Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #797 Cyber-Libertarian Fascism: Update on the Adventures of Eddie the Friendly Spook

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash dri­ve that can be obtained here. (The flash dri­ve includes the anti-fas­cist books avail­able on this site.)

Lis­ten: MP3

Side 1  Side 2


Note that this descrip­tion con­tains mate­r­i­al not includ­ed in the orig­i­nal broad­cast.

Intro­duc­tion: Bring­ing up to date our mas­sive For The Record series on “L’Af­faire Snow­den,” the pro­gram opens with dis­cus­sion of the CV of Pla­to Cacheris, Snow­den’s lat­est attor­ney. Spe­cial­iz­ing in intel­li­gence-relat­ed cas­es, Cacheris has been on the scene dur­ing past inves­ti­ga­tions of covert oper­a­tions and domes­tic polit­i­cal desta­bi­liza­tion efforts, hav­ing rep­re­sent­ed Nixon’s Attor­ney Gen­er­al John Mitchell dur­ing Water­gate, Oliv­er North’s sec­re­tary Fawn Hall and Mon­i­ca Lewin­sky.


Next, we note that NSA crit­ic and Snow­den sup­port­er Rand Paul enjoys the sup­port of Joe Lons­dale, a co-founder of Palan­tir and an asso­ciate of Peter Thiel. (The com­pa­ny’s dis­claimers to the con­trary notwith­stand­ing, the avail­able evi­dence sug­gests strong­ly that Palan­tir makes the PRISM soft­ware at the cen­ter of the brouha­ha around Snow­den.)

A long-stand­ing fel­low trav­el­er of fas­cists, white-suprema­cists and neo-Con­fed­er­ates, Rand Paul is the Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date of choice of Ralph Nad­er, whose Green Par­ty can­di­da­cy was instru­men­tal in hand­ing George W. Bush the Pres­i­den­cy in 2000 (with the piv­otal assis­tance of the Supreme Court).  This as Jeb Bush, Dubya’s kid broth­er, is look­ing more and more like the Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for GOP in 2000.

Basi­cal­ly, Nad­er is now a fel­low-trav­el­er of the Tea Par­ty.

Review­ing infor­ma­tion from FTR #264, we note that Nad­er is a con­sum­mate hyp­ocrite, invest­ing in the very com­pa­nies he crit­i­cizes and man­i­fest­ing a doc­tri­naire anti-union stance.

With Lewin­sky attor­ney Pla­to Cacheris now rep­re­sent­ing Snow­den, and White­wa­ter play­ers Richard Leon and Lar­ry Klay­man also reap­pear­ing in L’Af­faire Snow­den, ele­ments of the Bush desta­bi­liza­tion team that helped install Dubya (with the help of Darth Nad­er) appear to be coa­lesc­ing.

In past pro­grams, we have not­ed that L’Af­faire Snow­den and Wik­iLeaks appear to be part of the same oper­a­tion. Both Assange and Snow­den have relat­ed “hack­er nicknames/handles.”

Of great sig­nif­i­cance is Assange’s endorse­ment of the need for unreg­u­lat­ed finan­cial mar­kets, plac­ing him in the com­pa­ny of the cyber-lib­er­tar­i­an fas­cists.

Snow­den’s lat­est media inter­view, with NBC’s Bri­an Williams, was arranged by EBay bil­lion­aire Pierre Omid­yar’s First Look Media. Omid­yar has been a financier of fas­cist caus­es and indi­vid­u­als, and has links with numer­ous agen­cies and insti­tu­tions that serve as vehi­cles for U.S. covert oper­a­tions.

Omid­yar’s most recent are­na of oper­a­tion is India, where he aid­ed the suc­cess­ful can­di­da­cy of Naren­dra Modi, heir to the Hin­du fas­cist tra­di­tion embod­ied in the RSS.

Under­scor­ing in a dra­mat­ic way, our caveat: “Fear the tech com­pa­nies, not the NSA, Face­book is intro­duc­ing a new fea­ture that will per­mit the com­pa­ny to turn on the micro­phones of their cus­tomers’ smart phones and lis­ten in on them at any time!

Pro­gram High­lights Include:

  • Review of the fascist/white suprema­cist links of Ron and Rand Paul.
  • Review of Julian Assange’s sup­port for “The Paulis­tin­ian Lib­er­tar­i­an Oraniza­tion.”
  • Review of Omid­yar’s financ­ing of Nazi fel­low-trav­el­er Glenn Green­wald.
  • Review of Omid­yar’s role in financ­ing the coup in the Ukraine, bring­ing to pow­er the OUN/B suc­ces­sor orga­ni­za­tions Swo­bo­da and Pravy Sek­tor.
  • Review of Omid­yar’s behind-the-scenes sup­port for Naren­dra Mod­i’s elec­tion.
  • Omid­yar’s use of an orga­ni­za­tion head­ed by Roy Proster­man, a vet­er­an of the Phoenix Pro­gram in Viet­nam and sim­i­lar pro­grams in places like El Sal­vador.
  • Omid­yar’s view that phil­an­thropy should be a prof­it-gen­er­at­ing under­tak­ing.
  • Omid­yar’s appar­ent involve­ment in finan­cial wrong­do­ing.
  • Omid­yar’s impend­ing entry into the Indi­an e‑commerce mar­ket, cour­tesy of his polit­i­cal selectee, Naren­dra Modi.
  • Julian Assange’s endorse­ment of Bit­coin, tout­ed by the same cyber-lib­er­tar­i­an fas­cists that under­lie the Snow­den “op.”
  • A sto­ry not includ­ed in the orig­i­nal broad­cast about Face­book har­vest­ing data about cus­tomers’ shop­ping habits.

1.  Snow­den’s lat­est choice of lawyers is a vet­er­an of espi­onage cas­es, and has appeared on the scene in con­nec­tion with domes­tic covert oper­a­tions.

“Snow­den Lawyer: Famous for Espi­onage Clients . . . and Mon­i­ca Lewin­sky” by Col­by Itkowitz; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 4/29/2014.

Edward Snow­den has retained a new attor­ney who is well-versed in the world of espi­onage, but Pla­to Cacheris is also well known for being a stealth legal nav­i­ga­tor for those who find them­selves sud­den­ly noto­ri­ous. In some instances, like Snow­den, the two go hand-in-hand.

But a New York Times sto­ry pub­lished Tues­day morn­ing about Cacheris tak­ing on Snowden’s case leaves out per­haps the lawyer’s most famous clients: Mon­i­ca Lewin­sky, Pres­i­dent Bill Clinton’s mis­tress; and Fawn Hall, of the Iran-Con­tra scan­dal. Cacheris helped Lewin­sky receive immu­ni­ty from pros­e­cu­tion, free­ing her to tes­ti­fy about her sex­u­al rela­tion­ship with Clin­ton. He also got immu­ni­ty for Hall, who was sec­re­tary to Oliv­er North, so she could speak freely. . . . .

. . . . The mega-lawyer has been the go-to defense lawyer for most D.C. scan­dals since rep­re­sent­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al John Mitchell dur­ing the Water­gate cri­sis. . . . .

2.  Palan­tir co-founder Joe Lons­dale is a backer or Rand Paul. He is also a close asso­ciate of Peter Thiel.

“Rand Paul: ‘I’m not Afraid of Tech­nol­ogy’”; CNN Mon­ey; 5/1/2014.

 Sen. Rand Paul, the lib­er­tar­i­an-lean­ing Ken­tucky Repub­li­can and like­ly pres­i­den­tial con­tender, sat down with Fortune’s Tory Newmy­er in April after his lat­est swing through Sil­i­con Val­ley to talk about his efforts to build a base there. Edit­ed excerpts:


What have you learned from your con­ver­sa­tions with entre­pre­neurs like Peter Thiel and oth­ers in Sil­i­con Val­ley?

Almost every­body I talk to out there from Peter on will say, “You know what? We think Sil­i­con Val­ley is a lit­tle more lib­er­tar­ian than it is Demo­c­rat, even though 80 to 90% of the mon­ey went to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma.” And it’s been a deter­rent to some Repub­li­cans going out there. Many more of them are lib­er­tar­i­an-lean­ing Repub­li­cans than they are Democ­rats, and they may not know it yet. But actu­ally most of them do know it. Frankly a lot of peo­ple who sup­ported Pres­i­dent Oba­ma will say, “You know what? It turns out I am a lot more fis­cally con­ser­v­a­tive than Pres­i­dent Oba­ma on tax­es and reg­u­la­tion.” They’re not hap­py about either one of those. But they’re more mod­er­ate on social issues than the Repub­li­cans are.

You’ve got an appar­ent sup­porter in Joe Lons­dale. A com­pany he co-found­ed, Palan­tir, got start­up fund­ing from the CIA ven­ture fund to enhance the sur­veil­lance agen­cies’ abil­ity to sort data. What would you say to civ­il lib­er­tar­i­ans who look at the capac­ity they’ve devel­oped and say it presents the poten­tial for prob­lems?

I’m not afraid of tech­nol­ogy. So I’m not like some­body who’s afraid of the loom. I’m not afraid of the light bulb. I’m not afraid of things like that. I am con­scious of the fact the more tech­nol­ogy you have, it could be abused, but I’m not against spy­ing. I’m for spy­ing if it is done with­in the con­fines of the Fourth Amend­ment. Which means you have to name the per­son, name what you want, ask a judge, and present prob­a­ble cause. . . .

3. Shades of 2000–Darth Nad­er is stump­ing for Rand Paul.

“Ralph Nad­er Wants Lib­er­als to Back Rand Paul. Don’t Do It” by Bill Sch­er; The Week; 5/1/2014.

This week, Ralph Nad­er returned to the polit­i­cal stage with a new book, Unstop­pable, whose tri­umphant sub­ti­tle is The Emerg­ing Left-Right Allianceto Dis­man­tle the Cor­po­rate State. To kick off his pub­lic­i­ty tour, he has argued that lib­er­als should “def­i­nite­ly” impeach Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, aban­don the “inter­na­tion­al mil­i­tarist” Hillary Clin­ton, and instead embrace Sen. Rand Paul (R‑Ky.) as a pos­si­ble leader of his dream coali­tion. . . .

4. Next, the pro­gram reviews Ralph Nader’s polit­i­cal hypocrisy, excerpt­ing mate­r­i­al from FTR #264 (Record­ed in Jan­u­ary of 2001.)

The first part of the excerpt fea­tures an arti­cle about the hyp­o­crit­i­cal invest­ment pol­i­cy that Ralph Nad­er has exe­cut­ed. (“How Nad­er Prof­its While He Preach­es” by Jeff McMa­hon; bushwatch.net/nader.htm; 10/27/2000.)

In a pre-script to the McMa­hon arti­cle, Nad­er expressed his pref­er­ence for George W. Bush over Al Gore (in a radio inter­view excerpt­ed at the begin­ning of the arti­cle.)

. . . . Of more imme­di­ate inter­est, at least to Al Gore, are Nader’s respectable poll num­bers: 7 to 10 per­cent in Cal­i­for­nia as of June, 6 per­cent nation­al­ly. If Cal­i­for­nia tips Green enough, Bush could win the state and the whole damn elec­tion. Which, Nad­er con­fid­ed to Out­side in June, would­n’t be so bad. When asked if some­one put a gun to his head and told him to vote for either Gore or Bush, which he would choose, Nad­er answered with­out hes­i­ta­tion: “Bush.” Not that he actu­al­ly thinks the man he calls “Bush Inc.” deserves to be elect­ed: “He’ll do what­ev­er indus­try wants done.” The rum­pled cru­sad­er clear­ly prefers to sink his right­eous teeth into Al Gore, how­ev­er: “He’s total­ly betrayed his 1992 book,” Nad­er says. “It’s all rhetoric.” Gore “grov­eled open­ly” to automak­ers, charges Nad­er, who con­cludes with the sot­to voce realpoli­tik of a ward heel­er: “If you want the par­ties to diverge from one anoth­er, have Bush win.”

Nad­er owns up to $250,000 worth of shares of Fideli­ty Mag­el­lan Fund, a firm that is heav­i­ly invest­ed in many of the cor­po­ra­tions that Nad­er has been most vocal in crit­i­ciz­ing.

Among those firms that Fideli­ty invests in are Hal­libur­ton oil, head­ed by Dick Cheney up until recent­ly. Fideli­ty also invests in Occi­den­tal Petro­le­um, a firm that has been crit­i­cized by envi­ron­men­tal­ists. Al Gore’s moth­er’s trust owns a sig­nif­i­cant block of Occi­den­tal stock. Gore’s pop­ulist cre­den­tials have been impugned Nad­er Vice-Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Winona La Duke because of that stock.

We also high­light dis­turb­ing aspects of Nader’s anti-labor activ­i­ties, and his avoid­ance of social issues. (“1.75 Cheers for Ralph” by Doug Hen­wood; Left Busi­ness Observ­er; 10/1996 [#74].)

5.  Inter­est­ing­ly and sig­nif­i­cant­ly, Snow­den and Julian Assange use sim­i­lar online pseu­do­nyms.

This Machine Kills Secrets: Julian Assange, the Cypher­punks and Their Fight to Empow­er Whistle­blow­ers by Andy Green­berg; Google Books.

. . . . After ini­tial­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ing with reporters under the pseu­do­nym “Verax”–the Latin antonym of Assange’s Mendax–Snowden chose to reveal his real name . . .

6a. While not at all sur­pris­ing at this point, it’s worth not­ing that Julian Assange just gave an inter­view where he hails the virtues of Bit­coin and unreg­u­lated finan­cial mar­kets in gen­eral:
Julian Assange: Bit­coin Could Estab­lish a New Glob­al Con­sen­sus [Net Prophet] by Michelle Ata­gana; meme­burn; 5/21/2014.

“Bit­coin is the most intel­lec­tu­ally inter­est­ing devel­op­ment in the last two years,” said Julian Assange via a WeChat Livestream at Net Prophet— the annu­al tech­nol­ogy and trends con­fer­ence. Accord­ing to the Wik­ileaks founder, the next great inno­va­tion that is head­ed our way will be in the finance sec­tor.

He reck­ons that the tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion behind Bit­coin is estab­lish­ing a new glob­al con­sen­sus.

Usu­ally, we need laws to estab­lish and enforce the way finan­cial trans­ac­tions take place, but Bit­coin is chang­ing that. Cryp­to­graph­i­cally enforced agree­ments, like the ones com­ing out of Bit­coin, are dif­fer­ent from the norm in as much as the code behind them enforces how trans­ac­tions are done.

Assange, who is still being grant­ed asy­lum at the Ecuado­rian embassy in Lon­don, sus­pects that in the next few years we’ll see a lev­el of inno­va­tion in finan­cial ser­vices that far out­strips those of the past. The way he sees it, the cur­rent tra­di­tional mod­el of the finance indus­try isn’t work­ing and Bit­coin is dis­rupt­ing it in a good way.

Respond­ing to a ques­tion on the rise of one dom­i­nant play­er in some aspects of the inter­net (think Google with search), the weath­er-worn whistle­blower reck­ons the age of sin­gle dom­i­nance is prob­lem­at­ic.

“I think that is a seri­ous ques­tion — whether most things that most peo­ple use most of the time will be eat­en up by a few dom­i­nant play­ers,” said Assange, who again turned to the exam­ple of Bit­coin to illus­trate his point.

You can quick­ly form a full finan­cial sys­tem with hedge funds and oth­er such finan­cial ser­vices where there is no reg­u­la­tion, where the reg­u­la­tion is a cryp­to­graphic agree­ment, he points out. The ben­e­fit of such a sys­tem is that peo­ple have to be part of this agree­ment in order to talk to each oth­er.

Anoth­er ben­e­fit is that there is no reg­u­la­tion, because it is all done through com­pu­ta­tion. Finan­cial ser­vices run­ning over the top of cryp­to­graphic pro­to­cols such as Bit­coin there­fore tend to evolve and inno­vate incred­i­bly quick­ly.

Assange reck­ons that when it comes dis­cussing inno­va­tion with­in the finance indus­try, we must under­stand that what we are talk­ing about is the inter­ac­tion of finance. He explains this con­cept as “the abstrac­tion of rela­tion­ships”.

“What we are talk­ing about is the inter­ac­tion of finance: the abstrac­tion of rela­tion­ships between organ­i­sa­tions and indi­vid­u­als and the quan­tifi­ca­tions of those rela­tion­ships.”

For the renowned hack­er, cryp­to­graphic agree­ments involve the need to agree. In turn, he says, we are talk­ing about a way of cre­at­ing new orders and new soci­etal agree­ments that include all of soci­ety, not just new orders that only apply to those who chose to come in and agree to a par­tic­u­lar aspect or cryp­to­graph­ic.

Assange argues that cur­rent struc­tures around finance from polit­i­cal and eco­nomic points of view mean that the peo­ple in con­trol can often get pushed around by the state. This is why Bit­coin is impor­tant, he says, as it brings about diver­sity, which is need­ed in any orga­ni­za­tion. . . .

6b. Assange is a bird of the same feath­er as Ralph Nad­er, Snow­den, Rand Paul and his father Ron Paul.

“Assange’s Emerg­ing Pol­i­tics: Rand Paul and Ron Paul and Lib­er­tar­i­an Wing of GOP Rep­re­sent ‘Only Hope’ by Tom Wat­son; Forbes; 8/17/2013.

The strong turn of Julian Assange and Wik­ileaks toward par­ti­san elec­toral pol­i­tics con­tin­ued this week­end, as Assange told an online audi­ence that he’s “a big admir­er of Ron Paul and Rand Paul for their very prin­ci­pled posi­tions in the U.S. Con­gress on a num­ber of issues” and insist­ed that the lib­er­tar­i­an wing the Repub­li­can Par­ty rep­re­sent­ed the “only hope” for reform in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

The praise for the con­ser­v­a­tive Paul wing of the Repub­li­can Par­ty in the U.S., aligned with Tea Par­ty and anti-gov­ern­ment activists, comes on the heels of the estab­lish­ment of the Wik­ileaks Par­ty in Aus­tralia, where Assange is stand­ing for elec­tion to the Sen­ate from Vic­to­ria. . . . .

7. In the long FTR series on L’Af­faire Snow­den,  we not­ed that all of the play­ers were out­right fas­cists and/or expo­nents of cor­po­ratist eco­nom­ic the­o­ry. That includes Pierre Omid­yar, Nazi fel­low-trav­el­er Glenn Green­wald’s finan­cial angel and backer of First Look media.  Tout­ing the lais­sez-faire eco­nom­ics of the GOP and oth­er cor­po­ratist ele­ments around the world, Omid­yar has also helped to finance the rise of fas­cist ele­ments abroad, includ­ing assist­ing in the ascent of the OUN/B suc­ces­sor forces in the Ukraine, as well as Naren­dra Modi, heir to the RSS Hin­du fas­cists that spawned his BJP.

Omid­yar’s “phil­an­thropy” is cast in the lais­sez-faire eco­nom­ics to which he is wed. Build­ing on the lethal record of his SKS micro­fi­nance project in Andhra Pradesh state in India, Omid­yar Net­works has uti­lized the Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute, the child of Roy Proster­man, a coun­terin­sur­gency vet­er­an of the Phoenix Pro­gram in Viet­nam and sim­i­lar projects in places like El Sal­vador.

Omid­yar and his then-CEO Meg Whit­man (of EBAy) also were  under inves­ti­ga­tion: “. . . .  in return for giv­ing Gold­man Sachs the lucra­tive eBay IPO, the “vam­pire squid” bank set up pri­vate secret accounts for Omid­yar and CEO Meg Whit­man let­ting them spin dozens of tech IPOs before they went to mar­ket — rip­ping off both retail investors and start­up investors. Omid­yar set­tled a share­hold­er fraud law­suit in 2005 with­out admit­ting wrong­do­ing, iron­ic for a vision­ary who believes so deeply in account­abil­i­ty.

Omid­yar and oth­er EBay exec­u­tives are cur­rent­ly being inves­ti­gat­ed for anoth­er alleged scam: “Omid­yar was sub­poe­naed by a fed­er­al grand jury crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion into his and oth­er eBay exec­u­tives’ alleged roles in steal­ing Craigslist’s “secret sauce” for eBay’s prof­it.”

What a swell guy Omid­yar is. Read the arti­cle below for details on his (and oth­er cor­po­ratists’) vision for the mutat­ing of micro-finance into a prof­it-mak­ing vehi­cle, often at the lethal expense of the poor who are sup­posed to ben­e­fit from those pro­grams.

“EBay Shrugged: Pierre Omid­yar Believes there Should Be No Phil­an­thropy With­out Prof­it” by Mark Ames; Pan­do Dai­ly; 5/31/2014.

This week, India’s new­ly-elect­ed ultra­na­tion­al­ist leader Naren­dra Modi unveiled his cab­i­net, three-quar­ters of whom come from a fas­cist para­mil­i­tary out­fit, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh) — includ­ing one min­is­ter accused by police last year of incit­ing dead­ly Hin­du-Mus­lim vio­lence that left over 50 dead.

The RSS was found­ed in 1925 by open admir­ers of Mus­soli­ni and Hitler; in 1948, an RSS mem­ber assas­si­nat­ed paci­fist Mahat­ma Gand­hi. In 1992, it was the RSS that orga­nized the destruc­tion of the Ayo­d­ha Mosque, leav­ing 2000 dead, most­ly Mus­lims; and in 2002, the RSS played a key role in the mass-mur­ders of minor­i­ty Mus­lims in Gujarat, accord­ing to Human Rights Watch, when the state of Gujarat was ruled by Naren­dra Modi — him­self a prod­uct of the RSS.

Ear­li­er this week, Pan­do report­ed that Modi’s elec­tion received help from unlike­ly sources in Sil­i­con Val­ley includ­ing Google, and to a much more seri­ous extent, Omid­yar Net­work, the phil­an­thropy fund of eBay bil­lion­aire and First Look pub­lish­er Pierre Omid­yar.

From 2009 through Feb­ru­ary of this year, Omid­yar Net­work India Advis­ers was head­ed by Jayant Sin­ha, a long­time Modi advis­er and new­ly-elect­ed MP in Modi’s ultra­na­tion­al­ist BJP par­ty tick­et. The Omid­yar Net­work part­ner and man­ag­ing direc­tor played a dou­ble role, invest­ing funds in Indi­an non­prof­its and for-prof­its, some with dis­tinct­ly polit­i­cal agen­das; while pri­vate­ly, the Omid­yar man “worked in Modi’s team” in 2012–13, and served as direc­tor in the ultra­na­tion­al­ist BJP party’s main think tank on secu­ri­ty and eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy, the India Foun­da­tion. This week, Modi appoint­ed the head of the India Foun­da­tion, for­mer intel­li­gence chief Ajit Doval, as his Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advi­sor.

Modi was the “hi-tech pop­ulist” can­di­date: Lon­don techies man­aged Modi’s 3‑D holo­gram cam­paign, beam­ing 10-feet-tall Modi holo­grams to ral­lies across India. And India’s techies played a key role both in cam­paign­ing for Modi and vot­ing for Modi.

Despite the sun­ny pro­gres­sive Sil­i­con Val­ley gloss we’ve been fed these past few decades, Modi’s appeal shows that the tech indus­try is as prone to far-right author­i­tar­i­an pol­i­tics as any oth­er indus­try.

And that is what makes the Omid­yar Net­work sto­ry so reveal­ing: Per­haps no oth­er fig­ure embod­ies the dis­con­nect between his pro­gres­sive anti-state image, and his fac­tu­al col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Amer­i­can nation­al secu­ri­ty state and the glob­al neolib­er­al agen­da, than Pierre Omid­yar.

The role of Omid­yar Net­work in so many major events of the past week — help­ing elect India’s ultra­na­tion­al­ist leader Naren­dra Modi; co-fund­ing Ukraine regime-change NGOs with USAID, result­ing in a dead­ly civ­il war and Monday’s elec­tion of Ukrain­ian bil­lion­aire oli­garch Petro Poroshenko; and now, this week’s first-ever sit-down TV inter­view with Edward Snow­den, through an arrange­ment between NBC News and Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media — shows how these con­tra­dic­tions are com­ing to the fore, and shap­ing our world.

Omidyar’s cen­tral role in the US nation­al secu­ri­ty state’s glob­al agen­da may still come as a shock to out­siders and fans of First Look media’s ros­ter of once-inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists. But to White House for­eign pol­i­cy hawks, Pierre Omid­yar rep­re­sents the new face of an old impe­r­i­al tra­di­tion. . . .

. . . . . By tak­ing a clos­er look at Omid­yar Network’s invest­ments in India, we gain insight into where the com­mon inter­ests between Big Tech, the US nation­al secu­ri­ty state, and neolib­er­al­ism align — and Omidyar’s strate­gic think­ing align­ing eBay/PayPal with Omid­yar Net­work and First Look media.

Let’s start with Omid­yar Network’s invest­ments in the Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute, found­ed by one of the god­fa­thers of Amer­i­can coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy: Roy Proster­man.

“Prop­er­ty Rights”: Omid­yar and “Phoenix Pro­gram” guru Roy Proster­man

Omid­yar Net­work iden­ti­fies “prop­er­ty rights” (or “prop­er­ty titling”) as one of its five areas of focus. One of Omidyar’s per­son­al heroes and largest grant recip­i­ents is neolib­er­al econ­o­mist Her­nan­do de Soto, the for­mer right-hand man to jailed dic­ta­tor Alber­to Fuji­mori. De Soto is the world’s lead­ing ped­dler of “prop­er­ty titling” as the answer to glob­al pover­ty: rather than giv­ing aid, De Soto says we should give the world’s poor pri­vate prop­er­ty titles, which slum dwellers can pre­sum­ably col­lat­er­al­ize into microloans for their slum-based star­tups. The results have often been cat­a­stroph­ic — but that hasn’t stopped De Soto from being admired by the world’s rul­ing elite, rang­ing from Bill Clin­ton, to the Koch broth­ers — to Pierre Omid­yar, who gave $5 mil­lion to De Soto’s neolib­er­al think tank . . .

. . . .India, like many devel­op­ing coun­tries around the world, has what Anglo-Amer­i­cans con­sid­er a weak legal struc­ture on prop­er­ty rights. In par­tic­u­lar, local indige­nous peo­ples lay ancient claims to lands they live on, and have resist­ed state attempts to forcibly evict them to make way for indus­try, min­ing, and oth­er pow­er­ful inter­ests. The Nax­al Maoist insur­gen­cies rag­ing in parts of India are fueled in part by dis­placed, land­less peo­ples. Since Modi’s elec­tion land­slide, glob­al investors have been hope­ful that India’s land will now be made eas­i­er to buy and sell. Omid­yar Network’s long­time top man in India, Jayant Sinha—now an MP in Modi’s far-right rul­ing par­ty — told CNBC that Modi’s first job should be mak­ing land acqui­si­tion eas­i­er:

We have to start with land acqui­si­tion. We have to make land acqui­si­tion a lot bet­ter in terms of both the peo­ple that are acquir­ing the land from the farmer’s and so on as well as for indus­try.

So per­haps it’s lit­tle sur­prise that Omidyar’s first major India grant, in 2008, went to the Rur­al Devel­op­ment Institute’s (renamed “Lan­desa”) pro­gram “to help secure land rights for the rur­al poor” in India’s Andhra Pradesh state. By 2009, Omid­yar Net­work had com­mit­ted $9 mil­lion to the RDI land rights pro­gram, the largest grant in the outfit’s his­to­ry.

And what a his­to­ry: The Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute was found­ed in 1967 by Roy Proster­man, whose land reform pro­grams were a key ele­ment in the Viet­nam War coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy, the “Phoenix” assas­si­na­tion pro­gram. The Phoenix pro­gram became the tem­plate for mod­ern Amer­i­can coun­terin­sur­gency — vio­lent ter­ror, com­bined with soft-pow­er land “reforms” cooked up by Prosterman’s Insti­tute.

Dur­ing the Viet­nam War, Proster­man teamed up with USAID to imple­ment his “land-to-the-tillers” reforms, grant­i­ng land to peas­ants as the car­rot, while at the same time CIA death squads assas­si­nat­ed tens of thou­sands of Viet­namese vil­lage lead­ers and ter­ror­ized restive regions into sub­mis­sion. The result, Proster­man lat­er boast­ed, was that Viet Cong recruit­ment dropped 80 per­cent.

A decade lat­er, Proster­man sold the same land reform pro­gram to El Salvador’s jun­ta, just as the jun­ta was ramp­ing up its dead­ly attacks on rur­al civil­ians that left 75,000 killed by US-backed gov­ern­ment forces. Proster­man also served as “land reform” advi­sor to Philip­pines dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos. And in the 1990s, Proster­man was con­tract­ed by Booz Allen to advise land reforms in Moldo­va, accord­ing to jour­nal­ist Tim Shorrock. . . .

. . . . . A few years ago, Prosterman’s Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute changed its name to Lan­desa. But Prosterman’s Cold War out­fit hasn’t changed its close coop­er­a­tion with USAID, or its core strate­gic mis­sion, tying land own­er­ship to secu­ri­ty (and coun­terin­sur­gency) — neat­ly summed by Landesa’s India director’s arti­cle: “Con­nect­ing the Dots Between Secu­ri­ty and Land Rights in India.”

Leav­ing aside the alleged ben­e­fits to India’s poor of giv­ing them land title to the com­mons — 400,000,000 Indi­ans live on less than $1.25 a day — for the more pow­er­ful inter­ests fund­ing land titling pro­grams, there are end­less advan­tages. It helps cre­ate a mass tax base for gov­ern­ments that want to shift more tax­es onto the mass­es; it for­mal­izes and legal­izes trans­fer of prop­er­ty from the com­mons to the strongest and rich­est; it makes for­eign investors hap­py; it helps the gov­ern­ment and busi­ness­es track and keep data on its cit­i­zens; and, to quote Omid­yar Net­work man­ag­ing part­ner Matt Ban­nick — recent­ly appoint­ed by the Oba­ma White House to a spe­cial task force — Prosterman’s land reforms made Omid­yar “excit­ed about how micro-land own­er­ship can empow­er women and help them to pull them­selves out of pover­ty.”

That’s because micro-land own­er­ship helps cre­ate the real focus of Omid­yar Net­work invest­ments in India: Micro­fi­nance.

“Finan­cial Inclu­sion”: Omid­yar, Micro­fi­nance & Sui­cide-By-Pes­ti­cide

Omid­yar Network’s ugli­est dis­as­ter — besides co-fund­ing Ukraine regime-change groups with USAID — was its role in fund­ing SKS Micro­fi­nance, whose preda­to­ry lend­ing and debt col­lect­ing prac­tices led to a rash of grue­some sui­cides in rur­al Andhra Pradesh.

First, a quick word on the the­o­ry and prac­tice of microlend­ing. In the­o­ry, the orig­i­nal micro­fi­nance con­cept — a non­prof­it extend­ing micro-loans to the poor, under favor­able terms, below mar­ket rates — could be ben­e­fi­cial, and under the right cir­cum­stances, it often was. But to the neolib­er­als, the orig­i­nal micro­fi­nance con­cept smacked of do-good­er state social­ism — so micro­fi­nance floun­dered in the mar­gins of the devel­op­ment com­mu­ni­ty until 1992. That year, USAID com­mer­cial­ized a Boli­vian micro­fi­nance non­prof­it called Pro­dem, cre­at­ing a new for-prof­it micro-lender, Ban­coSol in its place. Ban­coSol bal­looned overnight — both in loans and in prof­its, mak­ing mil­lion­aires of the for­mer non­prof­it direc­tors before Ban­coSol near­ly col­lapsed at the end of the decade.

USAID liked the for-prof­it neolib­er­al mod­el for micro­fi­nance, and it per­suad­ed the World Bank and oth­er glob­al finan­cial insti­tu­tions to load in and sing its prais­es. That brought micro­fi­nance to the atten­tion of Wall Street funds, even­tu­al­ly push­ing out “old” “unsus­tain­able” non­prof­it micro­fi­nance insti­tu­tions, and seduc­ing the likes of Nobel Peace Prize win­ner and micro­fi­nance indus­try guru Muham­mad Yunus into the for-prof­it sec­tor as well. As we now know, it end­ed in dis­as­ter — par­tic­u­lar­ly in India’s Andhra Pradesh state, where Omid­yar-fund­ed land title pro­grams had been busy cre­at­ing legions of rur­al poor “micro-land own­ers” now ready to load up on Omid­yar-fund­ed micro­fi­nance loans. The result would be scores of women dri­ven to gris­ly sui­cides, forced pros­ti­tu­tion, and despair.

It’s hard to over­state just how cen­tral the for-prof­it micro­fi­nance mod­el is to Pierre Omidyar’s “vision.” In a 2006 New York­er arti­cle detail­ing Omidyar’s near-reli­gious zeal for com­mer­cial­iz­ing micro­fi­nance, we learn that the eBay bil­lion­aire not only reject­ed the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s appeals to soft­en his mono­ma­ni­ac focus on prof­it­ing off the world’s poor — we also learn that Omid­yar was com­mit­ted to wip­ing out what­ev­er remained of char­i­ta­ble non-prof­it microlend­ing, so as not to “dis­tort the mar­ket.” Omid­yar reject­ed on prin­ci­ple entreaties from his fel­low bil­lion­aires to invest in a non­prof­it micro­fi­nance fund. Because on prin­ci­ple, Omid­yar refused to believe that good could come from any­thing but the self-inter­est­ed prof­it motive. Here’s the New York­er:

[Omid­yar] often cites Adam Smith’s doc­trine that unre­strained mar­ket forces and self-inter­est dri­ve the most efficient—and social­ly beneficial—use of resources. Omid­yar sees Smith’s prin­ci­ples at work in eBay; he believes that eBay’s com­mer­cial suc­cess was linked to a pro­found social good.

Omidyar’s faith in the eBay mod­el is so great that he is con­vinced that it can be applied to solv­ing humanity’s prob­lems, includ­ing pover­ty — and that is why Omid­yar sin­gled out for-prof­it micro­fi­nance as his life’s mis­sion. After reject­ing Yunus as an “old thinker” wed­ded to old do-good­erism non-prof­it think­ing, Omid­yar announced a $100 mil­lion dona­tion to Tufts Uni­ver­si­ty, the largest in school his­to­ry, with the stip­u­la­tion that the Omid­yar-Tufts Micro­fi­nance Fund went “specif­i­cal­ly” into “invest­ments that would pro­mote microfinance’s com­mer­cial­iza­tion.”

To man­age the fund, Omid­yar hired a Senior Cred­it Offi­cer from USAID — the agency that orig­i­nal­ly com­mer­cial­ized micro­fi­nance in 1992 — who chan­neled Joseph Schum­peter to the New York­er:

“One of the things we need and we will get is a cycle of cre­ative destruc­tion,” said Try­fan Evans, the direc­tor of invest­ments at the Omid­yar-Tufts fund, who pre­vi­ous­ly worked at U.S.A.I.D. “If you’re inef­fi­cient, you will get over­tak­en by com­peti­tors.”

What is rather shock­ing in hind­sight is how fanat­i­cal Omidyar’s faith is in the free mar­ket, to the point that he’s will­ing to risk exploit­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble poor on earth to prove that Adam Smith is right. The dan­gers of for-prof­it micro­fi­nance lend­ing to India’s poor were no secret: the New York­er arti­cle ref­er­ences a string of micro­fi­nance relat­ed sui­cides in Andhra Pradesh back in 2006, before Omidyar’s mil­lions poured oil on that fire. . . .

. . . . And so Omid­yar test­ed his the­o­ry: plow­ing mil­lions into India’s SKS Micro­fi­nance via  invest­ments into murky micro­fi­nance out­fit Uni­tus. In 2010, SKS Micro­fi­nance list­ed a $350 mil­lion IPO that net­ted insid­ers and ear­ly investors like Uni­tus obscene prof­its. The murky, inter­lock­ing non­prof­it/­for-prof­it struc­tures ensured that only those on the inside knew whether Omid­yar made mon­ey on his invest­ment.

The only sure thing was that the explo­sion of micro­fi­nance lend­ing in the state of Andrah Pradesh, led by SKS Micro­fi­nance, wound up sad­dling the world’s poor­est and most vul­ner­a­ble vil­lage women with debts they could not pay, caus­ing a wave of sui­cides. An AP inves­ti­ga­tion direct­ly impli­cat­ed Omid­yar-fund­ed SKS Micro­fi­nance agents in sev­er­al sui­cides:

One woman drank pes­ti­cide and died a day after an SKS loan agent told her to pros­ti­tute her daugh­ters to pay off her debt. She had been giv­en 150,000 rupees ($3,000) in loans but only made 600 rupees ($12) a week.

Anoth­er SKS debt col­lec­tor told a delin­quent bor­row­er to drown her­self in a pond if she want­ed her loan waived. The next day, she did. She left behind four chil­dren.

One agent blocked a woman from bring­ing her young son, weak with diar­rhea, to the hos­pi­tal, demand­ing pay­ment first. Oth­er bor­row­ers, who could not get any new loans until she paid, told her that if she want­ed to die, they would bring her pes­ti­cide. An SKS staff mem­ber was there when she drank the poi­son. She sur­vived.

An 18-year-old girl, pres­sured until she hand­ed over 150 rupees ($3) – meant for a school exam­i­na­tion fee – also drank pes­ti­cide. She left a sui­cide note: “Work hard and earn mon­ey. Do not take loans.”

In all these cas­es, the report com­mis­sioned by SKS con­clud­ed that the company’s staff was either direct­ly or indi­rect­ly respon­si­ble.

After the report, Omid­yar Net­work scrubbed SKS Micro­fi­nance from its web­site. An old cached web­page shows Omid­yar hail­ing SKS Micro­fi­nance for “serv­ing the rur­al poor in India” and claim­ing that the murky Uni­tus pri­vate equi­ty fund’s IPO “exit strat­e­gy” will “attract more cap­i­tal to the mar­ket.”

Instead, Uni­tus dis­solved its micro­fi­nance NGO, a wave of res­ig­na­tions and murky mil­lions moved hands, SKS Micro­fi­nance became a pari­ah, and Andhra Pradesh passed laws reg­u­lat­ing micro­fi­nance insti­tu­tions. A tiny hand­ful of insid­ers and investors pock­et­ed obscene mil­lions, over 200 killed them­selves, and entire Indi­an rur­al com­mu­ni­ties were dev­as­tat­ed. Self-inter­est and prof­it motive did not cre­ate the great­est social good that Omid­yar believed in; and yet, Omid­yar Net­work con­tin­ues to expand its port­fo­lio of micro­fi­nance — or “finan­cial inclu­sion” — invest­ments.

eBay Shrugged

 “Omid­yar stopped talk­ing about micro­fi­nance as a way to end world pover­ty, and instead described its mis­sion in a way con­gru­ent with the eBay expe­ri­ence.” —New York­er

The key to under­stand­ing the enig­mat­ic eBay bil­lion­aire and his many con­tra­dic­tions — an active par­tic­i­pant in Washington’s glob­al empire on a scale unri­valed in pub­lish­ing, while also founder of a quar­ter-bil­lion dol­lar “adver­sar­i­al jour­nal­ism” start­up and pri­va­tiz­er of the Snow­den NSA files, the largest cache of leaked nation­al secu­ri­ty secrets in US his­to­ry — is under­stand­ing Omidyar’s eBay-cen­tric vision.

Omid­yar is a vision man, as his star employ­ee Jere­my Scahill con­stant­ly reminds us. And his vision was shaped, for under­stand­able rea­sons, by his expe­ri­ence mak­ing ten bil­lion dol­lars overnight off of eBay, which Omid­yar believes is proof of a larg­er philo­soph­i­cal and moral struc­ture at work, rather than a com­bi­na­tion of smarts, luck, priv­i­lege… and oth­er less savory fac­tors.

In 2000, Omid­yar con­fid­ed to his New York Times biog­ra­ph­er, Adam Cohen, that he found­ed eBay to cre­ate a “per­fect mar­ket” after feel­ing cheat­ed by the way tech IPOs in the ear­ly 1990s let insid­ers “spin” IPOs for a quick prof­its before dump­ing them onto the mar­ket to reg­u­lar investors — like the pre-eBay Omid­yar. Cohen writes:

When 3DO announced plans to go pub­lic in May 1993, Omid­yar placed an order for stock through his Charles Schwab bro­ker­age account…. 3DO went pub­lic at $15 a share, but when Omid­yar checked his account, he learned that the stock had soared 50 per­cent before his order had been filled…. it struck him that this was not how a free mar­ket was sup­posed to operate—favored buy­ers pay­ing one price, and ordi­nary peo­ple get­ting the same stock moments lat­er at a size­able markup.

Omidyar’s solu­tion was an online auc­tion.

Cohen, a mem­ber of the New York Times edi­to­r­i­al board, found Omidyar’s sto­ry con­vinc­ing. There was only one prob­lem: At the very time Omid­yar spun this yarn to Cohen, Omid­yar was under inves­ti­ga­tion in the largest IPO stock spin­ning scan­dal in his­to­ry. Accord­ing to a House inves­ti­ga­tion, in return for giv­ing Gold­man Sachs the lucra­tive eBay IPO, the “vam­pire squid” bank set up pri­vate secret accounts for Omid­yar and CEO Meg Whit­man let­ting them spin dozens of tech IPOs before they went to mar­ket — rip­ping off both retail investors and start­up investors. Omid­yar set­tled a share­hold­er fraud law­suit in 2005 with­out admit­ting wrong­do­ing, iron­ic for a vision­ary who believes so deeply in account­abil­i­ty.

More recent­ly, Omid­yar was sub­poe­naed by a fed­er­al grand jury crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion into his and oth­er eBay exec­u­tives’ alleged roles in steal­ing Craigslist’s “secret sauce” for eBay’s prof­it. . . .

8. Omid­yar’s “overt covert oper­a­tion” par­tic­i­pa­tion in India has paid off, with his suc­cess­ful can­di­date of choice Naren­dra Modi open­ing up that huge coun­ty to e‑commerce. That fig­ures to ben­e­fit Omid­yar enor­mous­ly.

“Just as We Pre­dicted, India’s New Leader Is about to Make Pierre Omid­yar a Lot Rich­er” by Mark Ames; Pan­do Dai­ly; 6/4/2014.

Well that was fast. Two weeks ago, we report­ed that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s top man in India had secret­ly helped elect con­tro­ver­sial ultra­na­tion­al­ist Naren­dra Modi, impli­cated by Human Rights Watch and oth­ers in the grue­some mass killings and cleans­ing of minor­ity Mus­lims. As we also revealed, short­ly after Omidyar’s man pub­licly joined the Modi cam­paign in Feb­ru­ary, Modi sud­denly began warm­ing up to the idea of let­ting glob­al e‑commerce com­pa­nies into the world’s third largest econ­omy. Omidyar’s eBay, which draws the major­ityof its rev­enues from over­seas oper­a­tions, has been champ­ing at the bit to get into India.

Now, just weeks after Modi’s elec­tion, it seems their prayers have been answered.

Today, Reuters is report­ing that Modi is plan­ning to open India up to glob­al e‑commerce firms like eBay next month, and that Modi’s indus­try min­is­ter has been draw­ing up the new guide­lines with input from top eBay offi­cials, along with their e‑commerce coun­ter­parts from Google, Ama­zon, Wal-Mart and oth­ers.

Call­ing the move to allow for­eign e‑commerce into India “one of the first tan­gi­ble signs of eco­nomic reform by the busi­ness-friend­ly gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi,” Reuters reports that the sec­tor is expect­ed to quadru­ple its share of the over­all econ­omy by 2020. India’s e‑commerce indus­try is grow­ing at 40–50% annu­ally. Those num­bers, and Modi’s accom­mo­dat­ing behav­ior, is mak­ing Pierre Omidyar’s under­lings sali­vate:

“Deepa Thomas, spokes­woman for eBay in India, said it was excit­ed about the oppor­tu­nity and believed in the need for a care­fully cal­i­brated approach to open­ing up the sec­tor.

“The indus­try min­istry that drafts FDI rules recent­ly met offi­cials from com­pa­nies includ­ing Ama­zon, Google, eBay Inc, Wal-Mart and Indi­an e‑tailer Flip­kart to finalise the invest­ment guide­lines, the peo­ple said.

“Glob­al online retail­ers like Ama­zon and eBay are cur­rently banned from sell­ing prod­ucts they have sourced them­selves, and must rely on third-par­ty sup­pli­ers. Their plat­forms, which they own ful­ly, are mar­ket­places for these out­side sup­pli­ers.

“The gov­ern­ment is like­ly to end this ban, paving the way for glob­al retail­ers to bring their for­mi­da­ble sup­ply chain, and cheap­er goods, into India, poten­tially boost­ing con­sump­tion and ben­e­fit­ing small man­u­fac­tur­ers and traders.”

As we report­ed, the long­time man­ag­ing direc­tor and part­ner for Omid­yar Net­work India Advi­sors, Jayant Sin­ha, began work­ing to help elect Modi since at least 2012, while pub­licly dol­ing out tens of mil­lionsof Omidyar’s mon­ey to for-prof­its and to non-prof­its, at least one of which was involved in an anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign cam­paign that under­mined the cen­ter-left rul­ing gov­ern­ment, and ben­e­fited Modi’s far-right BJP par­ty.

Omidyar’s top India man also con­cur­rently served as a direc­tor in a pow­er­ful BJP think tank, the India Foun­da­tion, chaired by Modi’s hard­line Nation­al Secu­rity Advi­sor, Ajit Doval— accord­ing to the Hin­dus­tan Times. After step­ping down from Omid­yar Net­work in Feb­ru­ary of this year, Sin­ha worked full-time for Modi, the India Foun­da­tion, and for his own suc­cess­ful run as a BJP can­di­date for par­lia­ment.

Anoth­er NGO that Omid­yar invest­ed in, the Insti­tute for Pol­icy Research Stud­ies (IPRS), was accused of ille­gally try­ing to lob­by India’s par­lia­men­tar­i­ans to vote for open­ing up India’s e‑commerce mar­ket in late 2012. The IPRS non­profit ran a pro­gram in which their staffers pro­vided India MP staffers with “non­par­ti­san” research. In 2012, India’s intel­li­gence bureau accused the IPRS of ““com­pro­mis­ing nation­al secu­rity”” and described it as “shroud­ed in mys­tery.”

Omid­yar Net­work had pledged $1 mil­lion to the IPRS, and the Ford Foun­da­tion pledged half a mil­lion more — but the Indi­an gov­ern­ment reject­ed the IPRS’s appli­ca­tion to reg­is­ter as a for­eign-fund­ed NGO, deem­ing it a threat to India’s par­lia­men­tary integri­ty, and its nation­al secu­rity. Google’s cor­po­rate phil­an­thropic arm, Google.org, had pre­vi­ously giv­en $880,000to the same NGO pro­gram, under Sheryl Sandberg’s watch.

The co-founder of this con­tro­ver­sial nev­er-reg­is­tered NGO, CV Mud­hakar, is now, you might not be shocked to learn, Omid­yar Net­work India’s direc­tor of invest­ments in “gov­ern­ment trans­parency.”
. . . .

9. One of the major points of our Eddie the Friend­ly Spook series was the emphat­ic the­sis that peo­ple should fear the tech com­pa­nies, NOT the NSA. The NSA is a mil­i­tary agency and its mem­bers are NOT going to move up to GS-12 or what­ev­er by find­ing out who’s fart­ing in their cubi­cle at work. They are NOT inter­est­ed in the turgid details of the insignif­i­cant lives of the aver­age cit­i­zen.

The tech com­pa­nies, on the oth­er hand, ARE inter­est­ed in EVERYTHING con­cern­ing EVERYONE–it is (arguably) their most impor­tant cap­i­tal asset, behind their patent­ed soft­ware.

Face­book now has a fea­ture that will enable them to turn on the micro­phone of users’ cell phones at any time and lis­ten in on their cus­tomers and every­one around them!

Be aware that Face­book “option­al” fea­tures have to be “opt­ed” out of, some­thing many of Face­book’s users (par­tic­u­lar­ly teen and pre-teen cus­tomers, of whom there are MANY) might not be aware of.

Pter­rafractyl notes: “In addi­tion to being a creepy reminder of the creep­ing sur­veil­lance capac­ity that tech­nol­ogy inher­ently facil­i­tates, part of what’s going to make the roll out of this kind of tech­nol­ogy inter­est­ing to watch is that the sound match­ing algo­rithms are prob­a­bly going to have to yield “fuzzy” match­es, at best, since the appli­ca­tion is designed to run pas­sively in a noisy envi­ron­ment with lots of ran­dom nois­es and con­ver­sa­tions over­lay­ing the music or tv shows play­ing in the back­ground. And with mul­ti­ple sea­sons for 160 tele­vi­sion sta­tions get­ting stored as the audio data­base, users’ every­day ran­dom con­ver­sa­tions that might get picked up by the app are going to be matched against a pret­ty mas­sive data­base of con­ver­sa­tional audio con­tent. It rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not that data­base is going to be small enough to store on indi­vid­ual phones and tablets or if it’s going to be send­ing all that hashed audio con­tent back to Face­book in real-time where it gets matched. This was this state­ment from Face­book:

“We’re not record­ing audio or sound and send­ing it to Face­book or its servers...We turn the audio it hears into a code — code that is not reversible into audio — and then we match it against a data­base of code.”

That sure sounds like the plan is for the audio con­tent to get “cod­ed”on the phone and sent to Face­book for real-time analy­sis. That’s ser­vice! A creepy ser­vice, but ser­vice!

So how often will peo­ple get “false pos­i­tives” where they’re inad­ver­tently cre­at­ing a “close enough” hit to a seg­ment of some ran­dom TV show? It seems like it might hap­pen every once in a while and it rais­es the pos­si­bil­ity of a rather neat new type of sur­vey: if users click a lit­tle “this isn’t what I was lis­ten­ing to or watch­ing” but­ton every time the app makes a “match­ing” mis­take it could be a method of sam­pling the extent to which life imi­tates art in every­day con­ver­sa­tions a whole new way. Kin­da neat, eh?

That said, we real­ly don’t need fan­cy new ways of sur­veilling every last bit of our lives in order to mea­sure how life is imi­tat­ing art these days. Direct obser­va­tion is enough.”

Nev­er lose sight of the fact that Peter Thiel is the largest stock­hold­er in Face­book, as well as Palan­tir that, their dis­claimers notwith­stand­ing, almost cer­tain­ly makes the PRISM soft­ware.

“Face­book Wants To Lis­ten In On What You’re Doing” by Kash­mir Hill; Forbes; 5/22/2014.

Face­book had two big announce­ments this week that show the company’s wild­ly diver­gent takes on the nature of pri­vacy. One announce­mentis that the com­pany is encour­ag­ing new users to ini­tially share only with their “friends” rather than with the gen­eral pub­lic, the pre­vi­ous default. And for exist­ing users, the com­pany plans to break out the old “pri­vacy dinosaur” to do a “ check-up” to remind peo­ple of how they’re shar­ing. Face­book employ­ees say that using an extinct crea­ture as a sym­bol for pri­vacy isn’t sub­tle mes­sag­ing, but sim­ply an icon to which their users respond well. Mean­while, Facebook’s sec­ond announce­ment indi­cated just how com­fort­able they think their users are in shar­ing every lit­tle thing hap­pen­ing in their lives. Face­book is rolling out a new fea­ture for its smart­phone app that can turn on users’ micro­phones and lis­ten to what’s hap­pen­ing around them to iden­tify songs play­ing or tele­vi­sion being watched. The pay-off for users in allow­ing Face­book to eaves­drop is that the social giant will be able to add a lit­tle tag to their sta­tus update that says they’re watch­ing an episode of Games of Thrones as they sound off on their hap­pi­ness (or despair) about the rise in back­ground sex on TV these days.


The fea­ture is an option­al one, some­thing the com­pany empha­sizes in its announce­ment. The tech giant does seem well-aware that in these days of Snow­den sur­veil­lance rev­e­la­tions, peo­ple might not be too keen for Face­book to take con­trol of their smartphone’s mic and start lis­ten­ing in on them by default. It’s only rolling out the fea­ture in the U.S. and a prod­uct PR per­son empha­sized repeat­edly that no record­ing is being stored, only “code.” [NSA only har­vests metadata–D.E.] “We’re not record­ing audio or sound and send­ing it to Face­book or its servers,” says Face­book spokesper­son Momo Zhou. “We turn the audio it hears into a code — code that is not reversible into audio — and then we match it against a data­base of code.”

If a Face­booker opts in, the fea­ture is only acti­vated when he or she is com­pos­ing an update. When the smartphone’s lis­ten­ing in — some­thing it can only do through the iOS and Android apps, not through Face­book on a brows­er — tiny blue bars will appear to announce the mic has been acti­vated. Face­book says the micro­phone will not oth­er­wise be col­lect­ing data. When it’s lis­ten­ing, it tells you it is “match­ing,” rather than how I might put it, “eaves­drop­ping on your enter­tain­ment of choice.”

It reminds me of GPS-tag­ging an update, but with cul­tural con­text rather than loca­tion deets. While you decide whether to add the match to a giv­en Face­book update, Face­book gets infor­ma­tion about what you were lis­ten­ing to or watch­ing regard­less, though it won’t be asso­ci­ated with your pro­file. “If you don’t choose to post and the fea­ture detects a match, we don’t store match infor­ma­tion except in an anonymized form that is not asso­ci­ated with you,” says Zhou. Depend­ing on how many peo­ple turn the fea­ture on, it will be a nice store of infor­ma­tion about what Face­book users are watch­ing and lis­ten­ing to, even in anonymized form.

Sure, we’re used to fea­tures like this thanks to exist­ing apps that will rec­og­nize a song for us. But usu­ally when you acti­vate those apps, you’re explic­itly doing so to find out the name of a song. Face­book is hop­ing to make that process a back­ground activ­ity to com­pos­ing a sta­tus update — a fric­tion­less share that just hap­pens, the real-world ver­sion of link­ing your Spo­tify account to your social media account allow­ing playlists to leak through. Face­book spent a yearhon­ing its audio sam­pling and devel­op­ing a cat­a­log of con­tent — mil­lions of songs and 160 tele­vi­sion sta­tions — to match against. It’s obvi­ous that it wants to dis­place Twit­ter as the go-to place for real-time com­ment­ing on sport­ing events, awards shows, and oth­er com­mu­nal tele­vi­sion watch­ing. “With TV shows, we’ll actu­ally know the exact sea­son and episode num­ber you’re watch­ing,” says Zhou. “We built that to pre­vent spoil­ers.”. . . .

10. An arti­cle not includ­ed in the orig­i­nal broad­cast notes that Face­book is man­i­fest­ing what one Sil­i­con Val­ley CEO sees as a trend in cor­po­rate data har­vest­ing.

“Here’s How to Defend Your­self from Facebook’s New Brows­er-Spy­ing Cam­paign” by Mark Sul­li­van; Ven­ture­Beat; 6/12/2014.

Face­book sent out a notice Thurs­day about its inten­tion to begin shar­ing the brows­ing data of its mem­bers with its adver­tis­ing part­ners.

It’s a move that most observers saw com­ing, but one that Face­book has always denied — with vig­or.

Face­book can’t cap­ture data about you vis­it­ing just any site, only those that have part­nered with it. Basi­cally, any site that has a “like” but­ton (such as this one) or that per­mits you to log in with your Face­book cre­den­tials will store data about your vis­it in your brows­er, which can lat­er be read by Face­book.

Here’s how Face­book describes it in its Terms of Ser­vice:

“We and our affil­i­ates, third par­ties, and oth­er part­ners (“part­ners”) use these tech­nolo­gies for secu­rity pur­poses and to deliv­er prod­ucts, ser­vices and adver­tise­ments, as well as to under­stand how these prod­ucts, ser­vices and adver­tise­ments are used. With these tech­nolo­gies, a web­site or appli­ca­tion can store infor­ma­tion on your brows­er or device and lat­er read that infor­ma­tion back.”

Face­book also released a video to adver­tis­ers and users Thurs­day morn­ing explain­ing the company’s tar­get­ing prac­tices. A com­mon mantra among web mar­keters is that they’re actu­ally doing con­sumers a favor by col­lect­ing the infor­ma­tion they need to serve more rel­e­vant ads.

What to do (and not both­er doing)

If you don’t want Face­book to col­lect and trans­mit your brows­ing data, you can take some steps to pre­vent it from doing so.

But first, here’s what not to do.

The adver­tis­ing indus­try has put up a site called Your Ad Choic­es, which offers con­sumers a way to “opt out.” But the site lets you opt out of receiv­ing ads that have been tar­geted at you based on your brows­ing data. But it will not let you “opt out” from com­pa­nies har­vest­ing your brows­ing data.

Nor can you expect to get any real relief by try­ing to tweak­ing your Face­book Pri­vacy set­tings. Face­book announced today that it would be rolling out “ad pref­er­ences,” a new tool acces­si­ble from every ad on Face­book that “explains why you’re see­ing a spe­cific ad and lets you add and remove inter­ests that we use to show you ads.” Of course, Face­book is not offer­ing you a way to stop them from col­lect­ing your brows­ing data in the first place.

Sev­eral brows­er plug-ins will block sites like Face­book from drop­ping lines of code into your brows­er allow­ing it to track you.

One of the good ones is Do Not Track Mefrom Abine.com. This is a Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based firm that focus­es on build­ing brows­er tools to secure brows­ing data and oth­er per­sonal infor­ma­tion.

Oth­er sol­id rec­om­men­da­tions that will work on Chrome and Fire­fox browsers are Ghostery and Dis­con­nect.


Abine CEO Rob Shavell says he isn’t sur­prised by the news about Face­book.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more com­pa­nies doing this,” Shavell told Ven­ture­Beat. “Hav­ing worked at a ven­ture cap­i­tal firm in Sil­i­con Val­ley, I think there’s a data bub­ble going on. There’s been so much mon­ey invest­ed in ad tech com­pa­nies, includ­ing Face­book, and so much hype around them, they are going to have to col­lect more and more per­sonal data. There’s just too much pres­sure to make all that mon­ey back.”

Shavell says investors have put $6.5 bil­lion behind adver­tis­ing tech com­pa­nies in the past two years.

Face­book did not respond to a request for com­ment on this sto­ry.


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