It seems that both users at large and governments are now turning against the tech megaliths, which includes Facebook, Google and Amazon. Silicon Valley Is Not Your Friend We are beginning to understand that tech companies don’t have our best interests at heart. Did they ever?, wrote Noam Cohen in the New York Times. We don’t need to catalog what globalization, the exploitation of labor and the seemingly unbridled power of platforms such as Facebook and Google has done and is doing to world economies and people, individually. Wages have diminished or stagnated, verticals are being consumed and choked. They control the conversation, with hitherto unheard of collection of personal data on vast segments of the population globally – Facebook claims two billion users and how many people, besides Yours Truly, strenuously avoid Google search and all things Google, where and when possible? Voice activation may indeed make our lives easier, but again, at what price? Are we so accustomed to surrendering our privacy for the sake of convenience that we shrug it off? Head’s up, in case you missed it: Warning over iPhone apps that can silently turn on cameras at any time. And, as the article points out, “Google has recently deleted several apps that surreptitiously recorded users and masqueraded as legitimate apps.”
Wonder how many they missed…
Remembering the God View
A while back, when Travis Kalanack was CEO, Uber got into trouble with its customer-tracking God View app, which allowed the company to track riders’ locations and other data. In one case, Uber executive Emil Michael proposed digging up dirt on journalists who were critical of his company and spreading details of their personal lives. The issue was settled. Fines were levied and Uber promised to limit God View data. That was 2014.
Enter Grey Ball in 2017, which Uber used to allow drivers to evade authorities. “The company said the tool was an important measure to protect drivers by flagging dangerous individuals who might try to harm its drivers,” said Business Insider. Of course, it was being used to deny service to persons with the ability to shut the service down in specific locations.
Only the Names Have Been Changed to Deceive the Clueless
Now there’s Facebook Listening, which allows the platform to listen in on your conversations for the sake of serving you more targeted ads. Great to get free voice and video calls using the platform, but buyer beware: Facebook iPhone Listening into our Conversations for Advertising. Of course, according to The Verge, “Facebook has shut down rumors that it uses your mobile device’s microphone to eavesdrop on conversations so it can better target ads. In a statement issued on June 2nd, Facebook said it “does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed.”
How and why is this any more acceptable – and less a violation of privacy – than the God View? It seems everyone is listening, everywhere, if you check the comments here on Reddit.
And let’s not forget that Facebook tracks you, even when you don’t have a Facebook window or Messenger open.
This is not targeted advertising. This is surveillance, by any other name. It’s also unfair competitive advantage, if we factor Amazon into the mix. Says Quartz, “Because Amazon controls household consumption data, competitive intelligence about sellers, as well as a vast logistics infrastructure, it has unparalleled insights into what people want, and how to deliver it most efficiently. New features like the Alexa home assistant and Amazon Key (allowing Amazon to monitor and grant access to people entering your house) will make the company virtually omniscient.”
In case you’re wondering how Jeff Bezos took the richest guy crown this week…
With all of that information, how is this all not similar to Google’s EU anti-trust violations, of a different stripe?
When is Enough Enough?
Just this past week, Facebook (starting testing) removing publishers from News Feed – unless they pay. And Amazon is about to take on the corner pharmacy, having been awarded wholesale pharmacy licenses in a dozen states. More to come. Trust us. And for the record, an estimated two-third of US households already subscribe to Amazon Prime.
As we’ve said before, the tech uberlords wield a power and ability hitherto unseen – and growing, unchecked. Intrusion, invasion. It all takes us down the same path, by any other name: straight to the God View. Appropriate name, given that unless this surveillance is disallowed or reigned in, the uberlords are well on their way to becoming our lords and masters. Onward and forward.