Internet Background

Tech Companies, Privacy, Totalitarianism, And Remaining In Control Of Your Information In An Open World

An article about the potential danger of powerful tech companies

Tech Companies And Privacy

After watching the movie, The Circle, featuring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson, I reflected on social media and its effects, how it’s slowly taking over the way we do everything in life, for the better and the worse.

While I’m optimistic, considering it’s incredible ability to connect all of us, as well as its utility in marketing for business, I – along with a ton of other people – can’t shake the feeling we’re heading down the wrong path.

According to this article from the BBC, the recent Facebook scandal – where the company illegally shared 87 million users’ private data with a political consultancy group, Cambridge Analytica – has the reputation of the company in disarray.

Facebook

Facebook is in serious trouble around the world, and Zuckerberg himself is set to appear in front of Congress.

This is a big topic in the news right now, and I’ve been curious about it for awhile. However, I haven’t put in the work to understand privacy issues.

But as I do more and more research, but my concerns seem to grow larger.

When I hung out with some guys from my old University town last weekend, one of them, who’s technologically literate, you could say, said that “someone should fight it because it’s bad.”

By “it,” he meant the reality that all of these tech companies we’re using every day, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Google, and Amazon, are collecting all of our data, and doing all kinds of nefarious shit with it.

The most recent scandal re-ignited those fears and even confirmed they are based on something very real.

I don’t think he would call himself an expert on the matter, but I imagine he knows a lot more than I do about it. Either way, expertise or not, I took his opinion seriously.

It brought me to look into the looming and growing power of tech companies – Amazon, Facebook, and Google – who’s influence is getting stronger all of the time.

State Governments In The United States

Over 60% of State governments in the United States have incorporated Google products and services for all of their data. A security expert, Sherri Davidoff, said: “Google now controls the government’s access to its own data.”

It’s a scary thought, the idea that a corporation will have not only ALL of my personal information but also a lack of accountability, an immunity to the law. People complain about politicians being above the law, but we haven’t seen anything yet.

At least when it comes to politicians, we can despise them and kick their ass out in the next election, but we can’t do the same thing to these tech giants who have all of our data on a server somewhere.

If we don’t do something about them, there’s a chance the government will be the underdog against organizations like Facebook.

We’ve seen Google ban people from its services in the past for no good reason, and if they’re the ones holding everyone’s information –  including the government’s data – the company becomes more powerful than the people and their elected officials, or in other words, the public and the government.

Monopolized Power

The problem is the monopoly. Pretty soon they’re going to be the only game in town, unchecked by nobody, with more power concentrated in one entity more so than we’ve ever seen in human history.

In Ancient times, there were pharaohs, kings, and monarchies, but they typically only controlled one part of the world, a nation, or a collection of countries. Google might soon have in its possession the globe’s data, literally a good chunk of the entire world.

According to Scott Cleland, the president of a foundation specializing in privacy issues, Google recently pushed a political group – the New American’s Foundation – to fire their CEO, Barry Lynn, because he led a task force that was investigating and supporting the European Union’s $3 billion fine against Google.

Apparently, the EU was punishing the search engine giant for favoring its own services over its rivals, something illegal in the union for some reason.

However, the article didn’t say precisely what they did and how.

The European Union

According to the New York Times, this is just one of many instances where the EU has pushed for regulation against huge tech companies, in addition to the investigation into Amazon’s tax strategies in Europe, and the call for Apple Inc. to pay the government of Ireland $14.5 billion in back taxes.

It looks like for the first time, governments are finally thinking, “oh shit, what are these companies doing with all of this data they’re collecting? Do they have too much power?” If there is one thing that’s for sure, it’s the monopolization of power in an industry is rarely beneficial for the public.

Market monopolies are never a good thing for one simple reason: absolute power corrupts absolutely, as Lord John Acton said.

The Separation Of Powers

A functioning government needs the rivalry caused by the separation of powers between executive, legislative, and judicial branches, just like the way other companies within the market system do.

They need other businesses and institutions to check its power, and they do this through providing an alternative for consumers, and allowing government institutions to ensure the company is held accountable to all of the various laws, the laws meant to stop abuse.

The best way of thinking about it is this: Google, Facebook, and Amazon are now the middlemen between all of the interactions located online, whether it be social sharing; providing the channel between business and consumer, information access, and e-commerce.

It’s kind of like in gangster movies where one gang controls all of the business in a city or town, every time somebody opens up a shop; they have to go through the gang to get permission or pay them a cut of their rent each month.

Obviously, it’s not the exact same thing, but the example is meant to illustrate the effect of the concentration of power.

The point is: the big tech companies are more powerful, and the potential for abuse of that influence is much higher.

The Potential For Abuse

To make matters worse, governments have granted them immunity from incidents that go down on their platforms, a privilege not a lot of companies have. In fact, none of them are supposed to.

According to this report, Google and Facebook take in 96% of all the digital advertising revenue on the internet.

Amazon Prime represents 80% of the online e-commerce activity, and from 2012 to 2016, the United States Gross Domestic Product (how much money the entire country made those years), increased 25 times higher than the revenues of the Fortune 500 companies, 9% compared to 0.3%.

During that same period, Facebook, Google, and Amazon’s revenue increased by 118% or 300 times faster than Fortune 500 companies.

According to Scott Cleland, if you take the big three tech companies out of the Fortune 500 list, the rest of the list’s revenue contracted by 0.81%, meaning that they lost money, $97 billion.

In other words, money is being made, a lot of it, hundreds of billions, and a good portion of it is going to the Big Three Tech companies.

They’re Making Serious Cash

If their profits keep doubling and the other businesses keep contracting, pretty soon an offline economic recession is a possibility.

There is no question that these aforementioned businesses are making a lot of money. But not only are they monopolizing industries and accruing billions, they’re also gathering and selling off our data to the highest bidders.

Are they even checking to see what the business intends to do with it?

During a recent conference, Mark Zuckerberg said he thought companies who bought ‘their’ (really it’s our data) data would understand how to use it properly, and it was their responsibility to decide how to go about using it.

And this is a pretty crazy thing to say, considering we’re talking about people’s information here; intimate conversations between users, pictures, opinions, beliefs, interests, choice in music, movies, films, as well as all the bad stuff people typically choose to keep quiet.

Unforeseen Consequences

We didn’t think the company was stashing all of our data and selling it to political consultancy companies which are designed to gather information for the sake of swinging and influencing elections.

It makes me wonder how much companies like Google, YouTube (owned by Google), and Facebook know about all of us. If they’re ranking and tracking everything I look for in their search engine, that means they practically know everything about me.

Think about it, every time you look up something online, it tells you something about yourself, what you’re going through, current illnesses and sicknesses, feelings, interests, hobbies, location, fears, insecurities, resentments, political philosophy and ideologies, and the list go on and on.

Thankfully, it’s all done by an incredibly smart algorithm, rather than a person who’s literally watching everything I’m doing.

Mark Zuckerberg

In Zuckerberg’s defense, he admitted later on that he understands now that he and the rest of the company have to take some responsibility for what happens with the data they collect.

You can’t just sell people’s information to the highest bidder, regardless of what they intend to do with it. It’s insane.

Zuckerberg explained, “we’re not just building tools…..we need to take full responsibility for the outcomes of how people use those tools as well.”

Moreover, the Facebook CEO revealed that “malicious” actors had been taking advantage of one of the platform’s features, the one where you can type in someone’s phone number or email to find their profile.

I think that’s what scammers are doing when they set up fake profiles using other people’s names.

If you’re a scam artist, It’s as simple as getting someone’s email, address, phone number, photos, and then they can call you pretending to be a government agency of some kind and get people to expose their driver’s licence number to set up a credit card in your name and wreak havoc on your life.

DuckGoGo

According to the CEO of Duck Duck Go, our searches in search engines are packaged into a data profile so that advertisers can follow us around on the internet and market banner ads toward us, banner ads which are catered to our specific individual differences.

Everyone has seen them before, perhaps you’ve been searching up a new pair of Converse shoes online, and now all of a sudden, you find yourself bombarded with commercials for Converse sneakers on nearly every website you visit.

While this is not that bad, intrusive advertisements are just the beginning.

When we use Google, all of our searches and information are tracked and can be exposed to our internet service provider, our employer or school, as well as the government.

And while most people don’t care because they’re not doing anything wrong, you have to ask yourself if you want the government, your boss, school, corporations, and the media to have the ability to know every single thing about you. Do you want that?

Tracking and Trackers

I don’t.

And to make matters worse, they’re tracking people through YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps, Chrome, and nearly all of the other services they operate and oversee, including the plethora of applications downloaded on your phone.

Moreover, Google trackers are lying behind around 75% of the top million websites. Between Facebook and Google, these two companies are dominating online advertising, taking in nearly all of that income.

Through all of these hidden trackers, Google and Facebook have figured out a way to dominate the advertising industry on the internet, and they’re making serious bank.

Through applications like Admob, Doubleclick, and Adsense, Google can track people’s location, browsing and searching history, spending habits, interests, hobbies, and etc.

The Past and The Future

Additionally, Google Analytics supposedly feeds similar information back to the company.

And a lesser known fact, because Google can track your location, they enable advertisers to charge you different prices for your flights based on your personal information.

The whole purpose of all of this is to profit off of your data. However, on the other hand, I’m willing to admit there is a (mostly) benevolent reason for all of this. And by that mean, I mean they just want to make money and aren’t evil or malicious.

Google and Facebook are good companies, for the most part, who have designed these great technologies for us to use. It’s incredible. But danger lies underneath, the threat of the massive abuse of power, one unlike we’ve ever seen.

In the past, dictatorships oppressed their people, but they couldn’t watch your every move through the use your of technology. You could at least talk to your family about how oppressive the regime was behind closed doors.

But if the wrong person gets their hands on this shit, the potential for the worst type of tyranny is there.

I’m not trying to fearmonger anybody, I’m just pointing to a potential reality.

But anyway, that’s all I have to say on that.

As per usual, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, SoundCloud, and donate to Patreon if you’d like. Any amount is appreciated.

Don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel.

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