Updated September 16, 2021
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.
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
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