Here is a fabulous piece (though a bit inelegantly translated) by Matteo Pasquinelli. He argues that Google (and specifically its PageRank algorithm) is not an apparatus of surveillance and control at all. Rather it is “a machine to capture living time and living labor and to transform the common intellect into network value.” What Google has done, he tells us, is to invent a way to track and measure our activity as we browse the web. This activity is our own activity, our own decision-making about the content that is important to us, our own judgements about value. Each link, each click on a link, each linking of one page to another, represents a “concretion of intelligence”; taken together, these events are more or less what Marx (and the Italians) call the general intellect. Google captures information about this intellect, maps its contours, and then sells that knowledge of the general intellect to advertisers (who are giddy about the laserlike targeting for their ads). Google mobilizes this advertising machine though their AdSense and Adwords services (both of which you can block using Ghostery), and it is through such services that 99% of Google’s profits flow. In short, what Google does, Pasquinelli argues, is to develop a detailed understanding of how we direct our attention on the web, and it sells that understanding to advertisers.
Pasquinelli’s analysis of the problem is fantastic. His suggestions for what we might do in response are less useful. He says counter-ranking projects (e.g. OpenRank) are doomed, but he does not offer much beyond that. What occurred to me is the option of making the general intellect opaque, unreadable, unknown. This would be a sort of becoming-imperceptible approach, one that starves Google of information about our activity. It is the model suggested by services like Ghostery and Disconnect, which prevent Google’s services (like Google Analytics) from gathering data on our activity. It seems it is not so much that we need to confront and break Google’s monopoly on knowledge about the general intellect, replacing it with many alternative ways to produce that knowledge; perhaps it is more that we need to flee any such attempts to know, capture, and sell our collective activity and desire.