Abstract:
AI (Artificial Intelligence) is everywhere today it is inevitable for us as human beings. Every aspect of our daily lives is fulfilled with AI technology such as IoT (Internet of Things). Our lives are driven by mediators called algorithms, which decide “how we see our daily world”. These algorithms are part of the so-called stack and today’s filter bubble. Structures which are embedded in the Internet infrastructure but which are completely invisible for the Internet user itself. We know they exist, but what is the function of it, and how do they exactly work?

The Network Effects

We are all online on a daily basis, we make use of several products and services that are driven by algorithms. Every single decision we make online, leaves a trace and forms a sort of online passport. This “passport” forms an archive for the algorithmic Internet structure to anticipate on your behaviour. The algorithm knows exactly what your preferences are based on the choices that you made in the past. For example the moment that you access a website and it is asking you to allow “cookies” this means that you give the structure of that particular platform the permission to trace your behaviour on their website. An algorithm can basically anticipate exactly on the things about which you have not even thought about. But for what do they actually need those traces? By anticipating on your behaviour, the platform can precisely serve you in your needs and priorities. But on the same time they also serve themselves, because they know now exactly what their users and customers want from them. They create precise user passports with particular identities, that can be placed in specific economic trends and tendencies. This structure is not just only embedded anymore in the Internet infrastructure, but also in devices that are connected with the Internet, IoT. This means you will be constantly online and thus traced every single minute by an algorithm in every aspect of your life. These algorithms can measure what you like, how long you look up for something, what you like and don’t like, and even with whom you are in contact related to these topics. This phenomena is part of the so-called “Network Effects”. The Internet structure that relies on the amount of users, how they interact, on what kind of platforms and what their behaviour on it is. A platform can only exist on these network effects, which concludes that we as a multitude of users keep them going. They benefit us in our desires to stay quickly in contact with the world around us, and we benefit them in selling products and services to us. The question is what are the consequences for the Internet user, and for the company itself that is tracing you anytime? Where are all these data-outcomes used for, and where do they store it? It is also interesting to take a look at how the Internet structure, better called “The Stack” works and what kind of role the “ Filter bubble” plays in this structure. As famous media scientist Marshall McLuhan said in the 1960s: “The critical involvement, in a form of understanding of this system would allow us to epistemologically de-center the human being without having to abandon the private property in form of self-governance” (6). The internet ecology itself turned into a kind of holistic super power which is surprising us over and over again and will even do more and more (2).

The Stack

The rise of the algorithm made kind of a mass surveillance system by analysing “big data” and creating connections by analysing, and that is creating profound changes for the Internet user in particular the dynamics for the relation of the citizen to the state, and for society in general (5). This is the so-called Stack, the new cosmos of information that fills in the gab between the Internet users and the world’s biggest e-commerce companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Those platforms are typical advertising platforms. Author Nick Srnicek of the book Platform Capitalism, identifies 5 sorts of platforms in the online society; advertising platforms, cloud platforms; industrial platforms; product platforms and lean platforms (9). These platforms bring together a different types of users: customers, advertisers, service providers, producers, suppliers and even physical objects. All these platforms make use of “cross-subsidisation” in order to be successful (9). It means that a company, for example Google has two sides; one side is offering a ‘free’ service like google mail. And the other side offers a service which is extra raised to make up for the losses of the other one. This is for example Google Adwords, the user is not directly paying with money, but pays with his data which Google uses to realise its advertising. These platform types also embody their own unique type of politics (9) meaning that each platform has it own rules of product or services and not only gain access to the data that users produce but also control and governance over the rules of the game. These four main characteristics make the platforms key business models for extracting and controlling data, which forms a direct link to the Stack because we basically cannot see what is exactly happening with our data.

The Stack is hidden in the backhand of the Internet infrastructure and is not a visible system. It is the outcome that will become visible, in for example the recommendations that appear while you scroll through your Instagram feed. According to Italian media theorist Tiziana Terranova; ‘The Stack’ can go beyond the opposition between state and market, public and private, and will become so common, that it will get used as a way to instigate the thought and practice of a possible post-capitalist mode of existence for networked digital media (10). Benjamin Bratton adds to this conclusion that this network structure will turn out into a new image of totality that will create a new composition of governmentalities and sovereignties in our economy.

It is clear that these companies: Amazon, Facebook and Google already have more power than every form of state power. They do not have any boundaries in forms of borders or religions. The platform politics create from the whole world one country. These leading platforms are thus advertising platforms which emerged out of the Dotcom boom in the beginning of the 2000s. The Dot-com bubble is the 90’s economic bubble of extreme growth of Internet companies that invested in going online, which busted in 2000 because of the abundance of venture capital funding (4). Google and Facebook were one of the survivors and the first to represent the process of turning advertising into their main revenue source with the aforementioned AdWords (2000) the extracted data moved from being a way to improve services to becoming a way to collect advertising revenues. This became possible in the so-called Web 2.0 Internet environment wherein user-generated data is central; all the social interactions become a sort of ‘free labor.’ Work became inseparable from non-work: being online means that you carry out a form of labor. The aim is to build a monopolistic position in the Internet culture, by finding a niche platform that attracts as much users as possible. According to Nick Srnicek: “Data are at the heart of beating the competition in the online market. In every case, collecting massive amounts of data is central to todays business model and the platform provides the ideal extractive apparatus to do so.” (9).

The Stack means an accumulation of a number of things, in this case information and thus ‘big data.’ The Stack serves six layers in general: Earth, cloud, city/environment, address, the interface and the user itself. The user is the actor and the algorithm is the analysing mediator in the form of a ‘big brother is watching you’ idea between the interaction of these layers and the behaviour of the user. The Stack is sort of an intensive integrated neuro marketing system which is observing the behaviour and the outcomes on the internet, that constantly searches for specific connections with commercial interests. But there is one issue if we analyse how the algorithm exactly works. Algorithms are trained in specific patterns and do not form a homogeneous set of techniques and cannot give the guarantee for an exact form of control (10). This means that we cannot fully rely on ‘The Stack’ as a system that can make exact conclusions for people in terms of carrying out certain business strategies. The algorithm forms in the sense of the Stack a pre-programmed electro-computational that is leaning on the natural human soul. It involves primarily the nervous system and the brain comprises ‘posibilities of virtuality, simulation, abstraction, feedback and autonomous processes (10). An algorithm is thus programmed on feedback loops; action — reaction which is just an abstraction that occurs on a particular moment. The Stack is sort of a game between the body, the law, and the cultural tendencies that will ensure the control of the human behaviour to shape personal interests (2). Today’s question is which direction this system will take; some futuristic films claim that the Stack in the future, can even have direct access to our emotions, feelings and desires. Our online web 1.0 moved from a closed centralised institutional system with determinate rules to an open-ended system with de-centralised ‘invisible’ smart control. The Stack is a new form of decoding and recoding the flows of the human desire for a specific flexible social online control.

The Filter Bubble

In 2011 Internet critical and MoveOn.org board president Eli Pariser came up with the term “Filter bubble.” The filter bubble is more or less a feature of the Stack as a system. It is responsible for the creation and completeness of the online ‘personal passport.’ Because when these are accurate, the algorithm as mediator can make optimal connections with trends and tendencies. The filter bubble relies on a certain system wherein the standards of personalisation are adapted and contain key mechanisms of exclusion (7). For example Facebook could withhold access to your connected friends at any time. This means that the standard access to control is embedded at the heart of the platform’s business model, but it is also a form of political power of the user; because would you sign-up for it? It is up to you, you are completely free to participate or not. So how does it exactly work? The Internet infrastructure was firstly based on a certain form of authority, leaded by Google’s famous Page Rank algorithms. But on 4 December 2009, everything changed; Google launched the web environment with “Personalized search for everyone.” From now on your Internet browser would customise every step you take: searching, logging, and clicking into anticipative predictions. Google’s algorithms decide what you will see, read and with what and whom you will connect. For example if you search on Google for the term “climate change” and I search for exactly the same term, we will get different pages based on our positions, interests and connections traced by Google (7). It all started with the top fifty Internet platforms such as Amazon, Yahoo and Facebook that installed an average of 64 data-laden cookies and personal tracking beacons. If you search again for climate change on Google, the websites install up to 223 tracking cookies and beacons on your computer so that other websites can target you with similar interests on the term “climate change”. Thereafter you will be followed on the web by advertisements, news articles, influencers, films and music related to that single term. Until you will search for something else, but this term will remain stored, and be continually supplemented by the online behaviour you show (7).

The filter bubble is thus platform power which means network power + the access to control (8). This idea is argued in the book Network Power from David Singh Grewal; the adaption of specific standards form the status quo of the network can be understood as a collective decision. These standards form the conditions of possible interactions, which is why the social relevance of every decision for or against a specific standard is inherent political because they have an online social impact (3). Grewal argues that the filter bubble is the ultimate example to prove here again that platforms power is bigger than state power. The concept “domestic net policy’ is merely intended to highlight the concession that these internal and external or object and subject relationships no longer exist, because political issues pertaining to the net increasingly arise from the net itself. This implies that these issues can only be solved from within by the filter bubble which is capable to in- and exclude things to solve ‘issues’ faster. Today’s issues are for example the spread of online ‘fake news’ in the platform society. The filter bubble is trained to find patterns, and to link connections so it can also be seen as sort of a problem solver. This makes clear that platform politics increase and thus their power which is has no boundaries, because the online world does not have any borders; they are the leaders. The platforms provide with this structure consisting of the ‘network effects’, the Stack, and the filter bubble the ‘new world’ (3).

Bibliography

1. Bratton, Benjamin. “The Black Stack.” e-flux journal Vol 12. Part 1 (2014): 1–12.

2. Gottlieb, Baruch. Towards a reasonable ecology among the media themselves. Marshal McLuhan and the arts, 29–09–2017, The Hague. The Hague: West, 2017.

3. Grewal, David, Singh. Network Power — The Social Dynamics of Globalization. Connecticut: Yale University Press, PP 09.

4. Investopedia. “Dotcom Bubble.” Investopedia. 2018. Investopedia LC. Accessed on: 20–03–2018. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/dotcom-bubble.asp

5. Lyon, David. “Surveillance, Snowden, and Big Data: Capacities, consequences, critique.” Big Data and Society. 2014. Sagepub. 12 November 2017.

6. McLuhan, Marshal. Understanding Media. London: Taylor & Francis Ltd. 2001.

7. Pariser, Eli. The Filter Bubble: What The Internet is Hiding From You.
London: Penguin Books, 2011.

8. Seemann, Michael. “What is Platform Politics? Foundations of a New Form of Political Power.” Blockchain For Dummies. Berlin: MSPRO. 2018.

9. Srnicek, Nick. Platform Capitalism. Cambridge, Polity Press: 2016.

10. Terranova, Tiziana. “Red Stack Attack.” Accelerate Vol 10. Part 1 (2014): 379–397.

Master New Media & Digital Culture & writer for @BIT students