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I stood at the curb where my red sports car was parked before I went to dinner. It was an empty space. It dawned on me that perhaps my car had been stolen.

Was I mistaken?

The truth sunk in. Someone had decided that they needed my car. 

Theft is done in two ways. 

Fast or slow.

Fast stealing is easy to see. 

My car had been “acquired” for a quick getaway. Later, the police found it a few hundred kilometers away. Tank empty. Locks smashed. I could start it with a screwdriver.

Slow theft is harder to detect.

An employee uses creative accounting to transfer funds to their bank account. Small amounts of money are repurposed over the years in slow, secretive ways.

Then there are the new “tech robber barons” who slowly steal your content and your privacy and used it to transfer funds to their trillion dollar balance sheets.  

But we have also been complicit in what’s known as the “Faustian Bargain.” 

The Tech Robber Barons

In 2023, Google and Facebook, arguably the two biggest tech companies, generated annual revenues of $307 billion and $134 billion, respectively, amounting to $441 billion. The market value of Meta (formerly known as Facebook) was $1.28 trillion, while Google’s market value stood at $1.707 trillion.

This is just shy of 3 trillion dollars. 

And they play in 2 categories. 

Search and Social Media. 

Platforms that are all about content.

Free content.

How do they get it?

We are addicted to social media. We share our text, images, and videos on these platforms.

And we do that for free.

We also write blogs and share news and information.

We do that for free too. 

Why it matters


They stole it. Sort-of.  

It was sitting on the web. 

Published on social media.

But we gave it to them for free. 

Silently agreed.

And they worked out how to use it to create a multi-trillion-dollar industry.

These business models are all about stealing your content in plain sight. 

What do these business models look like?

In the social media world, we create content, which Facebook then uses to bombard and target users with personalized ads. 

In the meantime, Facebook has made it harder for your content to be found, and your visibility is lost in a world of sponsored (paid) content that overpopulates the Facebook stream. 

Google uses the website content it crawls to make revenue from contextual ads to search intent. 

The top of each search page has “snippets” that summarize free content for your search request with a nod and a wink to the creators who are getting less and less traffic to their website. 

No reason to leave Google’s home page. No benefit to the content creators.

The Faustian Bargain

In the legend of Faust in German folklore, the Faustian bargain “was a pact whereby a person trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for some worldly or material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches.”

So…content is knowledge, and it is power and riches. Content is the trade.  

The unwritten bargain (Faustian Bargain) promised by social media platforms was that if you create content on social media, we will give you attention and riches. 

But that was stripped away starting in 2013 as organic content visibility was made almost invisible. The new ordinary became ‘pay to play’.

To be seen as before in the Facebook stream required advertising dollars. You can read more about this in my article Why You Should Forget Facebook.”

This started social media’s “slow theft” of your content for their billion-dollar revenues. 

Now we have seen the rise of an influencer industry that is all about creating content to get attention and money. To put that into a Faustian bargain perspective: One in four Gen Zs want to become an influencer. 

The search industry’s “Faustian bargain” was that if you make great content and optimize it for search (SEO), we will give you attention by appearing on page one of Google. This led to the rise of the whole SEO industry. 

The “Do No Evil” tagline of Google became a historical anomaly as Google ads and their infamous snippets slowly emerged.

That was the search industry’s slow theft of content. 

And it continues. 

The New Trillion Dollar Kid (on the “content” block)

In 2022, ChatGPT (owned by OpenAI and funded by Microsoft to the tune of 10 billion dollars) went from zero to 100 million users in less than 8 weeks after offering a user interface that allowed you to ask it to create an answer to a simple question (or as we now call a “prompt”) that produced blog posts, essays, images, videos and even passed law exams. 

How do they do that?

It has access to a world of content. 

The web. 

Your content and mine. 

They also have access to major media companies; such as the New York Times, Getty Images, Reddit and much more.

The world’s intelligence and information is just sitting there, waiting to be organized and distilled into intelligent answers. 

The “LLMs” (Large language models) need a lot of data (code for content) to be trained and the results delivered on ChatGPT.

The scale of this theft is astronomical. 

The latest ChatGPT 4 “Large Language Model” uses over 1 trillion parameters

That’s code for data.

Data is the new oil. 

That’s the content.

But there is a problem.

Large media organizations like Getty, which owns the copyright to over 12 million images, and the New York Times, which possesses millions of articles, are becoming increasingly annoyed. These companies have substantial financial resources, can easily access millions of dollars, and have numerous lawyers at their disposal.

How annoyed are they?

They are suing for billions.

A closer look at the suing

Let’s take a quick look at who is suing who. 

The reality is that the old media players suing the new kids on the block could be said to be playing fast and loose.

In the digital world this is not unusual as we have seen Uber break all the rules that taxi companies have had to comply with for years. And Airbnb hasn’t bothered with the requirements that all the hotels have had to follow.  

So, some AI lawsuits:

Getty Images vs Stable Diffusion

Getty Images is pursuing a lawsuit against the generative AI company Stable Diffusion for training its AI models using its copyrighted content and image library.   

Getty alleges that “Stability AI copied 12 million images to train its AI model without precision…or compensation” 

New York Times vs OPenAI (And Microsoft) 

The NYT has sued OpenAI because “millions of articles from The New York Times were used to train chatbots that now compete with the publication.”

They are the first major media organization to sue Open AI and Microsoft.

The suit does not include an exact monetary demand. But it says the defendants should be held responsible for “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages” related to the “unlawful copying and use of The Times’s uniquely valuable works.”

For a deeper and broader look, here is a summary of the unfolding AI and social media legal quagmire, as revealed by the Insurance Journal, regarding using content without permission.

The big players can play, but what about the small guys?

In Australia, major media companies negotiated a 250 million dollar annual payment from Facebook and Google for using their content that the Australian Government facilitated. 

But despite that Facebbok (Meta) has just reneged on the agreement. They have given the major news companies and the Australian government the big “middle” finger.

So the major players have been told to bugger off essentially.

Absolute power corrupts.

The capitalist mantra that markets work for everyone is a myth.  

The EU has just introduced legislation to rein in the power of these “techno states,” whose annual revenue and equity are larger than the GDP of many small countries.

Australia has made a start, while Canada and others are also trying to rein them in. 

Wrapping it up

I am a techno-optimist. 

But we have to ensure that technology works for the good of everyone. 

Cyberbullying is not allowed to happen to our young, or by the global tech companies to national governments using their obscene wealth and power.

How much is enough?

It is not fair that Google or Facebook steal your content in a Faustian bargain or scrape it by Open AI to train ChatGPT without attribution to the content creators.

There is a lot more work that needs to be done.

The post Stolen appeared first on Jeffbullas's Blog.

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