I have never had a cell phone, smart or otherwise (*), or a Facebook account; nor do I take marketing surveys, especially those on the (landline) telephone. I use several apps on my computer to limit the tracking that can occur online. I realise that these days it is impossible NOT to be tracked to some extent (I know that every purchase I make at Costco and Amazon, for example, or using VISA, is carefully tabulated and added to my profile in their records) but I avoid whatever I can.
I avoid tracking because of a deep reluctance to allow governments or corporations to know what I am doing, beyond anything I specifically choose to tell them (census, taxes, prescriptions, etc). It is none of their business and I prefer to keep them out of my life so far as possible. My privacy and security is far more important to me than any marginal convenience smart phones, for example, might grant me.
And then there are cars. I haven’t owned a car for twenty-seven years. This had nothing to do with privacy and everything to do with maintenance costs and the utter inconvenience of parking in town. However, were I thinking about buying another car I would have serious second thoughts after reading this article with the provocative headline “Why your car company may know more about you than your spouse“.
“By monitoring his everyday movements, an automaker can vacuum up a massive amount of personal information about [a driver], everything from how fast he drives and how hard he brakes to how much fuel his car uses and the entertainment he prefers. The company can determine where he shops, the weather on his street, how often he wears his seat belt, what he was doing moments before a wreck — even where he likes to eat and how much he weighs …
The result is that carmakers have turned on a powerful spigot of precious personal data, often without owners’ knowledge, transforming the automobile from a machine that helps us travel to a sophisticated computer on wheels that offers even more access to our personal habits and behaviors than smartphones do.”
Governments at all levels and corporations have, of course, been tracking us for a long time. However, according to an article in Curbed, “two rapidly rising technologies—computer vision and machine learning—offer the potential to revolutionize” their ability to know exactly what you do outside your home.
“[T]he technology tracks intent and activity: what people pick up and read without purchasing, and even what they look at from across the store. Standard Cognition can follow shoppers in real time, across different cameras and from multiple perspectives simultaneously.”
This article focuses on what it considers the advantages of this technology in urban planning and rational retailing. However, it also notes that
“an October 2016 report by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology, The Perpetual Line-Up, found that national law-enforcement networks using facial-recognition technology include photos for half of all adults in the United States, and the technology was most likely to make mistakes on women, young children, and African Americans, “precisely the communities on which the technology is most likely to be used.”
But you don’t have to leave home to be tracked. An article in BoingBoing describes security problems with hone devices such as Amazon’s Echo and similar devices by Microsoft and Google. Not only are these devices watching you and tabulating information for the corporation, the corporations are passing much of this data to the government — and keeping quiet about it:
“Amazon was the last major tech company to issue a “transparency report” detailing what kinds of law-enforcement requests they’d serviced, and where; when they finally did start issuing them, they buried them on obscure webpages deep in their corporate info site and released them late on Friday afternoons … Amazon’s latest report shows a crazily high spike in law enforcement requests, but the company will not say which products or services were implicated by these requests.”
And while you are relaxing at home, minding your own business, your television is doing a lot more than that:
“TVs like mobile phones often betray our most intimate lives, often being located in the centre of our homes. They are often fitted with cameras and microphones, as well as internal memories, which can be used to monitor what we’re doing, saying and watching … Recent news has shown that everyone from manufacturers to advertisers to the intelligence services could be watching you through your TV.”
Big Brother is not just a myth. It is here today in a far more insidious and overwhelming manner than even George Orwell could have imagined. When all this is combined with a US President who spouts Newspeak, and technology companies which have monopoly positions that Standard Oil and US Steel could only have dreamed of, we have to wonder and worry what the future holds in store.
* for the sake of complete disclosure, I should note I was given a Blackberry when I was working but never bothered to learn how to switch it on.