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June 29th

Click Here To Be An Unwitting Guinea Pig

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It is entirely possible that, right now, I am legally obligated to babysit Tim Cook's children for free and provide my own airfare to Cupertino. I doubt I'll ever get the call, but if it happens, I'm sure I'm not going to be able to fight it. Neither are you. Because you agreed.

We've all agreed to hundreds of things because we have no real choice. I mean, we do have a choice to abandon technology and the benefits of the Information Age, but that's some stone knives and bearskins bullshit. So we're stuck agreeing to legally binding terms of use that none of us understand.

Case in point, Facebook. Now, I'm one of those people. People that don't use Facebook. But this isn't, for a change, about my technological superiority. I mean, I even tried using Google+ for a bit until they discontinued Reader and I was done helping Google keep its little cable-access version of Facebook viable.

But this weekend, it came to light that in 2012, Facebook manipulated the content of the feeds of over 600,000 of its users as part of a scientific experiment in an attempt to prove or disprove the notion that seeing other people doing well on social media makes people feel worse about their own lives.

So they picked over half a million anonymous users at random, took positive things out of some of their feeds, took negative things out of others, and then tracked those users' own postings to find out whether they were more positive or negative.

By the way, their data disproved the notion, if that helps you any. It doesn't help me much, because while Facebook claims the changes were minor and users clearly didn't notice, what really matters is that everyone who uses Facebook agreed to be experimented on.

Not deliberately or consciously, of course. Probably around paragraph fifty-seven, couched in legalese about how Facebook manages user data. And no, the answer is not studying law and reading through to paragraph fifty-seven so that you can figure out that means you get to be the subject of a corporation's self-serving psychological experiments and make an informed decision about whether or not you can in good conscience agree to that if it means you can see Aunt Karen's pictures of her pug.

We live in a time where informed consent simply isn't feasible. And it's been made so by legions of well-paid lawyers who know if you don't like it, you have to suck it up, because they've rigged the game so that it's too expensive to fight, and likely impossible to win.

The only thing keeping us relatively protected is the negative publicity associated with discovery - one person stumbling across a bit of language and figuring out its sinister intent, forcing the company to change it for a few months before rewriting it in a more obscure way, slipping it into a different paragraph, and hoping nobody notices this time.

Or, in this case, the results of the study being revealed two years later and six hundred thousand Facebook users changing their status to "What The Ever-Loving Fuck?"

Eventually, this shit will come to a head and will need to stop. Or we'll all wake up one morning with the horrible realization we have to work the rest of our lives in Twitter's sulfur mines, cursed never to learn even what Twitter needs all that sulfur for. #SULFURGHAZI.