intro: modern privacy
We have all been there.
It may have happened to you this morning.
Let me set the stage.
Your alarm goes off.
It’s set on your mobile phone that is charging next to your bed.
You roll over, grab it, turn the alarm off, and then superlatively scroll your favorite social media accounts. You may check the market and latest news as well. While browsing, an ad pops up from your favorite store for an item that you’ve been thinking about purchasing. You think to yourself, that’s odd, but it doesn’t stop you from adding the item to your cart and completing the purchase through your mobile wallet; all within your first 5 minutes of being awake.
Western privacy is nearing total extinction for the majority of first world citizens. We didn’t collectively vote to erode this natural right. Donald Trump, Barack Obama, nor George W. Bush signed an executive order stripping our privacy. Shockingly, we’re freely handing it over, not to our government, but to the large tech companies residing in Silicon Valley. We’ve chosen to trade privacy for immediate (and temporary) comfort, convenience, and social progress.
part 1: the privacy agreement + the seemingly benign trade off
Whenever you purchase a new smart device, register for a social media account, start using a new app, or sign up for a rewards card, there’s a little box you are required to check before you can use the desired product or service. To most of us it looks like common legalese placed out of necessity. We don’t read it because we simply assume that it’s not nefarious and the corporations who are giving us often free services are honest brokers worthy of our trust. In reality, we are signing, or checking, away our privacy. The data collected by these service providers is being collected, retained, and then sold to interested third parties who mine this information to know how to target market to us. This isn’t a big secret as most of us have experienced the act of having a product in an online shopping cart but failing to complete the transaction. The next 10 times you log into Facebook or do a google search, an ad from the company displaying the exact item you failed to purchase is prominently displayed in your news feed or the ads to the right. We’ve come to expect the new world of targeted ads and while it may seem a little creepy, most people seem to be ok with it. It seems rather benign really. You were interested in the product already, and the business is interested in you completing the transaction. It’s the new world of online commerce. Privacy seems to be a little compromised, but not drastically so we tend to brush off the potential concerns and default back to “what harm could it really do?”
part 3: the diabolical intent
If the erosion of privacy stopped at targeted adds, I believe most people would be fine with that compromise. However, Silicon Valley has their sites set much higher. The more your privacy erodes, the more powerful they (big tech) become. Silicon Valley has a socioeconomic agenda that does not align with the American idea. Their agenda would not win a meaningful campaign on either side of the aisle, even with vast corruption in Washington; and even if it could, it would lose its teeth and veracity by the time it progressed through congress. Even with passage there would be little hope it would pass the constitutional litmus test and would probably be undone by the Supreme Court. So, what is the best way forward for their agenda? Circumvent congress and the entire political establishment. It’s always better to ask for forgiveness than permission, right? So what is this diabolical socioeconomic agenda? The endgame is a social credit system like what the Chinese government has instituted with the aid of Google. The Social Credit System is a Chinese ideology that scores citizens upon their reputation and either rewards or disciplines based on said reputation score. The Chinese government defines what words and actions build reputation and what words and actions destroy reputation. Then common events like using public transportation, buying a house, leaving the country, and buying food all depend on how much social credit you have. One may have enough money to ride a bus, but because of words or behavior determined to be politically incorrect, they may not have enough social credit to ride the bus. Ultimately, it’s a method of controlling dissenting voices and rewarding voices that align with the Chinese Government’s agenda. China continues to be a communist nation, so they have massive interest in how to most effeciently control their citizens. You can see how this would be hard to pass through the united States Congress since its passage would be the end of the United States Constitution and the personal liberties it guarantees. Silicon Valley knows this, and after successfully helping China, has decided their goal can be achieved much easier in the private sector since this generation of Americans seem to be content trading them the desired privacy information for the convenience of Fit-Bits, Echo Dot’s, iPhone’s, Gmail and the instant gratification that social media offers.
Now let’s take it a step further.
You’re an active poster on social media. Last weekend you went to 4 bars. You posted multiple selfies of yourself consuming alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and eating fried food. Unbeknownst to you, this now shows up on your record even if you didn’t input it into your MyFitnessPal. You told the insurance company that you don’t drink or smoke and now they adjusted your rate since your online profile doesn’t agree with your sworn statement to them, or worse yet they drop you altogether because you upload posts like this every couple of weeks.
Let’s now go further.
You have an Echo Dot. Alexa listens to your private conversations. You are now saying things that may not be in line with the latest politically correct thoughts of the week. Alexa is listening to your religious beliefs, political beliefs, moral beliefs, and how you raise your children. Alexa is listening to you and your spouse argue. Alexa hears you make hyperbolic statements because your are frustrated. Alexa also listens in to your intimate moments (as does your iPhone). All these things are recorded and included within your ever growing online profile and your Social Credit Score is adjusted up or down based on the algorithm created and maintained by Silicon Valley.
Let’s take it one more step.
If you have a Nest thermostat, it keeps track of your preferred temp and humidity settings in your house as well as the outside temperature, then retains and sells that information to interested third parties. If you have an iRobot Roomba, it is mapping out your house as it vacuums while simultaneously retaining and selling your floor plan to other smart tech companies and interested third parties. Last month the US Department of Energy issued a statement that says during summer months the thermostat should be set at 78 degrees during the day and 82 degrees at night. I set my thermostat at 72 during the day and 69 at night and my whole family sleeps well. If my usage is deemed to be excessive or harmful to the environment, then I could see a reduced social credit score which could require me to pay additional excess usage fees or have a capped monthly energy usage set on the government suggested 78/82 degrees thermostat settings. This could be easily accomplished using the data that Nest and Roomba could sell to the energy company.
One last example.
Last month the Trump Administration released a statement claiming they are considering the creation of a new agency called HARPA as a means to deal with the connection between mental health and mass shootings. The application arm of this program is said to utilize Apple Watches, Google, and Amazon Echo Dot to listen in on your conversations to determine if you are planning to commit a violent crime. If so, then the police would be notified. So if Google, Amazon, and/or Apple turn over a hyperbolic statement made out of frustration, could that be used a means of gun confiscation, or worse yet a visit by Child and Family Services? I am certain it would reduce your Social Credit Score. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and no matter how this plan is rolled out privacy will no longer exist.
Big deal you say. Silicon Valley isn’t the government. They can’t stop me from riding a bus or flying since those services are generated by the private sector instead of the public. That’s exactly the difference between an idealistic American Social Credit System and the Chinese Social Credit System. What I predict will happen initially is private companies will be incentivized by Big Tech to join the American Social Credit System written and developed by Big Tech in Silicon Valley. Let’s say First Energy, UBER, Lyft, Delta, Starbucks, Kroger, Mastecard, Visa, Paypal, Venmo, and McDonalds are the first to join. Then more companies are incentivized to join by getting comped Google Ads, better rates on Amazon, discounted prices on client lists for targeted marketing campaigns. The USA is still a Capitalist system so the companies could freely decide to join or not join. They could also decide to be the dissenting voice that takes on all those with low social credits (like Safe Auto Insurance, no credit auto dealers, or High-Risk Mortgage brokers). The problem is these companies will have higher operating costs which will cost the users more money to offset their low social credit score.
It’ll mirror interest rates.
Remember that electric companies are privatized, so they could work with Silicon Valley to establish a system just like this without government approval. It is truly a scary proposition that Big Business, especially Big Tech, can achieve this level of control. The one thing to remember is that we the people are the ones that gave and continue to give them the ability by trading our privacy for a little first world convenience.
You might be asking yourself, how can they efficiently handle this much data? The US has 330 million people. Google just announced that they have reached quantum supremacy meaning they are claiming the first to achieve quantum computing. In Lehman’s terms this means that an equation that would take the most intelligent modern computer 10,000 years to compute; Google can compute in 3 minutes and 20 seconds. I have very little doubt that coupling quantum supremacy with advancements in Artificial Intelligence at DeepMind (also owned by Google) will create systems that will easily be able to track you and your social credit score down to the millisecond.
The future looks more like Black Mirror or West World than the Jetsons as more and more tech is on the horizon. Consider the news that scientists have successfully built, tested, and proven mind reading machines and Facebook is investing money in creating mind reading wearables. Elon Musk is investing heavily in BCI technology (Brain Computer Interface). Imagine the implications of having your mind read or having your mind directly connected to the internet via BCI 24/7/365? While there are perceived positive uses such as giving comatose and severely injured people a voice, it could also completely eradicate privacy and constitutional freedoms for those who would be forced to use tech against their will to simply buy food or earn a wage. If we don’t get a hold on privacy now, the future is not going to be bright for lovers of personal freedom.
It’ll be a brave new world.
part 4: what you can do
There are several things that you can do to fight this personal surrender of privacy.
- Just say no. I know it’s fun and convenient to use smart devices like smart scales, smart phones, smart assistants (Alexa), Smart Internal security cameras, smart thermostats, smart vacuums, smart refrigerators, etc. but these devices are all Big Tech Trojan Horses mining information from you and your family as a means to more effectively get into your wallet now while forming your online identity to pave the superhighway to a corporate social credit system as a means to control the masses.
- Cancel your social media accounts. If you must have them for your business, create a corporate profile or a business page and only post things pertinent to your business. Keep your private life offline.
- Get a VPN (Virtual Private Network) so that you are secure when accessing public wifi.
- Stop using Google everything. Google is one big tracking agency. Everything they do is perceived as free, however, what seems to be free includes you allowing them to spy on you in exchange for their service. They read your emails, the files on your drive, and everything else on their suite and in turn retain and sell your information to interested third parties.
- Start using Privacy based browsers and search engines. I recommend Epic Search (Browser) and DuckDuckGo (Search Engine).
- Annoy your Senators and Representatives to reclassify Facebook, YouTube, and twitter as a publisher instead of a platform. Currently they are protected under platform status. If the status is changed, they would crumble as they would not be able to defend the onslaught of litigation coming their way since they would be responsible for all content uploaded and shared to their site. This would effectively cripple one of Silicon Valley’s largest pathways to privacy exploitation.