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In his testimony to the US Senate last spring, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg emphasized that his company doesn’t sell user data, as if to reassure policymakers and the public. But the reality—that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other social media companies sell access to our attention—is just as concerning. Actual user information may not change hands, but the advertising business model drives company decision making in ways that are ultimately toxic to society. As sociologist Zeynep Tufekci put it in her 2017 TED talk, “we’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads.” ... Google and Facebook figured out how to commodify "reality" itself by tracking what people (and not just their users) do online (and increasingly offline too), making predictions about what they might do in the future, devising ways to influence behavior from shopping to voting, and selling that power to whoever is willing to pay. “As societies, we have never agreed that our private experience is available for extraction as behavioral data, much of which is then fed into supply chains for the manufacture of behavioral predictions,” Zuboff told me in a phone interview. ... In copying the traditional media's advertising-based business model, internet companies neglected to adopt a crucial rule: the separation between business operations and editorial decisions. Though the rule was far from universally respected, 20th century journalism's code of ethics prohibited financial considerations from influencing news coverage. This ethical screen allowed American capitalism to subsidize the press, which in turn helped keep the government and companies honest: checks and balances at work. This all fell apart with targeted advertising, which stole journalism's lunch money and used it to sustain platforms whose driving logic isn't to educate, to inform, or to hold the powerful to account, but to keep people "engaged." This logic of "engagement" is motivated by the twin needs to collect more data and show more ads, and manifests itself in algorithms that value popularity over quality. In less than 20 years, Silicon Valley has replaced editorial judgment with mathematical measures of popularity, destabilized the democratic systems of checks and balances by hobbling the Fourth Estate, and hammered nail after nail into the coffin of privacy. Motherboard