a mutation of capitalist thinking is necessary (Fatehi & Taasoobshirazi, 2020; Kirsch, 2020). Hence, into and beyond the 2020s, capitalism demands fresh sources of margins, new things to commodify. Perhaps all that is left within the “systematic coercion of digital participation” for the successful capitalist in the ballooning digital surveillance economy are the raw material resources of human behavioural data (Barassi, 2019; Clarke, 2019).

When 98 percent of information is now digitised there is, as Zuboff (2019b) points out, a “foreclosure of alternatives,” and whilst we may be well aware of the questionable mechanisms of Surveillance Capitalism, users still have little choice but to be slaves to corporate giants. We are literally dependent on them. For example, access to school systems for education, especially in light of COVID-19 and recent lock-downs; access to personal health information; making plans with others, and organising events – the simple act of talking and messaging on a mobile phone creates data for the Surveillance Capitalists (Laidler, 2019). All employ the platforms and propriety products of big data centres such as Amazon, Google docs Microsoft etc. There is little escape.

Anecdotally, to highlight a point, the research for this very project resulted in constant multiple trackers being blocked at almost every new internet page of research, every PDF opened in a new browser created a “Allow Cookies” pop-up box. As key word searches for related papers via Google Scholar, browser data – such as IP address, site interaction data including time spent on a page, device and operating system data and versions, activity across various sites – apparently for insight on user interest, shopping habits and more is quietly collected (CookiePro, 2020). Pop-up cookie notices appear at almost every interaction. It has become part of the necessary journey of the internet and perhaps the gold mine of data payoff must be worth it – at least for the Surveillance Capitalists.

Cookies monitor user behaviour, enabling the cookie developers to identify sources of traffic, track clicks on a page – and by deploying web-analytics tools such as Google Analytics (Ranade, 2020; Semerádová & Weinlich, 2020), are used to examine user behaviour, and transform the collected information into a malleable resource for the data capitalist. With this information, a site can adapt or alter content, and present information accordingly (such as a price-adjustment for frequent visitors; different content dependent on user location) and may target advertising in a more tailored manner (Bornschein et al., 2020) – all with an overarching goal to achieve better profit outcomes and modify the user experience. The data crumbs of internet cookies are indeed currency.

Conclusion

The scope of this article was to briefly examine some of the concepts amid Surveillance Capitalism to help understand where the digital, capitalist surveillance economy may be heading. However, the sheer depth for the subject is far too complex for a few thousand words. Indeed, Professor Zuboff, in their seminal, ground-breaking tome, required over 700 pages, countless academic papers, newspaper and magazine articles, plus online interviews and discussions, but at least according to Lyon (2020), barely scratches the surface.

In summary, user-data is collected, stored and analysed to reside on a server somewhere, alongside all the other user behaviour information, in a data-centre lake in an undisclosed place, without any clear knowledge of what happens to that data. In the 21st century, the bits of information we unwittingly leave behind are the nuts and bolts of an emergent measureless market system – and as we traverse the digital malls and highways in our daily hyperconnected reality, the faceless behemoths of Surveillance Capitalism strive to “transform online behavioural information into data assets, and to attach these assets to advertising product” (Mellet & Beauvisage, 2020) – all to make us behave accordingly.

 

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Welcome to Surveillance Capitalism – the tech giants stealing your private data

Surveillance Capitalism is here. It watches your every online movement and wants to commodify your next moment. It’s in your browser and it’s doing it now.

As you read this sentence your internet browser is quietly scooping up your raw digital exhaust and shovelling into a data lake.

From there, AI robots, machine learning and data scientists will organise, analyse and monetise your personal information.

Whatever device or operating system you use to consume these words – in a smartphone, a tablet, laptop, desktop or smartwatch – Apple, Windows, Android or Linux, you create a little trail. And that trail can be used to affect your life.

We are gluttons for connections

Over 4.5 billion people – comprising 60 percent of the global population – are active internet users. The average user spends 6 hours and 43 minutes online each day. And since COVID-19, research shows that 50% of consumers are on social media more since lockdown measures were put in place.

Every day, every hour, every minute we exude valuable bytes into the traffic of the internet ether. As we trek from page to page, site to site, app to app, device to device, phone tower to phone tower, wi-fi to wi-fi, car to desktop, supermarket to gym – the big data capitalists extract the oil from each digital handshake.

Smart, hyperconnected and addicted

Over 90% of Australians own a mobile phone and nearly half of us check our mobile device at least once every 30 minutes. That scroll-and-swipe, highly addictive behavioural information is pure gold to those that have access to it.

Our homes get smarter by the year, with nearly three-million Australian households now using smart speakers. TVs, doorbells and voice-controlled vacuum cleaners all share private information to third parties for consumer behaviour and marketing objectives.

Every time we log in, load a page, swipe an ID or credit card, play a game, use a smartwatch – virtually anything we do every day – we are tracked. We cannot escape it. We are hyperconnected.

We need it: to check our bank balance, pay our bills, to drive our car, to use public transport, to hail a ride-share, to order dinner. We do our tax, we access our health records, we share a workplace cloud, we upload assignments, we check the weather and facetime the folks. All to get through the necessarily digital day.

Digital footprints

Data exhaust – the records and traces we leave behind as we traverse the internet is our digital footprint. We unwittingly, yet willingly gift this stuff into the hands of the Surveillance Capitalists. It happened as you arrived at this page – you dropped a little data nugget. Did you tick the “accept cookies” box? Did you read all the Ts and Cs for every page and app to get here?

Either way – you choose to share your data. Consent to your private data is often assumed. And that consent is regularly abused. A recent Irish report found almost all websites it studied revealed cookie and tracking compliance issues – some with serious breaches.

Stealing our private experience

The guru of Surveillance Capitalism is Professor Shoshanna Zuboff. She is the author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.

In a recent interview, Zuboff explained: “Surveillance capitalism exists by unilaterally taking – what any eight-year-old would translate as stealing – our private experience, translating it into behavioural data for analysis, manufacture, and sales.”

In her 700-page tome Zuboff describes the: “new phase in economic history in which private companies and governments track your every move with the goal of predicting and controlling your behaviour. Under surveillance capitalism you are not the customer or even the product: you are the raw material.”

But do we know what happens to our data? A recent Deloitte report shows that only 7% of consumers had a very good understanding of how their personal information would be used after they consented to its use.

Nevertheless, this seemingly innocuous data contains invaluable information about the choices we make, our actions and preferences. It may include log files, cookies, temp-files and much more – often termed metadata – and this information is generated in almost every digital process or transaction.

Once accumulated, across all those transactions (micro-moments as Google coins them), that’s a lot of data. Image all of it. Generated all day every day by billions of us. It is Big Data.

Once analysed, this data can reveal individually significant information to marketers and business entities. And it works. As I write this article my Facebook feed is advertising smart vacuum cleaners, cookies, surveillance cameras and data lakes ad nauseum.

Data Exhaust to divine your future

In the early days of the web, data exhaust was considered waste. But the then fledgling search engine company Google discovered how the behavioural residue from user searches, can predict and monetise human experience. Even better, they could grab it for free.

The Surveillance capitalists (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple et al) want all your data. They are listening. They need to know the things you say, how and why you say them. The more data they collect, the clearer the data portrait – the easier to monetise your behaviour.

Google says: by utilizing its analytics tools, businesses can “predict future actions people may take,” including predicting the “likelihood that users who have visited your app or site will purchase in the next seven days.” Effectively, Google confidently offers prediction behaviour products. And if your business can predict user behaviour, it can modify future consumer activities.

Likewise, Facebook will “use data from advertisers and other partners about your activity on their websites and apps, as well as certain offline interactions; use information we have about others and their activity; use data like your activity on websites off Facebook to decide which ads to show you… based on information from a specific business that has shared a list of individuals or devices with us.”

Indeed, an Intercept article shows how the social media giant goes further than just a few personal ads on your feed. Facebook will use your data “to train AI prediction models that will be used to target and extract money from you on the basis of what you’re going to do in the future.”

Willingly tracked and happily commodified

Google and Facebook collect an alarming amount of data as you travel the digital universe. And most rational people would not let governments or corporations install tracking devices or establish cameras and microphones in our homes – yet we have.

We’ve eagerly enabled the digital giants to follow us, collect data, predict and affect our daily lives. We should be concerned that despite convenience, a furtive capitalism is at work beneath our complex digital experience.

This new and highly lucrative economy is poised to manipulate as it shares our behavioural data across its murky networks. The issue is what happens to all the data. Who is it shared with and how are we being manipulated for profit?

Surveillance Capitalism is watching. Waiting. Predicting the future…

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References

Excuse me – WTF is MMT?

In 2020, governments around the world are spending phenomenal amounts of money.

Globally, they are injecting trillions of dollars into their economies to help resolve the devastating effects of a global recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Australia alone, federal treasury expects the total Commonwealth debt under the Morrison Government to soon surpass a trillion dollars.

Indeed, the $130-billion Job-Keeper scheme alone, is the largest single economic bailout in Australian history.

In the recent 2020-21 October budget, the government declared its total COVID-19 response and recovery support so far, was $507 billion – including $257 billion in direct economic support.

And net debt is forecast to peak at a record $966bn or 44% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by June 2021.

That’s some big fat debt.

But, as the Australian government throws billions into welfare and infrastructure projects to kickstart the economy, the question being asked is: will Treasury ever run out of money?

Well, the proponents of MMT (or Modern Monetary Theory) say: Nope! A modern government running out of money is not even a thing.

If it wants to, it can spend itself into existence.

No way! Wait, what even is MMT?

Well, it’s kinda complicated. But in a nutshell…

The contemporary ideology of MMT has been around for decades and proposes that a government with its own sovereign currency – Australia, Japan, the USA for example – needn’t fret about balancing its federal budget or accruing too much debt.

This is mostly because governments can effectively print as much money as they need (or create digital money) ad infinitum.

And what’s more, they can pay it back whenever they like.

Excuse me, but you can’t run a household like that!

That’s because a federal government is not actually a household.

We hear this comparison all the time: “the government budget is just like your household budget.”

Well, not really.

MMT theorists state that the spending goal of a federal government is not the same as a suburban household.

Federal governments aim to support an entire national economy, whereas a household budget is concerned with only its simple, domestic economic situation.

In other words, a handful of people who live in a house, in a street – as opposed to 25 million citizens is not the same!

Household budgets are about balancing the income and expenses of a family – not juggling a nation.

Indeed, the federal government can effectively print money… and a household cannot. At least, not legally!

Spend first, tax later

The concept of MMT argues, rather than taxing or borrowing before they spend into the economy, governments should spend money into the economy before they tax or borrow from it.

Make sense? In essence, MMT asserts that government spending effectively precedes taxation.

And if there are enough workers and infrastructure in place to meet growing demand – without inciting inflation (i.e. a rise in the overall level of prices for goods and services consumed by households), the government can and should spend what it needs to maintain employment and achieve goals.

Indeed, the argument is that governments should use all its available fiscal levers, like taxation and incentives etc to fine-tune economic policy and make things happen in society, such as addressing the climate crisis, tackling obesity or overcoming tobacco addiction and the old chestnut: building roads and hospitals.

But, dude we will run out of money!

Not according to the MMT experts.

“As long as parliament can pass a government budget – running out of money is literally impossible in our modern-day monetary system,” says Steven Hail, Professor of Economics at the University of Adelaide.

“Our government is a full monetary sovereign – it spends the currency into existence and then taxes some of it back out of existence again. It can never run out of its own currency,” he says. “The only constraint on government spending is inflation risk.”

Professor Hail says the important thing to understand is that the federal government is the monopoly issuer of our currency, and as such has nothing in common with households.

All good, but…

Economics commentator and former Deutsche Bank director, Claire Rushe accepts the basic MMT principles but doesn’t necessarily agree with all of its elements.

MMT is not some “pie in the sky,” she claims. “It is happening, and we are doing it right now. And I do think significant components of it are highly relevant in the current environment.”

She believes countries with their own currency will recover easier from the effects of COVID-19 – rather than those (in the European Union for example) who cannot print their own money.

“People get confused, its not like a household or a company budget where they have to balance their books,” she says.

“They try to put their own personal economics into government policy and it just doesn’t work – they are very different beasts.”

Ms Rushe says that with interest rates so low at the moment, and the cost of debt so cheap, there is very little risk of inflation.

With Australia facing around a trillion dollars in debt, she doesn’t think a deficit is necessarily a bad thing – but it comes with a big caveat: “The money needs to be spent effectively, and not frittered away,” she warns.

Like unemployment?

“The government should spend whatever is required to achieve full employment… where anyone that is able and wants one – can have a job,” says Ms Rushe.

If everyone has a job – in other words Full Employment – the supply and demand cycle of an economy might work in harmony.

Get a Job!

And this is where MMT suggests the concept of a “Job Guarantee.”

Under a Job Guarantee system, the federal government would ensure ongoing employment by providing a moderately-waged employment to pay for housing, transport, food etc to anyone who wants a job.

Using the numerous fiscal tools at its disposal, the government might create various entry-level jobs for people such as bus-driving, aged-care, child-care – and invest in matching citizen’s skills to the most appropriate jobs. Or offer training to suit.

This seemingly radical approach to tackling youth unemployment and insecure work was suggested in a recent report by Australian public policy think tank Per Capita.

The bottom line is that everyone would be guaranteed a job, including during economic recessions and forced unemployment may be a thing of the past.

Maybe NMT?

Does Professor Hail think MMT will eventually become Normal monetary theory?

“Yes, and I think there is such momentum now, that it is unstoppable. It might not be called MMT. It will be standard economics,” he says.

And as Claire Rushe asserts: “We are already doing it! We just don’t know it…”

Make sense?

If not, watch Lukenomic’s fun take on the whole thing…

RBA holds steady on cash rate in light of Budget stimulus

Record low interest rates are likely to continue in the wake of the Federal budget as the Reserve Bank of Australia considers ways to support jobs and economic growth, economists predict.

The record-low cash rate target of 0.25% remains unchanged for the seventh month in a row, following emergency measures taken in March to reduce impacts of a COVID-driven recession.

Economics commentator and former Deutsche Bank investment banker Claire Rushe said the RBA’s decision to maintain the current cash rate setting was not surprising.

“With fiscal policy drip-feeding all day, why would you use the last bullet of monetary policy,” she said.

“It would be quite poor timing.”

The RBA also considered future “additional monetary easing,” signalling further rate cuts as the economy expands.

Despite the RBA’s “dovish” language, Ms Rushe said she was sceptical of deeper rate cuts.

She said her time at Deutsche Bank during the 2008 global financial crisis saw wholesale slashing of rates, resulting in clients “paying money to put cash in the bank.”

“Cash rates going down further may not have much kick,” Ms Rushe said.

“But dovish language like this keeps the general population thinking there is monetary policy potential to support it. Hopefully, they don’t need to use it.”

Ms Rushe said it would be worthwhile to see how the Federal government’s fiscal stimulus handled the reduction of JobKeeper and JobSeeker.

The RBA noted economic recovery was under way in most of Australia, although the second-wave covid-19 outbreak in Victoria had resulted in “further contraction.”

With the differing levels of economic recovery around the country, Ross Forrester, director of Westcourt Accounting in Perth, said he expected the central bank to remain stoic.

“The blunt instrument of the RBA has big impact – if you change interest rates, you change them across Australia,” he said.

“Whereas the government’s fiscal stimulus can target business needs in places like Victoria and New South Wales which are more affected than say, WA.”

The RBA is expected to publish a full set of updated forecasts next month.

Published in the NewsVineWA – student journalism publication for Edith Cowan University in Western Australia:

RBA holds steady on cash rate in light of Budget stimulus

WA’s container deposit scheme launched

Western Australians can now cash in their eligible drink containers for a 10-cent refund at over 200 Containers for Change refund points across the State.

Most aluminium, glass, plastic, steel and liquid paperboard drink containers between 150ml and 3L are eligible.

There are four types of refund points in WA where you can return eligible containers: Depots, Bag Drops, Reverse vending machines and Pop-up refund points.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said the scheme is an important step forward for recycling in Western Australia.

“People in WA use 1.3 billion drink containers every year, that’s 3.5 million a day, 150,000 an hour and more than 2,000 a minute. We know that currently, these containers make up 41 per cent of all litter here in Western Australia,” Mr McGowan said. “Western Australians have been crying out for a container deposit scheme.”

Containers for Change also provides fundraising opportunities for community groups – enabling Western Australians to give back to their local community.

WA Environment Minister Stephen Dawson said over 1,000 organisations have already registered and expected that number to grow.

“I’d strongly encourage all Western Australians to get involved, to start returning their eligible containers and start making change,” the Minister said.

Eligible containers included on the scheme’s list of products must display the refund mark (e.g. “10c refund at collection depots/points in participating State/Territory of purchase”).

Excluded containers include: Any plain milk containers, glass containers which have contained wine or pure spirits, containers 1L or larger which have contained flavoured milk, pure fruit or vegetable juice, all cordial or syrup containers, and registered health tonics.

Coordinator of the container deposit scheme, Western Australia Return Recycle Renew (WARRRL), said once containers are returned they join other recycled goods sold through an international online auction portal.

Recyclers then convert containers into raw materials like aluminium ingots and shredded plastic, which can be re-manufactured into new products.

Western Australia is the fifth state or territory to adopt a container deposit scheme, following the lead of South Australia, Northern Territory, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and most recently, Queensland.

Further information about Containers for Change, including refund point locations can be found at http://www.containersforchange.com.au

WA’s container deposit scheme launched

New inner-city campus for ECU

The WA government has announced a new Edith Cowan University Campus for Perth’s CBD.

The $695 million project will see the development of a vertical campus at the central Perth City Link, next to Yagan Square, offering programs in technology, business, creative and performing arts.

The site adjoins Perth Railway Station, on the newly developed link between the CBD and the entertainment district of Northbridge.

ECU will contribute $300 million to the project, while the Federal Government will contribute $245 million as part of the Perth City Deal. The State Government is providing in-kind support through the provision of land.

The jointly funded, world-class campus will be the centrepiece of a Perth City Deal, designed to bring the energy and vibrancy of more than 9,000 students and staff to the heart of Perth’s CBD by 2025.

The ECU City Campus will bring together programs in technology, industry and creativity, including the WA Academy of Performing Arts, the school of Business and Law and an advanced technology and cyber security centre.

Premier Mark McGowan said the new university will attract thousands of people into the city, “delivering a huge boost to local businesses and building on Perth’s reputation as a vibrant cultural and entertainment district”.

ECU Vice-Chancellor Steve Chapman said: “This is an outstanding result for ECU and for the State. We are delighted to be working with all levels of government to create Perth’s first comprehensive university campus in the heart of the city.”

New inner-city campus for ECU

What is QAnon? Interview with Dr Kaz Ross

Q-Anon. What is it? Emerging from the depths of internet forums in 2017 – it’s a strange conspiracy group associated with US President Donald Trump – but what is Q-Anon? Allan Boyd went down the Q-Rabbit Hole with Dr Kaz Ross to try and find out what all the fuss is about…

Qanon is a convoluted – conspiracy theory with no apparent foundation in reality.

Wikipedia says that: QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory alleging that a cabal of Satan-worshiping paedophiles running a global – child sex-trafficking ring are plotting against President Donald Trump, who is battling them.

In addition to peeking into the mainstream, the theory has been increasingly linked to real-world violence.

QAnon conspiracy theories now include such wild claims as Microsoft founder Bill Gates using coronavirus as a cover to implant microchips in people, to governments erecting 5G towers during lockdown to surveil the population.

Despite this no part of the theory is based on any facts.

I spoke with conspiracy theory expert Dr Kaz Ross, Lecturer and Coordinator of Asian Studies, Global Cultures and Languages University of Tasmania – whose article “Why QAnon is attracting so many followers in Australia — and how it can be countered” was recently published in the Conversation.

Lack of Diversity on Australian TV – Interview with Professor James Arvanitakis

A landmark study of television news and current affairs has found that presenters, commentators and reporters on Australian television – are overwhelmingly of an Anglo-Celtic background.

The study shows that television media has an “extraordinarily long way to go” in boosting representation of people from diverse backgrounds.

RTRFM’s Allan Boyd spoke with one of the report authors: Professor James Arvanitakis – from Western Sydney University to discuss the report findings.

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Australia credits itself on being a successful multicultural society – but a new report shows that our TV content does not accurately reflect the make-up of the wider community. This is especially evident in television News. It’s been described as a “Whitewash”.

According to new research by four Australian universities – in partnership with Media Diversity Australia – television news media and current affairs – lacks cultural and linguistic diversity.

The report, released last week entitled “Who Gets To Tell Australian Stories?” investigates Australian television – and illustrates that TV news content – is far more Anglocentric than the country it represents – and implies a lack of cultural diversity…

I spoke with James Arvanitakis – from Western Sydney University – who is one of the report authors.

Locals ignored over Ocean Reef Marina redevelopment – Interview with Alison Xamon MLC

Has the local community been kept in the dark about the enormous Ocean Reef Marina development in Perth’s northern suburban coast?

RTRFM Perth Indymedia Radio’s Allan Boyd spoke with North Metro MLC Alison Xamon about claims over the lack of community consultation – and why locals are concerned over the sheer scale of a housing development beachfront site… (Save Ocean Reef)

RTRFM 92.1 – Monday 24 August 2020