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Smart Technology “. . . is actually a stealthy euphemism for ‘surveillance’ . . . . a world where we no longer exert control over objects we’ve bought from corporations, but corporations exert control over us . . .”

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YahooHQCOMMENT: In FTR #‘s 851, 859, 866, 867 and 904, we dis­cussed “tech­no­crat­ic fas­cism.”

The con­cept was accu­rate­ly detailed by David Golum­bia. . . . Such tech­no­cratic beliefs are wide­spread in our world today, espe­cially in the enclaves of dig­i­tal enthu­si­asts, whether or not they are part of the giant cor­po­rate-dig­i­tal leviathan. Hack­ers (“civic,” “eth­i­cal,” “white” and “black” hat alike), hack­tivists, Wik­iLeaks fans [and Julian Assange et al–D. E.], Anony­mous “mem­bers,” even Edward Snow­den him­self walk hand-in-hand with Face­book and Google in telling us that coders don’t just have good things to con­tribute to the polit­i­cal world, but that the polit­i­cal world is theirs to do with what they want, and the rest of us should stay out of it: the polit­i­cal world is bro­ken, they appear to think (right­ly, at least in part), and the solu­tion to that, they think (wrong­ly, at least for the most part), is for pro­gram­mers to take polit­i­cal mat­ters into their own hands. . . .”

In a short, sub­stan­tive and alto­geth­er accu­rate piece in The New York Times Mag­a­zine, Jacob Sil­ver­man makes a point that we have been making–the “inter­net of things” or “smart tech­nol­o­gy” is an exam­ple of how tech­no­crat­ic fas­cism has yield­ed a “sur­veil­lance soci­ety.”

” . . . what is pre­sent­ed as an upgrade is actu­al­ly a stealthy euphemism for “sur­veil­lance.” While a “smart” light­ing sys­tem promis­es to adapt to an owner’s pref­er­ences or help the envi­ron­ment by low­er­ing elec­tric­i­ty bills, what it also does is pro­vide a com­pa­ny a per­ma­nent foothold in a person’s home from which he can be mon­i­tored. That smart-­light­ing com­pa­ny knows when the own­er of its prod­uct comes home, when he goes, when he dims the lights for a date and when he leaves them on.

The intel­li­gence giv­en to these devices real­ly serves twin pur­pos­es: infor­ma­tion col­lec­tion and con­trol. Smart devices are con­stant­ly col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion, track­ing user habits, try­ing to antic­i­pate and shape their own­ers’ behav­iors and report­ing back to the cor­po­rate moth­er ship. Data is our era’s most promis­ing extrac­tive resource, and tech com­pa­nies have found that con­nect­ing more peo­ple and devices, col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion on how they inter­act with one anoth­er and then using that infor­ma­tion to sell adver­tis­ing can be enor­mous­ly prof­itable.

And so the mak­ers of smart devices encour­age us to make their cre­ations smarter by con­fess­ing more to them, by expos­ing more of our­selves. . . . At its most expan­sive, “smart” pro­duces a world where we no longer exert con­trol over objects we’ve bought from cor­po­ra­tions, but cor­po­ra­tions exert con­trol over us through things we pay for the priv­i­lege of using. And when “smart” is crude­ly applied to the cities we live in — to our crum­bling infra­struc­ture and mil­i­ta­rized police forces — we give in to forces of pri­va­ti­za­tion, algo­rith­mic con­trol and rule by cor­po­rate con­tract. . . . ”

As we have not­ed in our series on “The Adven­tures of Eddie the Friend­ly Spook”–the NSA is one of the very last things most peo­ple should be wor­ried about. (We have no illu­sions about NSA, inci­den­tal­ly.)

The NSA does­n’t give a fly­ing (exple­tive delet­ed) about the aver­age cit­i­zen. The tech cor­po­ra­tions, on the oth­er hand, care about EVERYTHING the ordi­nary cit­i­zen is doing and a naive cit­i­zen­ry is giv­ing them all of their per­son­al infor­ma­tion.

“All Know­ing” by Jacob Sil­ver­man; The New York Times Mag­a­zine; 6/19/2016.

. . . . .When applied to the lat­est con­sumer gad­gets, “smart” per­forms a sim­i­lar sleight of hand; what is pre­sent­ed as an upgrade is actu­al­ly a stealthy euphemism for “sur­veil­lance.” While a “smart” light­ing sys­tem promis­es to adapt to an owner’s pref­er­ences or help the envi­ron­ment by low­er­ing elec­tric­i­ty bills, what it also does is pro­vide a com­pa­ny a per­ma­nent foothold in a person’s home from which he can be mon­i­tored. That smart-­light­ing com­pa­ny knows when the own­er of its prod­uct comes home, when he goes, when he dims the lights for a date and when he leaves them on.

The intel­li­gence giv­en to these devices real­ly serves twin pur­pos­es: infor­ma­tion col­lec­tion and con­trol. Smart devices are con­stant­ly col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion, track­ing user habits, try­ing to antic­i­pate and shape their own­ers’ behav­iors and report­ing back to the cor­po­rate moth­er ship. Data is our era’s most promis­ing extrac­tive resource, and tech com­pa­nies have found that con­nect­ing more peo­ple and devices, col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion on how they inter­act with one anoth­er and then using that infor­ma­tion to sell adver­tis­ing can be enor­mous­ly prof­itable.

And so the mak­ers of smart devices encour­age us to make their cre­ations smarter by con­fess­ing more to them, by expos­ing more of our­selves. As we open our lives to increas­ing­ly self-­aware, autonomous devices, we are encour­aged — par­tic­u­lar­ly in the case of all-­pur­pose per­son­al assis­tants like Siri and Alexa — to use them as much as pos­si­ble, feed­ing them more use­ful data that will allow our gad­gets to “learn” who we are and what we like, and to make deci­sions that might antic­i­pate our needs.

The com­mons becomes sim­ply anoth­er site for pri­vate com­pa­nies to spy on peo­ple.

But the true inge­nu­ity of a “smart” device is the way it upends tra­di­tion­al mod­els of own­er­ship. We don’t real­ly buy and own net­work-­con­nect­ed house­hold goods; in essence, we rent and oper­ate these devices on terms set by the com­pa­ny. Because they run on pro­pri­etary soft­ware, and because they are con­nect­ed to the inter­net, their cor­po­rate cre­ators can always reach across cyber­space and med­dle with them. In 2009, Ama­zon delet­ed from cus­tomers’ Kin­dle read­ers copies of “1984” that were sold with­out autho­riza­tion. Deal­ers have begun installing “starter inter­rupt devices” on cars bought with loans, so that they can kill the engine from afar should the bor­row­er be late on his pay­ments. Con­sumers will have lit­tle pos­si­bil­i­ty for

Using a smart device for any­thing but the pur­pos­es explic­it­ly sanc­tioned by its man­u­fac­tur­er risks vio­lat­ing a war­ran­ty, brick­ing a device or even break­ing the law. (It’s fit­ting, albeit a touch melo­dra­mat­ic, that unau­tho­rized tin­ker­ing with an iPhone is called “jail­break­ing.”) The very same ele­ments mak­ing these things smart — con­nec­tiv­i­ty, sophis­ti­cat­ed soft­ware, semi­au­tonomous intel­li­gence — can also make them more frus­trat­ing than any devices we’ve ever seen. . . .

At its most expan­sive, “smart” pro­duces a world where we no longer exert con­trol over objects we’ve bought from cor­po­ra­tions, but cor­po­ra­tions exert con­trol over us through things we pay for the priv­i­lege of using. And when “smart” is crude­ly applied to the cities we live in — to our crum­bling infra­struc­ture and mil­i­ta­rized police forces — we give in to forces of pri­va­ti­za­tion, algo­rith­mic con­trol and rule by cor­po­rate con­tract. It seems an indeli­ble sym­bol of the times that New York City neglects essen­tial but mun­dane ser­vices like pub­lic restrooms while pro­mot­ing oth­er puta­tive munic­i­pal inno­va­tions, like the mass con­ver­sion of pay phones to Wi-Fi kiosks. As with oth­er smart devices, which sub­si­dize their costs with data col­lec­tion, these kiosks are free — pro­vid­ed you sub­mit to the col­lec­tion of your per­son­al infor­ma­tion and loca­tion data. The com­mons becomes sim­ply anoth­er site for pri­vate com­pa­nies to spy on peo­ple. . . .

 

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