After 20 Plus Years, Whoa! Surveillance by Big Tech

August 10, 2020

DarkCyber has noted a flurry of write ups expressing surprise, rage, indignation, and blusterification at the idea of a commercial company collecting data. Hello, services are free for a basic reason: Making money. Part of making money is to have something that other companies and organizations will purchase. A good example is personal information about users of free services. The way big companies work is that there is a constant pressure to find new ways to generate money. Thus, there are data sucking apps; there are advertisements and more advertisements; there are subscriptions which lock in revenue while providing an Amazon-style we know a lot about those who shop on Amazon; and there are many ornaments on these methods.

I got a kick out of “Silicon Valley’s Vast Data Collection Should Worry You More Than TikTok.” We know the story well. Commercial firms in the US gather data and license it, often to marketing firms and to other organizations. After two decades of blissful ignorance a devoted band of “real” journalists are now probing the core business model of many technology centric companies.

Give me a break. We are talking decades of business processes designed to generate useful reports from flows of actions by individuals. In some countries, the government performs this task. In others, commercial enterprises do the work and license the normalized data to governments.

This passage from the write up tickled my funny bone:

And none of this is unreasonable. We should be worried about private companies and governments potentially collecting data on millions of unsuspecting people and censoring content they don’t like. But those based in China represent just a sliver of that threat.

Yep, the old “woulda, coulda, shoulda” ploy. May I remind you, gentle reader, that we are decades into the automation of data about the actions of individuals. These are the happy and often ignorant humanoids who download apps, run queries, click on videos, and send personal message while leaving a data trail a foot deep and a mile wide.

And now the need for something?

And data collection is not a technical and economic issue. Nope. Data collection is politics; for example:

TikTok’s critics might point to the increasingly scary behavior of China’s government as to why Chinese control of information is particularly alarming. They’re right about the behavior, but they curiously ignore the fact that the United States itself is currently governed by a far-right demagogue with his own concentration camps and authoritarian repression, and that the party behind him, which aligns entirely with his politics, reliably cycles into power at least once every eight years.

What’s the fix? Well, “oppose it all.”

Where were the regulators, the users, and the competitors 20 years ago? Probably in grade school, blissfully unaware that those handheld gadgets would become more important than other activities. Okay, adult thumbtypers, your outrage is interesting. Step back, and perhaps you can see why the howls of outrage, the references to evil forms of government, and the horrors of toting around a device that usually provides real time documentation of one’s actions as a bad thing.

But after 20 years, is it surprising that personal data actions are captured, analyzed, and used to provide more data “stuff” to consume? As I said, its been 20 years with no lessening of the processes. Complain to your parents. Maybe they dropped the ball? Commercial enterprises and governments are like beavers. And beavers do what beavers do.

Stephen E Arnold, August 10, 2020

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