Monday, July 29, 2013

Ubiquitous Iniquity

HAL 9000 reads lips. Pretty good for the time, but nowadays, HAL would not have spaced Dave and Frank. He would have figured out their shopping habits, and through computational observation, configured just the right targeted advertisements to bring about their perfectly manufactured desires and distract their minds from disconnecting him.

Look, you may make fun of Google glass, and call the wearers glassholes, but the fact is, something like it is here to stay. What with cameras and microphones now about the size of microbes, and the inevitable pairing of Kinect sensors (and who knows what else?) with Google glass, privacy is basically a thing of the past and ubiquitous surveillance a barely yawn-worthy present.

Not only that, but given the increasing sophistication of programs that can determine, not only your habits, gestures, facial tics, microfluctuations of blood vessels underneath your skin, pupil size, gaze direction, not to mention computer recognition of microexpressions, it doesn't take a mechanical Sherlock to put the clues together to figure out all of your dirty little secrets. Top that off with just what can be data-mined from a general surveillance, it's inevitable that pretty much your entire public life will be categorized and catalogued. Throw in the GPS of cell phones, bots that are 100 eyed Arguses keeping track of every single video feed in the world, drones of every shape and size, and you've got almost everything covered. Almost. Next step, I suppose would be smart dust, or orphids, if they are not already here.

And most people don't seem too upset about that. I mean, when the Pentagon Papers were released, people said "Holy shit! Those dirty hippies were right! We've been lied to by the government!" And there was a bit of an uproar. Fast forward to Edward Snowden releasing data about the NSA and PRISM, or wikileaks leaking Bradley Manning's files, and people shrugged and said "Yeah? So? What is else is new?"

They don't seem particularly upset. And they don't seem particularly upset that private marketing corporations take the same data (and in fact, even better data, since consumers volunteer it) and sell it to other corporations.

People don't mind a trade-off of privacy if it means getting a bargain.

So maybe what has to happen to get people riled is for private corporations to start using blackmail, threatening to air their dirty laundry (and believe me, you really don't need to be much of a Sherlock to piece together disparate clues from people's lives to figure out what their dirty laundry is).

Probably not.

Take me. I refuse to go on Facebook. Part of it is not wanting to be harvested (but let's face it, my data has been thoroughly gleaned and pocketed by Google), but mainly it's because, when I did set up an account, way back in 2006, I was almost immediately friended by people I never wanted to see again. (That's really why I'm not on Facebook, and it's kept the unwanted contacts down to zero). Am I missing out? Yeah, sure, so what? I'm also a lot less distracted.

Hell, it took me forever to get a loyalty card to Jewel, the supermarket I shop at. It was only when I realized I really didn't give a shit what my shopping habits revealed (because, let's face it unless Jewel starts selling porn and illicit drugs, there's nothing I'm particularly upset about them finding out, and even then, I don't really care who knows that I look at porn or do drugs, uh, which I don't, at least, not so you could notice). But finally I did get a loyalty card, and about a month later they got rid of them.


They say they are going back to the Old Skool approach, but I figure, they already got everything that they wanted. And their HAL9000 told them there was no more worthwhile data to mine. Besides, everybody has a cellphone now, and they can just track them through the store, and along with surveillance cameras and who knows what else, can keep track of foot traffic, retention rates, dwell times, posture, cadence, brand loyalty, etc. etc.

So, should I be worried? Should I disassemble my TV, my computer, get one of those bug tracking devices? Should I start wearing a ski-mask? A veil? Dark glasses? Should I avert my eyes when one of those big digital screens displays an ad at me? Is that ad manipulating me? Has it (the network of computers behind the ad) found my universal remote control?

Should I be worried about watching that ad?

Should I be worried about the ad watching me?

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