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China Data collection and surveillance companies Privacy Propaganda Social media Surveillance state

The dangers of Chinese-owned TikTok, whose algorithms favor Chinese propaganda views on Russian war against Ukraine; Many if not most users get their news from the Tik-Tok feed

See,

Ezra Klein, “TikTok May Be More Dangerous Than It Looks,” New York Times, May 8, 2022.

Ezra Kein, in an opinion piece in the New York Times, observes that social media platforms largely control what we collectively pay attention to.

He draws attention to the dangers posed by TikTok, a Chinese owned company subject to the dictates of the Chinese Communist Party, and the ways its algorithms may be manipulated to further Chinese propanda goals or to sow division among American users.

Significantly, China does allow its citizens to access the Western version of TikTok.

Klein notes that currently Tik-Tok algorithms strongly favor Chinese propaganda views on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.

The Chinese have been working on mind-control techniques for many decades, as exemplified in the classic 1951 movie The Manchurian Candidate.

Klein urges the Obama administration to finish the job the Trump administration began, forcing a planned sale of the company in the U.S. That sale was canceled after Joe Buden won the 2020 election.

Klein’s column points out just one more way the consciousness of the Eighteenth Century mind is under attack.

Spirit of Voltaire

Categories
Reading and Thinking Social media

Average intelligence decreasing; screen use likely culprit

According to a recent article in VEJA, which gathers together the latest studies, the average intelligence of humans is declining. The time wasted on social media and political polarization are among the principle causes of this regression in human intelligence.

In a word, social media and political polarization are making us stupider.

What is to be done?

See,

Ernesto Neves and Caio Saad, “Pesquisas mostram que a inteligência do ser humano está regredindo; O tempo desperdiçado nas redes sociais e a polarização política são alguns dos principais responsáveis pelo recuo, depois de décadas de evolução,” VEJA, o 1, de outubro 2021 (06h00, atualizado às 18h44).

Categories
da Data collection and surveillance companies Privacy Sea of Irrationality Social media Surveillance companies Surveillance state

Beyond Orwellian: Facebook glasses that record video and sound

Updated September 16, 2021

See,

1) Chris Velazco, “Facebook’s ‘smart’ glasses put cameras on your face. Everyone around you should be aware; These glasses are meant to create content, but they raise privacy concerns,” Washington Post, September 9, 2021 (12:00 p.m. EDT).

2) Farhad Manjoo, “Apple and Facebook Are Coming for Your Face Next,” Washington Post, September 16, 2021.

The relentless advance of technology is taking us far beond George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and now threatens to obliterate all traces of our historical consciousness and the core values of our civilization.

A friend remarked yesterday, “With Facebook, human consciousness and rational argument are over.”

The Greeks worried that demogogues would mobilize  the people to overthrow democratic institutions and establish dictatorships or “tyrannies”.

They could not imagine, however, that tyrannies might be ushered in by relentless advances in science and technology, and that in the 21st century the modern tyrants would be those who gained control of companies that mastered the collection and control of information, and that even these modern tyrants would be subject to forces they had unleashed but could not control.

Allowed to grow and prosper outside the realm of government regulation, giant companies such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon grew and acquired increasing political influence over the government.

One can easily imagine the kind of totalitarian government which technology could make possible. One look no farther than China to see how far this process has already advanced.

In the 2006 German film Das Leben der Anderen (“The Life of Others”), one can already see the stultifying effect of the use of (primitive) technology to monitor the lives of independent-minded people, much less opponents of an authoritarian regime. The film traces the kife of a writer and his girlfriend in East Berlin from 1984-1991.

The film is important viewing because unlike Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is based on observed reality.

30 years of technological advances have made even this chilling film seem anachronistic.

With new tools such as the Pegasus software, which has enabled individuals and states to tap into the phones of anyone, even foreign heads of state, massive invasions of privacy by e.g., Google maps, have become routine and are routinely accepted by the population.

See,

1) Rebecca Klapper, “Israel Promises to Investigate Group Accused of Selling Pegasus Spyware to Governments,” NEWSWEEK, September 1, 2021.

Google’s geo-tracking through cell phone records now provides law enforcement (with a warrant))–and who knows who else–detailed information on individuals’ movements at every hour of night and day.

2) Associated Press, “Google records your location even when you tell it not to; Some services on Android and iPhone automatically store your movements even after you pause the ‘location history’ setting,” The Guardian, August 13, 2018
(19.30 BST).

3) Tony Webster, “How did the police know you were near a crime scene? Google told them,” MPR News, February 7, 2019 (9:10 p.m.).

4) Jana Winter, “HOW LAW ENFORCEMENT CAN USE GOOGLE TIMELINE TO TRACK YOUR EVERY MOVE; The recent expansion of Google’s Timeline feature can provide investigators unprecedented access to users’ location history data, allowing them in many cases to track a person’s every move over the course of years,” The Intercept, November 6, 2015(6:53 a.m.).

This situation has developed because the big information collection companies have acquired great political clout in Washington.

The future of privacy in the United States now depends on whether citizens and their representatives in Congress are able to impose strong government regulations on these companies. This may or may not be possible.

The ultimate safeguard of privacy in the 21st century may be the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union. The Commission, particularly with its 2016 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), has so far proven to be much more resistent to the political influences of the big data collection companies than has the government of the United States.

The evolution of technology is advancing at a breakneck pace, while the political power of companies like Google and Facebook continues to grow along with their astronomical earnings.

To understand the interplay of the forces at work, we may gain some insight from fiction, particularly Dave Eggers’ 2014 novel, The Circle. However, a lot has changed since 2014. We can look forward to Eggers’ current understanding of the interplay of these forces in his forthcoming novel, The Every, scheduled for release on November 16, 2021.

One can only hope that electronic and other mechanisms for surveillance self-defense will be developed and marketed in easy-to-use form. The ptoblem here is that Google, Facebook, Amazon and other data collection companies have so much cash that they can buy out any  company that might pose a threat to their surveillance-based business model.

About the only hope for developing mechanisms of  self-defense against surveillance companies and the surveillance state (e.g., China) would be for a wealthy millionaire or billionaire to fund a private company to develop and market such mechanisms.

The Spirit of Voltaire

Categories
Reading and Thinking Social media

Living offline for a year; and the author’s Twitter experience

Aaron Rosenberg lived offline for a year, trying to understand what it was like in order to help him understand the subject of his academic research.

His experience is illuminating, particularly for those of us interested in maintaining the capabilities of our eighteenth century minds.

His approach was extreme, but the experience taught him some important lessons. He has found  that applying them has been more challenging than expected.  See the following account of his experience, which is definitely worth reading.

See,

Charlie Warzel, “He Quit the Internet 2 Months Before the Pandemic; When Aron Rosenberg decided to try living offline for a year, he thought his sabbatical might be painful; It turned out to be easier than his return, New York Times, March 10, 2021 (7:07 a.m. ET).

***

My Own Twitter Experience 

I myself experienced some of the extraordinary pull of Twitter while following in extremely close fashion political developments related to Donald Trump’s attempts to hang on to power after losing the election on November 3, 2021.

The temptation to follow the news almost hour by hour was great, and Twitter was the place where you could follow developments even more closely.  The suspense, and the sense that something important might happen at any minute, kept my nervous system on high alert.

There was one other addictive aspect. By following key people and sometimes getting a notification that your tweet had been liked or retweeted or quoted, it was easy to succumb to the momentary illusion that you were having an impact on the discussion, and consequently on events.

You knew analytically that this was not likely to be the case.  Still, in some bizarre way Twitter was a place where you could react in the moment to news or other tweets, and in the excitement of the moment you could feel that you were having some kind of impact on the discussion.

And “Who knows?”  Regarding some aspects of the story where you had specific, relevant professional knowledge, perhaps you were. You can see my comments on Twitter @Trenchantobserv.

But after January 20, 2021, I was able to withdraw from Twitter, and from my obsessive watching of cable TV news channels. Almost all of the really important news eventually showed up in the New York Times or the Washington Post or other newspapers which I read.

I admit it. I’m a news addict. Maybe like Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Payne or other Eighteenth Century Minds might have been too. What is different is the immediacy. They probably had to wait days or longer to to get their hands on some of the newspapers they read.

I “wasted” hours of my time on my Twitter addiction. But I have learned and am learning from the experience. Maybe it will help me break or at least sharply limit the time I spend reading newspapers online, succumbing to the at times irresistible pull of my news addiction. This is related to being a writer.

To be sure, David McCullough recounts how Theodore Roosevelt, during his years at Harvard, used to read up to 20 newspapers over coffee in the morning.  So at least I don’t suffer from a unique affliction.

On the other hand, I need to remind myself that I am not a freshman at Harvard, or anywhere else, I don’t have a political career ahead of me, and there are many other potential uses of my time.

Aaron Rosenberg’s experience is instructive. When thinking about my Twitter experience, I recall reading somewhere that the average life of a tweet is about 15 minutes.

Spirit of Voltaire