Never before have we had so much information at our finger tips. The power to communicate globally is instant. We have tools to make our personal and professional lives more connected, more enriched, providing the ability to work and navigate anywhere, control things in our homes, and importantly facilitate the democratisation of free speech across the globe. We are marching at double time into the utopia of empowerment, convenience, and individual freedom. Or so the optimism of the early IT-enabled world once promised.
Think of the information that companies and governments hold on you. What you watch on Youtube / Netflix / Amazon Prime, the interests you like and post about on Facebook, what music you listen to on Spotify, the trail of data we leave as the GPS in your phone tracks your movements and behavioural routines, the topics you search about and read on Google search, your tastes identified by the books and shopping you acquire from Amazon, the microphones we introduce into our homes with Alexa and Google home, the domestic behaviour and consumption in your own home recorded by Smart Home devices, our income held in our bank accounts, the ANPR and surveillance cameras that record our journeys outside our homes............
Once created this data rarely gets deleted. You leave a permanent digital trail that is your life, and that data is in the hands of other people. It represents your profile as an individual, a gateway into your tastes, your views, your habits and your 'potential'.
Did we realise we gave permission to these companies to acquire this data? Should they acquire it? Do you trust them with this data? Do we understand what they will do with this 'knowledge' of us? Why do they want it?
Over the years it has become apparent how companies and government agencies have been abusing their technical capabilities. Evidence has shown that we can't currently trust these companies to do the right thing.
Have a read about what data Facebook and Google hold on you.
The Cambridge Analytica Scandal showed how Facebook misused peoples personal data:
Watch Citizen 4, the documentary on Edward Snowden, to see the level of governmental surveillance that is now achievable and in progress.
Google hoovered up wi-fi data as they implemented their street view functionality:
“As we have said before, we are profoundly sorry for having mistakenly collected payload data from unencrypted Wi-fi networks,” said Google’s lawyer for privacy issues.
'Mistakenly' suggests that this was accidental and unintended rather than something that was designed and implemented. An excuse that many tech companies fail back on.
Just this week, Google were outed for placing 'secret' mic's in Nest Smart Home devices: . Their excuse for not disclosing this in the technical specification of the document was simply that it was an error. Are you happy that a company so pervasive in our lives should brush off non-disclosure so simply?
The list of data breaches, illegal use of data, and invasions of privacy go on and on with only the slightest appreciation by the wider population. Most worryingly, we are now entering a phase of technological maturity where these companies, and the data recorded by them, can not only predict our behaviour, but also 'influence' our future behaviour. As Shoshana Zuboff's very important new book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism outlines, the current level of invasion into our privacy isn't a natural consequence of the introduction of new technologies, as companies will have you believe, it’s a strategic path they are following. Technology can be private and secure.
We still have time to fight back against these prevailing trends but the time has come for us as individuals to recognise and react to the increasing threat of total surveillance and to make choices to protect ourselves.
So how can we react to this. First we have to recognise what details companies have about us and what they could do with it. Please see the videos on youtube that feature Shoshana Zuboff for some great insights.
Google is the currently the biggest surveillance culprit closely followed by Facebook. Amazon are also making similar steps into Surveillance Capitalism.
I'm going to take one big step to try to de-Google my life and in a series of posts I'll try to document what I've done and what some of the more secure alternatives are to allow us to continue engaging in the connected world more securely.
The first step is for me to understand the Google, or rather Alphabet (the parent company), products and services I use with a Google Audit. What I'm aware of are:
- Note 9 Android phone with associated Google Play store - they know all my apps and how i use them
- Google mail - they can read all my email content
- Google search - they can see everything i search for
- Google Contacts - they know all my friends
- Google Chrome browser and bookmarks (which I sync on my pc and phone) - they have statistics on what i do with my Internet usage and where
- Google Calendar - they know what i do with my time when they aren't recording my online behaviour
- Google Maps / Street View - they know where i go and the places i might go
- Youtube - they know more about my interests
- Google Chromecast (and Google Home app) - they know more about what i watch
- Google translate - they know the countries, languages and cultures i'm interested in
In my next article I will focus on ridding myself of the most popular search engine and most popular Internet browser.