ProjectBlog: Like Vampires, Corporate Spies Asked To Enter Our Homes… We Let Them…

Blog: Like Vampires, Corporate Spies Asked To Enter Our Homes… We Let Them…

The New Big Brothers of the 21st Century

An Amazon Dot with Alexa in the ready and waiting sits atop a copy of my favorite novel ever written, George Orwell’s 1984. The dystopian masterpiece, which tells the tale of Winston, a low-level Party Member living in London in approximately 1984, has served as a cautionary tale about technology and politics cut loose from public oversight. The masterful cover features the watchful eye of Big Brother, the parties (possibly fictional) Head of State, with his soft blue eye watching you as you learn of him and his policies. The Dot’s irony is not lost as it sits perfectly atop the pupil of his gazing stare, its soft blue ring indicating its activation almost perfectly matching that of Big Brother himself.

Whether the symbolism of the photo touches home or not, there is no denying that recent revelations of Amazon listening to conversations with human auditors is unsettling. More-so, we have learned more and more over the passing weeks… These devices do capture erroneous conversations. When they do, there is a real possibility that a human auditor listens to the conversation, under the guise of better learning alongside the AI partner, Alexa. We’ve learned these human listeners have unfettered access to what our devices know about us. They can even, if they choose to, retrieve our home addresses, with little to no consequence and absolutely no knowledge to the end consumer.

While Amazon may be the most prominent case so far of these invasive “Assistants”, they are hardly the only one. Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, Samsung’s Bixby. It seems if you’re a tech company with any products on the line, you also want a home assistant in the presence of your customers… But why…?

…Fist, let’s go to the beginning to better understand where we are today….

In some ways, we are presently living in the Wild West of technological innovation. It’s easy to forget that merely twenty years ago, in 1999, the very laptop I type this article on was a pipe dream. Its slim, light design was unimaginable. It’s price tag unattainable, and its abilities a moon-shoot. A laptop of any measure in these days cost, adjusted for 2019 inflation, between $3,813 at the cheapest to a whopping $7,629. The internet was infantile, and many connected through Walled Garden providers like AOL, and most certainly not in our pockets or a phone hot-spot as I am using right this instant. The prospect of wide-spread email was barely gaining traction. AOL’s Instant Messenger was how most of us spoke. Text messages were barely a thing. Sharing a photo took either email and lots of patience… or a physical medium like a floppy diskette or CD-Roms, depending on size and quantity. A single MP3 could take 15 minutes to an hour to download, file quality and dial-up connection conditions dependent.

The internet was relatively safe(er), but not without risks. The prospects of Facebook were not mainstream yet, and the idea of your search engine also providing your email, your maps, your music, your news, and your advertisements were still a very distant dream. The world was arguably less invasive, but slower and less interesting place during these times. Those of us who grew up with the internet’s mainstream birth remember the transitions. We also remember the explosion that took place in the mid and late 2000’s, and the birth of social networking. The introduction of wide-spread broadband. Smartphones, data plans, Snapchat, advertisements, GPS in phones… It seemed to have happened overnight.

Simplicity ran supreme. Need to have directions somewhere? No need for a $600 Garmin dedicated GPS. No need to print out Mapquest turn-by-turn directions… Google Maps was all you needed and your phone would lock your location with literal military precision (because that is, in fact, where our early GPS came from), and tell us exactly where to go. Ease of use took over…. And complacency took off… Our privacy was on the line. Hungry corporations and their advertisers saw cracks in the walls… So little by little, like water in the fractures of a dam, they started ticking away. One piece at a time…

See, here’s the thing about the erosion of rights and privacy… History has taught us, with the Soviet’s in the 1920’s and the Nazi’s in the same era, that the revocation of rights and freedoms doesn’t happen overnight. No, it’s much more subtle… It starts at first by gaining trust, by building relatability to the very people it will one day harm. “I have nothing to hide!” so many say with a giggle. “Great, because we want to know everything!” says the person looking for a way in. “Trust me, I am only here to help” they say. Perhaps it starts as a political movement. Or the response to a war… Maybe economic crisis’ and racial manipulation takes off and pressures people to blame other groups…. Or maybe, in our new era, it starts with making our lives seemingly more convenient… Until everything about who we are is owned, transferred, traded, and controlled by someone else.

“But that’s not a fair comparison!” I’ve had people argue against me. “You can’t compare technology to fascism and corporations to the dictators!”

My response to this is simply… “Why not…?” In the Western world we are unfamiliar with and tone-deaf towards much of the fascism and the early behaviors it demonstrates, compared to many other nations out there. In a Plutocratic state, where the wealthy rule everything and the select few control everyone, how is it really different, in principal, than the facades that mask it? Sure, no one is actively rounding people up in camps… Or so you’d think, as the children of migrants now sit in cages separated from their parents… The foundations have been laid, indifferent of ideology. We are complacent because the system protects us as its natives, for now. The vulnerable can’t scream out loud enough, and we are deaf and indifferent to their cries anyway… Distracted by the things meant to lull us into comfort and safety. I could care about children who miss their parents, but whose got the time when I have to keep a Snapstreak going?

Gamification is fun and addictive!

The Gamification of our technology has helped to keep us complacent with these invasive tools that track us, watch us, listen to us, and monitor our every thought. Awards keep us engaged and addicted, ignoring how the apps and services are watching our location, their deep learning AI is analyzing where we go and what we do, and their revenue providers are pumping us with very specific ads about our personal lives. Simply put, if you cannot spot the product or pay for the product, YOU. ARE THE PRODUCT. A cow being lead to slaughter had an easy life of eating and mulling around, right up until it becomes the product of a hungry person…

Digital Assistants are simply the latest incarnation of the invasion to our everyday lives. Always-on microphones and deep neural networks learning more and more about us. AI that we don’t fully understand or have great control over dissecting our lives and chiseling away not at making our lives better, but at making our lives more impervious to the corporate push against us for more information and money. It can tell you the weather. It can tell you the news. It can give you a fun fact from Wikipedia. It can order more paper towels. It knows when you’re awake. It knows when you’re asleep. It knows when you’re home. It knows when you’re away. It knows more about you and your behavior than you probably do, because its every last function is to spy on you.

And whether you accept it or not, you opened your door. You invited this privacy vampire right into your home. And just like a “real” vampire, you are now able to be bled dry by it for its own gain and sustenance. These devices created solutions to problems that didn’t exist, by pushing convenience into the minds of overworked, over-stimulated, lazy, gamified American households… And it is only going to get worse from here unless privacy becomes an item most people take seriously.

What seems like harmless listening to conversations is just another chapter of your privacy and freedom being erased away. When fascism comes to America, it won’t kick your door in with jackboots and kick your puppy. It will approach you with a smiling face, nice Nike sneakers, a fun new product, and an offer to make your life easier and save you money.

Insurance companies now offer lower rates if you wear fitness trackers. Even lower if they track GPS locations. Auto insurance companies offer you incentives if you let them track your vehicles every move. Their apps now can be tied to your phone and see how often you check it while the vehicle is in motion. Products are now sold at steep discounts, if you’re simply willing to let advertisers push content to you throughout the day… Like certain Amazon Kindle models or even some phones.

The slow, encroaching monster of Big Tech now goes far beyond just the major tech giants. Your Super Market, your auto manufacture, your television, your game consoles, your goddamn refrigerators are now tracking you… Learning about you… And sharing it to anyone who wishes to buy it.

As this advances unchecked, you will see a world worse off and more Corporate-controlled than it is already. Employers are already using bio-metric systems, GPS trackers, data loggers, key monitors, and advanced AI to “track performance”, which is just a layman’s term for “desired obedience”. At some point, every aspect of our lives will be supervised by every other person… Our minor decisions could decide our social status, our ability to earn income, and our ability to feel truly free… Obey or be denied survival…

…And it’s all being started already, with the acceptance of invasive technology into every aspect of our lives…

Sometimes convenience isn’t worth safety… And sometimes, not having anything to hide doesn’t mean you should let everyone watch you. Once you’ve accepted that freedom is optional, you have accepted that freedom is not absolute… Once freedom is not absolute, then freedom is easily removed… And then it only exists for those who wish to comply with the rules and norms dictated by those who decide what “freedom” is at that point…

Think wisely about your privacy… It means more to you than you’ve been conditioned to believe… And the loss of it can do more damage to you than you’re willingly able to recognize…

Source: Artificial Intelligence on Medium

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