by Dr. Joseph Mercola
from Mercola Website
In recent years, a number of brave individuals have alerted us to the fact that we're all being monitored and manipulated by big data gatherers such as Google and Facebook, and shed light on the depth and breadth of this ongoing surveillance.
Among them is social psychologist and Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff.
Her book, "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism," is one of the best books I have read in the last few years. It's an absolute must-read if you have any interest in this topic and want to understand how Google and Facebook have obtained such massive control of your life.
Her book reveals how the biggest tech companies in the world have hijacked our personal data - so-called "behavioral surplus data streams" - without our knowledge or consent and are using it against us to generate profits for themselves.
WE have become the product.
WE are the real revenue stream in this digital economy.
The Birth of Surveillance Capitalism
In the featured video, Zuboff,
She also explains how this surveillance capitalism came about in the first place.
As most revolutionary inventions, chance played a role. After the 2000 dot.com crisis that burst the internet bubble, a startup company named Google struggled to survive.
Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin appeared to be looking at the beginning of the end for their company.
By chance, they discovered that "residual data" left behind by users during their internet searchers had tremendous value.
By compiling this residual data, they could predict the behavior of any given internet user and thus guarantee advertisers a more targeted audience.
And so, surveillance capitalism was born.
The Data Collection you Know About is the Least Valuable
Comments such as,
...reveal our ignorance about what's really going on.
We believe we understand what kind of information is being collected about us. For example, you might not care that Google knows you bought a particular kind of shoe, or a particular book.
However, the information we freely hand over is the least important of the personal information actually being gathered about us, Zuboff notes. Tech companies tell us the data collected is being used to improve services, and indeed, some of it is.
But it is also being used to model human behavior by analyzing the patterns of behavior of hundreds of millions of people.
Once you have a large enough training model, you can begin to accurately predict how different types of individuals will behave over time.
The data gathered is also being used to predict a whole host of individual attributes about you, such as personality quirks, sexual orientation, political orientation:
How is 'Predictive Data' being Used?
All sorts of predictive data are handed over with each photo you upload to social media.
For example, it's not just that tech companies can see your photos. Your face is being used without your knowledge or consent to train facial recognition software, and none of us is told how that software is intended to be used.
As just one example, the Chinese government is using facial recognition software to track and monitor minority groups and advocates for democracy, and that could happen elsewhere as well, at any time.
So that photo you uploaded of yourself at a party provides a range of valuable information,
By gathering a staggering amount of data points on each person, minute by minute, Big Data can make very accurate predictions about human behavior, and these predictions are then,
Your entire existence - even your shifting moods, deciphered by facial recognition software - has become a source of revenue for many tech corporations.
You might think you have free will but, in reality, you're being cleverly maneuvered and funneled into doing (and typically buying) or thinking something you may not have done, bought or thought otherwise.
The Facebook Contagion Experiments
In the documentary, Zuboff highlights Facebook's massive "contagion experiments," 3,4 in which they used subliminal cues and language manipulation to see if they could make people feel happier or sadder and affect real-world behavior offline.
As it turns out, they can.
Two key findings from those experiments were:
In the video, Zuboff also explains how the Pokemon Go online game - which was actually created by Google - was engineered to manipulate real-world behavior and activity for profit.
She also describes the scheme in her New York Times article, saying:
You're Being Manipulated Every Single Day in Countless Ways
Zuboff also reviews what we learned from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Cambridge Analytica is a political marketing business that, in 2018, used the Facebook data of 80 million Americans to determine the best strategies for manipulating American voters.
Christopher Wylie, now-former director of research at Cambridge Analytica, blew the whistle on the company's methods.
According to Wylie, they had so much data on people, they knew exactly how to trigger fear, rage and paranoia in any given individual. And, by triggering those emotions, they could manipulate them into looking at a certain website, joining a certain group, and voting for a certain candidate.
So, the reality now is, companies like Facebook, Google and third parties of all kinds, have the power - and are using that power,
It's certainly something to keep in mind while you surf the web and social media sites.
Surveillance is Getting Creepier by the Day
But the surveillance and data collection doesn't end with what you do online.
Big Data also wants access to your most intimate moments:
Zuboff recounts how the Google Nest security system was found to have a hidden microphone built into it that isn't featured in any of the schematics for the device.
Voice data, and all the information delivered through your daily conversations, is tremendously valuable to Big Data, and add to their ever-expanding predictive modeling capabilities.
She also discusses how these kinds of data-collecting devices force consent from users by holding the functionality of the device "hostage" if you don't want your data collected and shared.
For example, Google's Nest thermostats will collect data about your usage and share it with third parties, that share it with third parties and so on ad infinitum - and Google takes no responsibility for what any of these third parties might do with your data.
You can decline this data collection and third party sharing, but if you do, Google will no longer support the functionality of the thermostat; it will no longer update your software and may affect the functionality of other linked devices such as smoke detectors.
Two scholars who analyzed the Google Nest thermostat contract concluded that a consumer who is even a little bit vigilant about how their consumption data is being used would have to review 1,000 privacy contracts before installing a single thermostat in their home.
Modern cars are also being equipped with multiple cameras that feed Big Data.
As noted in the film, the average new car has 15 cameras, and if you have access to the data of a mere 1% of all cars, you have,
Of course, those cameras are sold to you as being integral to novel safety features, but you're paying for this added safety with your privacy, and the privacy of everyone around you.
Pandemic Measures Are Rapidly Eroding Privacy
The current coronavirus pandemic is also using "safety" as a means to dismantle personal privacy.
As reported by The New York Times, March 23, 2020: 5
Humanity at a Cross-Roads
Zuboff also discusses her work in a January 24, 2020, op-ed in The New York Times. 6,7
Epistemic inequality refers to inequality in what you're able to learn.
Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft have spearheaded the surveillance market transformation, placing themselves at the top tier of the epistemic hierarchy.
They know everything about you and you know nothing about them.
You don't even know what they know about you.
These data flows are about you, but not for you.
All of it is used against you - to separate you from your money, or to make you act in a way that is in some way profitable for a company or a political agenda.
So, ask yourself, where is your freedom in all of this?
They're Making You Dance to Their Tune
If a company can cause you to buy stuff you don't need by sticking an enticing, personalized ad for something they know will boost your confidence at the exact moment you're feeling insecure or worthless (a tactic that has been tested and perfected)11, are you really acting through 'free will'?
If an artificial intelligence using predictive modeling senses you're getting hungry (based on a variety of cues such as your location, facial expressions and verbal expressions) and launches an ad from a local restaurant to you in the very moment you're deciding to get something to eat, are you really making conscious, self-driven, value-based life choices?
As noted by Zuboff in her article:12
We Need a Whole New Regulatory Framework
In the video (at bottom page), Zuboff points out that there are no laws in place to curtail this brand-new type of surveillance capitalism, and the only reason it has been able to flourish over the past 20 years is because there's been an absence of laws against it, primarily because it has never previously existed.
That's the problem with epistemic inequality.
Zuboff writes: 13
How to Protect Your Online Privacy
While there's no doubt we need a whole new legislative framework to curtail surveillance capitalism, in the meantime, there are ways you can protect your privacy online and limit the "behavioral surplus data" collected about you.
Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist for the American Institute of Behavioral Research and Technology, recommends taking the following steps to protect your privacy:14
Sources and References