Yes, You Are Under Surveillance

disinformation staffers often joke that all of their communications are being monitored, but guess what, you’re under surveillance too. Julia Angwin explains for The Week:

Anti1984 We are living in a Dragnet Nation — a world of indiscriminate tracking where institutions are stockpiling data about individuals at an unprecedented pace. The rise of indiscriminate tracking is powered by the same forces that have brought us the technology we love so much — powerful computing on our desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

Before computers were commonplace, it was expensive and difficult to track individuals. Governments kept records only of occasions, such as birth, marriage, property ownership, and death. Companies kept records when a customer bought something and filled out a warranty card or joined a loyalty club. But technology has made it cheap and easy for institutions of all kinds to keep records about almost every moment of our lives.

The combination of massive computing power, smaller and smaller devices, and cheap storage has enabled a huge increase in indiscriminate tracking of personal data. The trackers include many of the institutions that are supposed to be on our side, such as the government and the companies with which we do business.

Of course, the largest of the dragnets appear to be those operated by the U.S. government. In addition to its scooping up vast amounts of foreign communications, the National Security Agency is also scooping up Americans’ phone calling records and Internet traffic, according to documents revealed in 2013 by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Meanwhile, commercial dragnets are blossoming. AT&T and Verizon are selling information about the location of their cellphone customers, albeit without identifying them by name. Mall owners have started using technology to track shoppers based on the signals emitted by the cellphones in their pockets. Retailers such as Whole Foods have used digital signs that are actually facial recognition scanners.

Online, hundreds of advertisers and data brokers are watching as you browse the Web. Looking up “blood sugar” could tag you as a possible diabetic by companies that profile people based on their medical condition and then provide drug companies and insurers access to that information. Searching for a bra could trigger an instant bidding war among lingerie advertisers at one of the many online auction houses…

[continues at The Week]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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45 Comments on "Yes, You Are Under Surveillance"

  1. Reuben_the_Red | Mar 30, 2014 at 4:29 pm |

    Totalitarianism is limited by whatever tools and technologies are handy. Totalitarianism has few limitations today. They can’t actually read your mind or prosecute you for that messed up dream you had last night. Yet.

    Most (not all, but most) modern technological innovations have been financed, researched, developed, manufactured, and distributed and/or repurposed with totalitarianism in mind. Total authoritarian control of human labor, food, purchasing, interrelationships, transport, medicine, and yes of course government.

    Is it technological totalitarianism? Corporate totalitarianism? Oligarchic totalitarianism? Theocratic totalitarianism? Fascism? A perfect synergy of all of the above? Yes.

    You are free to change the channel.

    • Anarchy Pony | Mar 30, 2014 at 5:04 pm |

      For how much longer?

      • Adam Cornell | Mar 30, 2014 at 9:52 pm |

        Less to do with a countdown toward some ‘future’, and more to do with the shape, the information densities and flows, of the always present.

        • Anarchy Pony | Mar 30, 2014 at 11:09 pm |


          • Adam Cornell | Mar 30, 2014 at 11:39 pm |

            You seemed to be asking ‘For how much longer?’ to the statement, ‘You are free to change the channel’.
            My post was intended to illustrate the idea that whatever is ‘there’, that contains us, will contain us and whatever ‘future’ is to be, regardless of the ‘channel’ we filter it through, is likely to contain ‘surveillance’, because clearly, it already happened, and at the very least, because physics.
            It’s not clear to me there is a choice ‘we’ or any ‘one’ of us could make that could send us to a time or place that is in the absence of ‘surveillance’ without the larger/smarter agency of the whole of creation ‘agreeing’ with the one or ones expressing the desire.
            And If it should agree, and you ‘escape’, or ‘change the channel’, how would you determine it stopped watching you, so that you no longer felt surveilled?
            It accumulates information. It iterates those accumulations as intelligent creatures, and in our case, their technologies, surveillance included.
            It watching you is sort of an inescapable quality of it.

          • Thurlow Weed | Mar 31, 2014 at 12:22 am |

            That’s my question, too, but about the search for gnosis. I have no idea what Adam Cornell is talking about.

          • Adam Cornell | Mar 31, 2014 at 7:44 pm |

            Gno that she’s all out of love, and ideas, and not doing her job anymore.

        • Information density: quite interesting.

          I need to ask though, does not organization of that density matter? Or possibly the content? I suspect wars of various scales emerge when equally dense, yet mutually exclusive information nodes meet.

          • Adam Cornell | Mar 31, 2014 at 6:21 pm |

            Information density always increases, at the direct expense of rigid definitions.

            When you properly understand the principle, you realize that it’s only war to those who want war.

            It is possible, however, that enough humans may desire war, and it’s continuation, to forever damn each other well short of comprehension.

            There is, however, a limit to the number of times we can do that, and the asymptote, the line of judgement for a mankind that has agreed to rule itself in accord with thermodynamic laws, is already here.

            That line of pure, frictionless, information accumulation is the Internet.

            Succeed in breaking the Internet, and mankind will fail.

            It is a mirror of collective human thought and imagination, not a frontier to be further colonized with the failed economic modeling of the preceding paradigm, and if we fail to understand and integrate it’s significance to our real lives, it will be our death mask, but only because that will be what we have chosen.

            There is no paradise waiting for us on the ‘other side’ of Internet, indeed, there is no ‘other side’.

            We must intentionally miniaturize and decentralize the physical architecture of civilization, to match the physical principles that make Internet possible, or the lesson/test it represents will not be learned, and we will fail.

            Let us examine whether all or any nodes are or even can be at equilibrium, before we determine that war is necessary, or even meaningful, in this space.

    • BuzzCoastin | Mar 30, 2014 at 5:17 pm |

      wee tend to believe that nefarious forces
      created technology for its nefarious ends
      butt actually
      thechnology uses humans for its parasitic ends
      especially as reproductive organs

      humans are like aphids herded by electronic ants
      modern totalitarianism is an effect of technological evolution

    • Jonas Planck | Apr 3, 2014 at 11:44 am |

      Like the feeds from the punishment dome on Varos… off buttons are illegal, and tampering with the screen will get you thrown into the dome to join the programming… but at least you still get to vote… on whether the “criminal” on the screen can have a quick death or a slow one. Because that’s democracy.

  2. Thurlow Weed | Mar 30, 2014 at 5:11 pm |

    <— Under surveillance by god since the beginning of time.

    • Anarchy Pony | Mar 30, 2014 at 8:23 pm |

      Creepy voyeuristic jerk.

      • Cortacespedes | Mar 30, 2014 at 8:26 pm |

        Make that omnipotent, creepy, voyeuristic jerk.

        And those are the worst kind.

      • I realized that when I was 11-years-old.
        During one of our family visits back to Colombia, I was staying at an aunt’s house, where they had this huge portrait of Jesus in the hall. I had to see it every time I got up to pee at night. It always frightened me and I would go by in fear without looking at it. Especially, since I had been playing with myself. One I night, for some reason, I thought, “fuck this” and as I walked by, I stopped, faced the damn painting, pulled my pajama bottoms down and shook my 11-year-old cock at Jesus.
        That has more or less defined the terms or our relationship since then.

    • Cortacespedes | Mar 30, 2014 at 8:24 pm |

      Yes, as a youngster, I was told that repeatedly.

      Never believed it, not even for a second.

      Needless to say, I had a very event filled childhood.

  3. Gjallarbru | Mar 30, 2014 at 7:12 pm |

    The funny things is, I have been arguing with friends that states would not resist the temptation of surveillance as technology and connectivity advanced. During all those years, I was supposed to presume too much. Now, the only last bastion of argument on their side is the nefarious “I have nothing to hide”. To bad for them…

    • Adam Cornell | Mar 30, 2014 at 10:45 pm |

      Perhaps it is better to argue that total surveillance can only be tolerable if the databases it generates are open access. Crowd Souzveillance > Oligarchic Surveillance.
      Then argue that the board members and stakeholders of all publicly held corporations, or any politically active private entity, as well as all members of the government, be subject to whatever level of surveillance the public they ‘serve’ is subject to, and that any records produced are public domain, without discretion.
      Make it a constitutional amendment.
      Obviously it changes jurisprudence, but that already happened anyway, so, flatten the distribution.

      • Gjallarbru | Mar 31, 2014 at 7:07 am |

        The problem with what you have proposed is application. Making sure that we have indeed “flatten the distribution” would be difficult without piling on more surveillance.

        It is better, in my opinion, to change the idea back to a default of “no surveillance”, period. Making what surveillance that does happen as being of extreme exception.

        In other words, I argue that complacency is the problem, and that accomplishing surveillance should be the hardest thing to do in a free society. But the western world has grown complacent, accepting surveillance because of the ever present menace of “terrorists”, when terrorists have very little to do with what is going on.

        • Adam Cornell | Apr 1, 2014 at 9:40 pm |

          What does ‘accepting surveillance’ or ‘accomplishing surveillance’ mean when measured against the very likely emergent order that, by 2020, all human beings will be connected to the internet, and half of them with smart devices that possess cameras, touch screens, microphones and speakers?
          The 3 billion of them that are already connected in some form have made it very clear they have no problem whatsoever recording and sharing the full suite of human experience, and in nearly every case, for free, without shame.
          So once the saturation is total, you are dealing with a global brain with 3 billion full sets of sensory organs, a full generation of human and machine intelligence data miners picking through the inputs those organs have captured, and more often than not, swapping and/or donating the gains from exchange at velocities, densities, and flat distributions that exceed, by orders of magnitude, the utility of the parameters the industrial notions of ‘intellectual property’ or ‘information security’ can rationally, effectively, efficiently or fairly manage.
          Those who have ‘won’ the ‘game’ of industrial society under those parameters have no choice but to attempt to export their strategies into the new space, but as a practical matter they fail to properly ascertain what it is, and why it is here in the first place. No radicalism is required to comprehend what I am stating, it is an obvious truth.
          So the totality of ‘surveillance’ is in the fact that the eyes, ears, mouth and skin of the internet are essentially going to be nestled in the pocket of every human being alive, and probably only 6 years from now. All of us are probably better off if access to, and the interpretation of, the living record of the real time history of earth and it’s human beings is an open process, because as a practical matter, ‘enforcement’ of the hierarchical, regressive, alternative, will likely be disastrously ineffective and brutal.
          Paying any attention to Egypt? Syria? Tunis? Turkey? Venezuela? Comprende?

          • Gjallarbru | Apr 1, 2014 at 10:09 pm |

            Comprende? Why do you take that tone? Did I make you feel threatened, or did I insult you? If so, it was not my intent.

            In principle, taking for granted you theory was correct, I actually was in agreement with you. I mearely saw a problem with application of a “flat distribution” principle. I saw that some could afford themselves the means to escape that, meaning a cycle of ever more surveillance might be necessary. Such a cycle would be difficult to maintain. In other words, a flat distribution of surveillance might be harder to do in practice.

            What I would preach is a return to the value of discretion, something that admittingly has all but disappeared. If we were to return to discretion as a social value, the posession of any equipment wouldn’t matter. It is not impossible that people will also just get fed up with the surveillance and reject it, and its equipment. I know I am fed up.

            As for your argument of Egypt and friends, well the cameras in your phone might not be enough if you don’t get guns. That’s why a coup d’état generally involve the army at some point. I’m not convinced you have a valid point here.

            That being said, if flat distribution is possible, I do think it is a solution to some degree. So take a deep breath, we are not so far from agreeing. Et toi, comprends-tu?

  4. You are clearly an America hater who is suffering from conspiratorial ideation.
    You may even be suffering from a mental illness.

    • Truth Teller | Apr 1, 2014 at 5:44 pm |

      You are clearly a stubbornly stupid person that jumps to illogical conclusions rather than examining facts.

      Tell me, exactly what have I posted that is not true? Remember your dislike or disbelief are not proof.

      You are suffering from terminal ignorance.

      • I was being totally ironic. I guess these things do not translate well into text sometimes. Or I could’ve been more obvious, I guess.
        In fact, I completely agree with you.
        Sorry for the misunderstanding.

      • Also, I was alluding to quite a few pieces that have appeared on this site, that suggest that people who do not buy into the dominant narrative are clearly delusional and suffering from “conspiratorial ideation.”
        Of course,those pieces were quickly deconstructed, mocked and ridiculed for the obvious garbage propaganda they were.

        • Truth Teller | Apr 2, 2014 at 3:31 pm |

          You were not. You started with unfounded insults by calling me an “American hater”. Now you’re trying to squirm out from your bad behavior. Lying about it won’t do that. It’s only more bad behavior.

          • Ok, whatever.
            If you are so inclined, have a look at some of my posting history here, and all should be made clear.

      • Matt Staggs | Apr 1, 2014 at 11:02 pm |

        I think you’ve overlooked the sarcasm there, “Truth Teller”. All of the impenetrable smug may be obscuring your vision.

        • Adam Cornell | Apr 2, 2014 at 12:46 am |

          It is plausible that what may seem to be impenetrably smug to one may be indeterminate from how the other defines function, and between them all may rest discussions about questions like, ‘What is volition?’

        • Truth Teller | Apr 2, 2014 at 3:29 pm |

          What smug? All I see are insults that now are trying to be covered up by saying it was “Sarcasm”. I know more about sarcasm than most. So try something honest and logical.

          • You will never get an “honest” or “logical” reply at this website. Not once. Ever.

  5. Adam Cornell | Mar 31, 2014 at 7:07 pm |

    Exponential returns measured over linear timescales is meaningless.
    It’s more like volumetric data compression, and the realization that time isn’t what happens to it.
    It’s more like a rolling donut than it is a spirograph.

    • LovelyLady666 | Mar 31, 2014 at 10:28 pm |

      It’s not meaningless, it’s meaningful, data compression plus new technologies equals technologies far beyond the current populous electronics. If you need a simple explanation i would say human breeding would be closest. 2 genes forming one and sometimes with capabilities far beyond the predecessor (unless of course you some how believe computers today are not superior from 10 years ago in which case let me get my old dell out for you and you can pay me 800 bucks for it ) ….not a rolling donut (whatever the hell that’s suppose to mean anyway).

  6. Thank you for that link. Never heard of this before.

  7. Jonas Planck | Apr 3, 2014 at 11:57 am |

    Billy told me a story the other day… He was over at his sister’s house helping them paint the living room, and they were listening to Pandora on her phone… an ad came on listing paint prices at a major chain store… prices distinctly lower than she’d paid for the paint they were using. She mentioned casually that they should have bought the paint THERE, and he instantly realized what had just happened… the ad targeting worked. The data points between the purchase of the paint and the microphone feed from the smartphone had been read so accurately that it knew the exact moment that the work was being done right there in her house. When he said something about it, they responded that he was just being paranoid, and it was a coincidence. He also mentioned that he discovered after a few hours’ experimentation that Pandora doesn’t pay attention when you talk about what bands you like or what music you want it to play in hearing distance of the microphone, but it DOES listen to what purchases you say you might make. You can manipulate the targeted ads just by talking about things where it can hear you. To most people, this is seen as a coincidence, with no causal relationship.

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