'AT&T has come a long way from the supernormative, feel-good messages of its You Will ads; now CEO Randall Stephenson predicts a future where his company will dynamically alter your TV ads based on what it thinks you will buy; and chase you with that ad from your TV to your computer to your phone, and then spy on your location to see whether you go to a retailer to buy the thing you've had advertised to you; and use that intelligence to command high advertising rates from advertisers.
On The Verge, Nilay Patel points out that this requires an enormous, vertically integrated scaffolding of surveillance, made possible by the company's ownership of the video services you watch, the device data showing what you're watching from moment to moment, location tracking from your devices, data from ad-partners tracking your purchases, all in realtime, available to a huge number of ad-sales associates who will use it in their pitches to advertisers.
One important element of this mix is how much it relies on Reagan's radical rewrite of antitrust laws, which allow for companies to grow by merging with rivals (as AT&T grew by reabsorbing the "Baby Bells" it was forced to spin out in the 1982 antitrust breakup), and acquiring nascent competitors (as AT&T has done with dozens of small tech companies that might have challenged it someday), and to acquire vertically integrated monopolies (as AT&T has done in acquiring Time-Warner and other media companies, each of which had grown by violating pre-Reagan antitrust).
AT&T's surveillance business model is only viable because it can practice antitrust violations with impunity, in other words.
What's more, AT&T is still not planning to deliver high-efficacy ads. With all this shenanigans, it's still going to sell cars to much, much less than 1% of the people it shows ads to.
This is an important detail in the practice of what Shoshana Zuboff has dubbed "Surveillance Capitalism." In Zuboff's conception, antitrust concerns are really a sideshow, because machine learning is so powerful at shaping human outcomes that even if monopolies were ended, our ability to make free choices would still be fatally compromised.'
Read more: AT&T's dystopian advertising vision perfectly illustrates the relationship between surveillance and monopoly
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