Surveillance Crapitalism: Why I’m becoming a latter-day Luddite

Privacy. Do you remember that word? It’s one of those good things that we used to have, but has now been killed off by ever greater inroads of corporate spying.

Take phones for instance. At one time all they did was allow you to make calls and (perhaps) store a few recent incoming or outgoing numbers. Now, they know your location, what you’ve searched for recently, when you had lunch, where you had lunch and who with. Now we have apps to help us chose a partner, and apps to record when we have sex. Who asked for this? No one that I know of. Who wants it? Big business, so they can sell to you. In fact this information is available to anyone who wishes to pay for it. Regardless of what they plan to use it for.

And how about doorbells? At one time they had one rather quaint function–letting you know someone was at the door. Then a little later cameras were added, so you could see who was outside. Now? Oh yeah, let’s connect them to the internet and monitor everyone not only at your door, but anyone who happens to pass by on the street. Yet again, all of this data is fed (for a fee, naturally) to big business, because… again it somehow supposedly allows them to sell better to you.

But wait! Who can forget the boring old TV. Once used to show you old movie re-runs and TV shows, now you have the fantastic “smart” TV. Designed to hoover up vast tracts of personal information. They’re recording what you watch, for how long, listening to your conversations, watching you as you watch them. And all of it streamed in real time to a veritable host of anonymous “data brokers” that can use your information for whatever they want. Got Alexa, Siri, or Echo? Got spying. Watch Netflix, YouTube, or Disney? Got more spying. Use your “smart” phone to control your TV? You just linked all the other data directly to your TV surveillance.

And the latest? Your car. Yep, you heard that right. The biggest gatherer of private information is now your car. The Mozilla organization recently investigated spy systems on cars and found them to be the worst product category they’d ever looked at in terms of privacy. They gather medical information, genetic information, how fast you drive, where you drive, what songs you play in your car, and much more. They even monitor your sex life! They use all of this to “infer” other data about you, and even create profiles on your intelligence, abilities, and interests.

And then what? Well, they sell it, of course. Because all this data is big business! Surveillance capitalism is a huge money-making affair–for the businesses. But if there’s so much money in it, why aren’t we, the public, getting a share? And why is it so difficult to switch these things off? What happened to the idea of a basic right to privacy?

In 1949, George Orwell published his famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which included the concept of a total surveillance society along with the slogan “Big Brother is watching you.” In the book, Orwell envisaged that this would be something pushed onto people by the state, with Big Brother becoming a synonym for the abuse of power and curtailment of civil liberties. But even he never dreamed that we’d all wander sheep-like into such a state and pay for the privilege of being universally spied on.

Without governmental privacy regulation, the effectiveness of individual action is unfortunately limited. Are you restricting your use of “smart” products? What do you feel needs to happen?

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