“Big Data, Bigger Money: Privacy in the age of Surveillance Capitalism?”
By Morgan Stonelake
Can the paradise of the internet, once heralded as an “unprecedented tool of liberation and democratization” of knowledge to all people, be salvaged from its current state of a bondage-like hells cape of “mass, indiscriminate surveillance” of all? (Greenwald, 2014) I still believe it’s not too late. I think the biggest concern of our time is the future of privacy and the monetization of surveillance data which is largely collected without knowledge or genuine consent.
In other words: the ideal solutions being greater internet privacy by default and company transparency with its users. “Why should a consumer have a less than level of transparency from the services they use?” (Wallace, 2014) It’s a striking question that flies in the face of companies like Facebook and Google that have used the power of secret surveillance and mass data collection to gather more wealth than we truly know of as they have sold our data in secret over the last twenty years and pay taxes overseas. Ah yes, surveillance capitalism at it’s finest.
In an infamous 2010 interview, Mark Zuckerberg pronounced that, “privacy is no longer a social norm”. Yet these technology czars still take tremendous precautions to control their privacy in their personal lives while demanding that we, as their customers, should feel no such desire to guard our privacy since, after all, “we are good people and have nothing to hide”.
However the problems we face are already deeply engrained in the system because the internet is largely funded by ad revenue. “The future, or the future dystopia, is getting here fast.” (Mattu, 2018) My mind wonders with the deepest dread: if this is the kind of surveillance and invasion of privacy available to companies now, what will they be capable of in ten years, or fifty? Will privacy even exist as technology further invades every corner of our lives? Smart devices and smart appliances now allow companies to surveil us and collect data which is then sold, as the internet invades our homes. “Smart means the device can connect to the internet, it can gather data, and it can talk to its owner.” (Mattu, 2018) There is no moment of digital silence for transmissions with these devices. “In general it was disconcerting that all these devices were having ongoing conversations that were invisible to me.” (Mattu, 2018) I think the most shocking and disturbing thing I learned was that companies are now gathering our data via innocuous household items without our consent, like a “commercial panopticon” allowing third parties to spy on us as they see fit. “It’s easy to forget normal household items are spying on you.” (Mattu, 2018) Which I guess is the entire point.
Ultimately, I believe that the mass surveillance of all is a threat to free thought and worldwide democracy. If left unchecked I fear for the future of our democracy being able to stop what has already begun. I imagine a world where these unchecked companies become even wealthier than our government, and ultimately begin forcing policy to benefit their will in a shadow corporatocracy. Yet the internet is global, as the world becomes a prison planet with only the illusion of freedom since “mass surveillance creates a prison in the mind”. (Greenwald, 2014)
The type of legislation I envision, necessary to tax this kind of gluttonous data collection, would be extensive but would severely punish this previously uncheck privilege and would more strictly limit companies’ ability to collect data to very limited factors versus the inconceivable amount of unchecked data available to them currently. It is my dearest hope I see this type of legislation set in place within the next five years if not sooner. “We can also leverage the world. Privacy is a global issue that impacts all of us.” (Yen, 2014) This is why the global community has the right to demand greater transparency from companies and online privacy should be a right, built into the internet by default, not an option only available to the tech savvy.
Greenwald, Glenn. “Why Privacy Matters.” TED, www.ted.com/talks/glenn_greenwald_why_privacy_matters.
Mattu, Kashmir Hill and Surya. “What Your Smart Devices Know (and Share) about You.” TED, www.ted.com/talks/kashmir_hill_and_surya_mattu_what_your_smart_devices_know_and_share_about_you.
Wachter-Boettcher, Sara. Technically Wrong Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech. W.W. Norton & Company, Independent Publishers since 1923, 2018.
Wallace, Marie. “The Ethics of Collecting Data.” TED, www.ted.com/talks/marie_wallace_the_ethics_of_collecting_data.
Yen, Andy. “Think Your Email’s Private? Think Again.” TED, www.ted.com/talks/andy_yen_think_your_email_s_private_think_again.