Pluralistic: 16 Apr 2021

Today's links

Mass-action lawsuit against Facebook (permalink)

Did your data get breached by Facebook in its vast, ghastly, 500,000,000 person valdez? The lovely folks at Digital Rights Ireland are suing Facebook under the GDPR for money damages and they'd like to sign you up to be part of the lawsuit.

You're eligible if you live in the EU and your data was leaked. And, thanks to the GDPR, your participation in the legal action could result in Facebook being on the hook for real cash damages.

A successful mass-action against Facebook with monetary damages will be a game-changer. That's because the data that Facebook gathers on us is very nearly worthless, and the company's vast profits depend on even more vast collection and cheap, reckless, sloppy data-handling.

Data isn't the new oil, it's the new oily rag, a highly flammable source of the very lowest grade of crude, only profitable if you acquire it for next to nothing, stockpile it in unimaginable quantities, and fail to invest in prudent fire-suppression.

The DRI action is an example of the power of privacy laws to tip the balance against dangerous business-models. It relies on the GDPR, the flawed, first-of-its-kind privacy law passed in 2016, whose major initial impact was to drive the European ad-tech sector to extinction.

Ad-tech is a hugely concentrated industry, with two US companies – FB and Google – accounting for the vast majority of the business, which has turned into a rigged casino where the house always wins, defrauding publishers, advertisers, and users:

Despite this, Googbook are in it for the long-haul and have been generally careful to keep their bad actions below the threshold for extinction-level enforcement events. They're conservative fraudsters – unlike the scrappy scumbags chasing the table-scraps they left behind.

These scrappers – including the largely defunct EU ad-tech sector – are not in it for the long haul. They have a certain amount of runway, and either they attain profitability before it runs out, or they crash and burn.

Googbook plays it safe so it can play again tomorrow, but the little guys play it fast and loose because they don't know if they'll even have a tomorrow.

On top of that, Googbook has a vast war-chest of retained supernormal profits that it can spend to defend itself when it gets into hot water, so it can get away with stuff that annihilates the little firms at first contact.

That's why, five years into the GDPR epoch, the US Big Tech/ad-tech duopoly that inspired its passage are stronger than ever, and the EU tech sector the GDPR was supposed to help has faced sizable closures.

But this might just be the turning point. The GDPR has a form of "private right of action": the right of people who've been wronged to bring their own legal action against the companies that had harmed them.

And it includes monetary damages, which can make the difference between profitable and unprofitable commercial surveillance.

The combination means that DRI can fundraise to hire lawyers to represent millions of Europeans together, without having to convince a regulator or state attorney to take up their cause. Like I said, it's a potential game-changer.

This is all the more notable because of the current US debate about both state-level privacy laws and a national privacy law, in which the Serious People in the Room insist that a private right of action is off the table, because Big Tech won't stand for it.

That, of course, is exactly why we need it. Googbook's tolerance for a privacy law that can only be enforced by AGs and DAs is a gamble that they can arm-twist, lobby, or sweet-talk government law-enforcers into wrist-slaps forever.

In the hands of law enforcement officials, the GDPR did nothing to curb Googbook's bad behavior. In the hands of the people it might result in sweeping changes.

That's why a private right of action should be the minimum standard for every privacy law, state and federal.

$100m deli made $35k in 2019/20 (permalink)

If there's one thing we've learned during the lockdown, where the stock market soared even as economic activity (making and buying stuff) cratered, it's that the finance economy is totally decoupled from the real economy.

Seen in that light, the Gamestop and other meme-stock/stonks bull runs were just more of the same: the movements of the market's fickle, questing line are based on random chance and manipulation, like the movement of the ball on a roulette wheel.

It's a casino.

It's a rigged casino.

It's a rigged casino whose existence depends on money-laundering, fraud and other crime.

Which is the only explanation for Your Hometown Deli, a sandwich shop in New Jersey that went public in 2019 and has a current market cap of $100m.

Your Hometown Deli has grossed a total of $35,000 over the past two years. Its only full-time employees are its officers and directors. At least some of its shareholders are in Macau.

Its president is a local high-school principal and wrestling coach with no apparent food prep or retail experience. His shares are worth over $20m and he appears to be part owner of the company that leases a genuinely ugly building to the deli.

The company's VP is a local high-school math teacher. She and her boss are the company's only full-time employees and draw no salary for their work. Neither does the company's chair, who owns or is involved with mulitple Chinese and Hong Kong finance/private equity firms.

Prior to that, the chair was directing companies in New Zealand, during its period as a notorious money-launderer, heavily implicated in the Panama Papers.

All of this came to light because hedge fund manager David Einhorn raised it in a letter to his shareholders as a cautionary tale about the risks to retail investors. But whatever is going on with this $100m convenience store, it has nothing to do with retail investment.

Its shares barely trade at all. It appears that mysterious people, possibly in China and Macau and Hong Kong, decided to park $100m in a convenience store and got a couple local high-school teachers in on the bit.

This business with $35,000 in revenue over two years had $600k in expenses in 2020 and $154k in 2019. It also made $2.2m through the sale of its stock.

That's not a story about Redditors pushing the price of Gamestop and AMC through the roof – it's far more sinister-seeming

I have no idea what's going on with this sandwich shop, but I will be awfully surprised if the primary reason for all this financialization has anything at all to do with sandwiches.

"Anti-voter-suppression" companies are lobbying to kill HR1 (permalink)

Corporate America's great and good are shocked – shocked! – at the spectacle of GOP legislature adopting nakedly discriminatory voter-suppression laws. They have spoken out and even taken some high-profile actions to punish states that are adopting these laws.

These actions have been greeted with healthy skepticism from people who've observed corporate America's longstanding indifference to – and support of – institutional racism and voter suppression.

How could it be otherwise? The path to maximum corporate profitability runs right through race- and gender-justice, workplace health and safety standards, and environmental protections.

Companies that can pay Black people and women less make more. Companies that can pollute don't need to treat their waste. Companies that can dodge responsibility for their maimed and murdered workers can save a fortune in safety systems.

In other words, companies do best when the majority of us do worse.

Of course corporate America has a long, proud history of backing voter suppression. If the majority gets a vote that counts, then policies that benefit the elite at our expense don't stand a chance.

The proof is in the pudding. HR1 is a sweeping elections bill that Democrats must pass ASAP if they have a chance at keeping the House and Senate in 2022; indeed, a failure to pass HR1 might permanently exclude Democrats from majorities, no matter how much support they garner.

HR1 doesn't just reverse a decade of gerrymandering and voter suppression – it also heads off the upcoming redistricting fuckery and new forms of voter suppression currently working its way through state legislatures.

If corporate America cares about votes, it should back HR1.

But the very same companies speaking out so performatively about Georgia suppressing Black votes are also running the giant, influential US Chamber of Commerce, as it leads a vicious anti-HR1 campaign.

The CEOs of Microsoft, United, Deloitte and Ford signed letters in the Washington Post and New York Times declaring "we stand for democracy" – and they all have seats on the Chamber of Commerce's Board, which authorized a "key vote alert" seeking to scuttle HR1.

Other Chamber of Commerce members whose CEOs signed the "we stand for democracy" letter:

  • Facebook
  • Target
  • GM
  • Johnson and Johnson
  • Merck

These companies are funding the campaign to kill the For the People Act, the best and most comprehensive voting rights bill since the 1960s. For all the culture-war bullshit garment-rending the right is doing about "woke capitalism," they clearly have nothing to worry about.

People's Choice Communications (permalink)

The Worst-ISP-in-America competition is such a stiffly contested race that the country's monopolist ISPs have to share the title.

Today is Friday, which means that Charter-Spectrum is the Shit-King Pro-Tem of The American Information Superhighway.

What's so bad about Charter, you ask? Surely a company whose CEO is the fourth-highest-paid exec in America must be a truly wonderful place to work and a fabulous company to do business with!

Tom "$38.8 Million/Year" Rutledge is the guy who decreed at the start of the pandemic that even those employees who could do their jobs from home had to come to work and risk lethal infections:

Unsurprisingly, that turned the nation's Charter-Spectrum offices into superspreader sites, as infections burned through the back office staff:

But it wasn't just back-office staff who risked their lives to satisfy Rutledge's whims. The field technicians who came into our homes wire us up so we could do our jobs, get an education, visit a doctor and see our families got it even worse.

Rutledge denied them PPE. He denied them hazard-pay.

He did offer them $25 gift certificates.

…But only for restaurants that had shut down for the pandemic.

Charter-Spectrum didn't become the worst telco* in America overnight: they've been working at it diligently for years.

  • On Fridays

New Yorkers had a front-row seat to some of the company's ugliest stunts. Ever since the company bought Time Warner's NYC network, it has presided over a bungling reign of terror and error.

The company was (briefly) ordered to leave New York State forever over its failure to deliver adequate service (it got a stay of execution after some truly shameless lobbying).

But as bad as Charter-Spectrum's NYC monopoly is for New Yorkers, it's even worse for its New York workforce. Members of the IBEW have been on strike in 2017, the longest strike in US history, after the company confiscated workers pay, benefits and retirement.

Now, New Yorkers and striking Charter engineers have found a way to join forces. A group of striking Charter employees have founded People's Choice, a worker-owned ISP that is providing broadband to the New Yorkers whom Charter abandoned.

As they point out, they're the same workers who built the network that Charter's scabs are running into the ground today. They're using that expertise to deliver wireless and fixed wireline access in the Bronx and they're expanding.

They're seeking signups from "affordable housing, supportive housing, co-op housing, NYCHA [NYC Housing Authority], homeless shelters, and regular old apartment complexes."

The networks are managed cooperatively by their users – so you and your neighbors get connected, form a co-op and use the profits to better your lives. Service runs about $10-20/month.

I am a vastly dissatisfied Charter customer. I live across the country in Burbank where a publicly funded 100gb fiber loop runs under my foundation slab, but where the city's franchise agreement with Charter requires me to pay $140/month for a genuinely terrible service.

But I have it good compared to the New Yorkers on the wrong side of Tom Rutledge's digital divide – whose jobs, education, health, family life and participation in civics and politics were sidelined by a monopolist who handed out useless $25 gift cards in lieu of PPE.

It's Friday, so let's all call for the corporate death-penalty for Charter. Tomorrow, it'll be AT&T's turn. We'll take Sunday off and then go after Comcast on Monday, Verizon on Tuesday, Centurylink on Wednesday, Cox on Thursday, and then it's back to Charter.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Leon Trotsky, B2B visionary

#15rysago What would a BBC “public service game” look like?

#10yrsago New Zealand’s 3-strikes rule can go into effect in September

#5yrsago Barack Obama: Taking money from 1 percenters compromised my politics

#5yrsago From beyond the grave, Terry Pratchett orders Neil Gaiman to adapt Good Omens for TV

#5yrsago Uber and Lyft don’t cover their cost of capital and rely on desperate workers

#1yrago Universities want to infect students’ laptops with undetectable rootkits

#1yrago One person is in charge of oversight for $2.2T in stimulus

#1yrago Jailbreak for CPAP machine reveals hidden ventilator functionality

#1yrago FCC will spend $9B to improve broadband…without an accurate broadband map

#1yrago Plutocrats firehose money on primary challenger to AOC

#1yrago Apple hunters recover ten "lost" varieties from forgotten farms

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Super Punch (, Boing Boing (

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