back to article Surveillance Capitalism thinks it won, but there's still time to unplug it

On a walk across the show floor at January's Consumer Electronics Show, a friend working in technology for nearly thirty years expressed unease at where it all seemed to be headed. As I pulled my head away from a consumer door lock containing an embedded retinal scanner, I replied. “I don’t know what you’re talking about." …

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  1. Christopher Reeve's Horse

    Strangle them at source - but where is the control or visibility?

    I still think there's not enough easily accessible and usable options for controlling how devices and applications have access to various resources. Users need easier access to control options and to be able to visibly understand and decide what the technology they're using is doing.

    For example, it should be trivially easy on any OS or platform to sandbox a program or app entirely from local or network resources, but it just isn't, on anything. We lack the ability to use software at our own discretion of trust. In fact, everything seems to be engineered in entirely the opposite way. And it's not that convenience really depends on our blind trust, it's just that we're being abused in to thinking so.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Corporations/Social Media collect the information.

    Government won't stop them because they want access to the information plus they lobby and take roles within government to keep it all sweet.

    The main stream press won't complain or report too negatively on them because they want access to the information. I take note of how many articles have "FB" or "Facebook" in a picture they use.

    They have the foot in the door and it's not coming out.

    Try telling people or complaining about it and you are labelled as paranoid with something to hide.

    I wish it wasn't so but it's going to be too late once people wake up in that particular "Paradise"/Hell.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Deleting the Uber app from my smartphone this year cost me convenience and dollars

    and that's why no calls to revolution won't work - once they gave you the first "FREE!" app hit, that "oh, this map app is wonderful, how did I EVER live without it?!" feeling, the "wow, I can speak to my mates on the phone FREE!" - you're done, once and for all. Multiply that by 9/10 of the world population who feel likewise, and the homo (sapiens, no less) are staying in this"lie back and think of England" position (some lube, dear?). To paraphrase a quote, it's not people who did "that" to other people, it's people who asked for it - and got it. We're fucked, irrevocably.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The "Special" generation

    Unfortunately it is our own fault. We have allowed things to become this way.

    We have taken everything to the extreme. Can't bully people (ok, fair enough), but then if you say something that someone takes offence to (usually by proxy) then you are in the wrong and a bully.

    Can't even bloody play cops and robbers with finger guns without someone taking offence.

    We want the latest technology... but I'm not a bloody techie, I just want it to work!!

    Children are brought up to believe that they are special above all others, and we can't have any losers. In fact lets get rid of activities where there is the possibility of someone coming out lesser than someone else. We have bubble wrapped kids to the point they don't think there is anything that can hurt them, and so they don't need to worry about it.

    This has bred a generation that thinks their voice deserves, nay demands to be heard (no matter how inane or stupid said thought is), but without the critical thinking to first ask the question, this platform that I am using to shout my thoughts off of, is it actually stable and secure.

    Ok, this (hopefully) does not apply to most Reg readers, but this is the world we live in and the world that we deserve.

    Show me a single "average" user who actually reads the terms and conditions.

    I'll get me coat... it's the one with the EMP in the pocket.

    1. AdamWill

      Re: The "Special" generation

      Um. You seem to have forgotten the part where you draw any kind of logical link between your tired, stereotypical "snowflake" argument and your response to this article.

      Meanwhile back in the real world, all the empirical data I've seen suggests that younger people are as concerned as, or more concerned than, older people about privacy.

  5. Jimboom

    As long as something is offered for free then people get blinkered to anything else. Can't tell you the amount of times I have looked at horror at the permissions of apps some people have installed.

    But I don't do facebook, twitter, uber or any of that things. Some family members look at me funny because of it. But personally I like the fact I have a very low online presence.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I am fascinated as to why anyone would down vote this comment.

      Google / FB Bot perhaps?

  6. Joe Harrison

    I love it

    It's impossible to secure your stuff against determined adversaries, no matter how smart you are. But the article just said that the adversaries barely even have to try because 99% are happy to not put up any obstacle anyway.

    So now I only have to secure against a half-slightly-bothered adversary, which means if I make it just medium-difficult then my own information will be lost in the noise.

  7. JRBobDobbs

    What can you trust..

    "You’ll never know if a day’s worth of subtle manipulations embedded within every digital interaction hadn’t planted that desire for that bottle of wine."

    This really is the point. 'Surveillance' suggests a passive system collecting data on us - but its already way beyond that: we're not just being surveilled, we are being manipulated, having our moods and desires 'nudged' and ultimately we're being controlled. This has always happened in 'meat-space' of course, but its the targeted, intelligent and personalised nature of the new technologies the manipulated so much more powerful.

  8. The obvious

    "there's still time to unplug it" - are you sure about that?

    I tried it once, blocking google and all their other insidious services (entirely) is utterly impossible.

    Don't believe me? Try it for yourself. The products you directly use, search, mail, maps are easy switches. The products you don't see (like analytics) you can lose easily. What about the stuff another site uses? fonts, api's etc all of a sudden things get very complicated!

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  10. WatAWorld

    Even more seriously everything these companies know about us will be known by intelligence agencies

    Even more seriously, everything that these capitalist companies know about us will be known by intelligence agencies.

    All of the habits and weaknesses of our future elected officials, jurors, judges, CEOs, professors, our (and their) intelligence agencies will know them because they'll have captured that information from the companies.

    We'll become Chekist countries (countries run by their intelligence agencies and intelligence agency alumni) -- just as Russia is currently.

    A spy agency wants more intrusive spying on the public it is supposed to protect and the legislators, courts, press that are supposed to regulate it -- with what they know about us regulators, the courts, and the press will just have to quitely grant them those outrageous additional spying privileges.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      When everything these companies know about us will be known by intelligence agencies

      Even more seriously, everything that these capitalist companies know about us will be known by intelligence agencies. .... WatAWorld

      Smarter use of that information by intelligent agencies to provide future raw prime novel resourceful source metadatabase for Augmented Virtual Realisation and Mass Media Presentation is surely their Duty and Role.

      Peoples expect it. Or is that to Mankind, Alien and Unexpected/Disruptive and Revolutionary/Quantum Evolutionary?

      What they been providing national leaders for servering in the future if not raw prime novel resourceful source metadatabase materiel?

  11. Danny 5

    hmmmm

    I joined the internet in the time when it was absolutely unheard of to share your personal information with anyone, anonymity was the key to every and all dealings you had online. I'm still awestruck by the ease with which people divulge their personal details. Real names, real addresses and every connection traceable to physical people and locations. I still don't feel comfortable to use my real name anywhere (although it has become quite easy to expose me, due to my connections).

    I don't want appliances that listen to me, I don't want appliances that can see me. I have a cover for the camera in my laptop. I consider myself borderline paranoid online, but I'm convinced I'm doing so for a very good reason.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    lemming world

    They said they were going to introduce ID card and everyone went nuts.

    Skip forward a decade of so and the plan has been executed to perfection with the public of the world actually paying for it themselves with bells on.

    Facebook and googles of the world seem to be swimming in billions and you have to wonder

    how much of it is from funds that would have been spent in the earlier undeliverable plan.

    Flippin annoying considering crime has exploded due to lack of policing which has just turned into

    reporting so idiots have something to talk about on social media.

    Cant think of a solution except do the opposite of what you are being badgered to do.

    This week no amazon echo for me due to the constant bludgeoning regarding amazon echo.

  13. wolfetone

    I have told this story before, but 2 years ago we had British Gas come round to quote us on a new boiler. He asked if I wanted the Hive thermostat which I promptly said no to. He was a bit shocked, asked why I said no when usually everyone wants them. I said if I can turn the heating up in my home from my phone, some other jackass could too.

    The other week it came out that the Amazon Door Bell webcam thing could be stopped from working, allowing whoever is around to just happily waltz in your home and steal your TV. The most outrageous thing about that was people have actually bought this device!

    A few days ago I'm speaking to the wife's friend about Christmas and she said she's bought her fella an Amazon Alexa thing from Black Friday:

    Me: "Why do you want that thing listening in to your conversations?"

    Her: "It doesn't, it only comes on when you ask it to."

    Me: "But it has to be listening to everything in your conversation in order to know you've called it."

    Her: ".... Why are you so paranoid? We don't talk about anything interesting."

    That, right there, is the problem. Joe Public thinks their conversations are so boring they're not worth listening to. Their lives are so mundane that no one would possibly want to watch them on a webcam. They're not important enough to have someone spy on their baby cams or baby's toys while their child plays with them. If you raise the issue with them, they think you're paranoid. "What have YOU got to hide? What have YOU done that you don't want anyone to find out about? Are YOU a terrorist or a child molester or both?".

    At the risk of losing whatever argument on the internet this might generate, I have to bring in the Nazi's as an example. It's that exact context, that exact line of thought that led to millions losing their livelihoods, homes, their life and ultimately their existence through death camps. All because of the line "If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear", something William Hauge came out with a few years ago when talking about the snoopers charter.

    While I am optimistic that the tide will change against all of this privacy erosion, realistically it's far too late to be worrying about it now. The damage is done. The youth of today have been sucked in to it. Blind ignorance is bliss to them, so why would they bother to step outside the room for a moment and wonder whether corporations and governments should be doing what they're doing.

    Me? Well I'll continue to use my laptop with the webcam taped over and the front facing camera on my phone covered until I can upgrade to something more prehistoric.

  14. WatAWorld

    Accept the fact that the real threat to basic freedom is government, not capitalism

    I worry much more about the people with guns, prisons and drones knowing every detail of our lives and beliefs than I do about whether companies trying to deliver us advertising we are interested in.

    Sure, Google is currently trending towards supporting totalitarian authoritarianism with its endorsement of conformist group-think, cultural marxism, and silencing of dissenting peaceful political opinions (just like the original Bolsheviks and original Nazis)

    But unlike the Bolsheviks and Nazis Google doesn't have its own force of armed thugs.

    Our intelligence agencies and theirs do.

    So long as Google (Youtube), Facebook, Apple and Microsoft do NOT start running government, they won't be running secret police forces, black sites. Sure they'll be de-platforming liberals (liberals are people who believe in tolerance towards the peaceful contrary opinions of others) but they won't

    "disappearing" them in large numbers.

    Assassinating large numbers of outspoken members of the public, that is a government thing, a thing governments controlled by violent totalitarian authoritarians do.

    That could happen here. But if it does it will be driven as it was in 1930s Germany by totalitarianism and authoritarianism exported by intolerant student groups and radical political parties.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Accept the fact that the real threat to basic freedom is government, not capitalism

      And the problem is that Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, etc are the tools the goverments will be and are using. See PRISM, etc.

    2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Accept the fact that the real threat to basic freedom is government, not capitalism

      But unlike the Bolsheviks and Nazis Google doesn't have its own force of armed thugs.

      Our intelligence agencies and theirs do. ... WatAWorld

      Does the like of a Google, when demanded of by ruthless and struggling governments, not already provide targets for intelligent agency attention which do have their own forces of armed thugs/mercenary soldiers?

      Do they not work hand in glove in a sort of clandestine, semi-covert protection racket in favour of retaining and maintaining current status quo arrangements?

  15. Spacebots

    Nothing ever truly new

    People don't realise how the surveillance society has been around for decades. It was going on even before the age of the Internet.

    I recall seeing a documentary on TV at least twenty years ago, maybe thirty, about how Great Universal Stores had a database with details of every single citizen of the UK, including children. It showed how they could target advertising to people based on any aspect of their life, such as toys to families with children, music and fashion to teenagers, home furnishings and DIY to people who were potentially getting married and setting up their first homes, then looking forward to retirement as they got older.

    Of course, GUS didn't just keep this information for themselves, it was available to other companies for a fee. A database like that was/is worth a fortune. It's a standing joke amongst myself and my friends who are all a similar age, how we all got a pile of posts from Saga, the moment we passed our fiftieth birthdays. That's because we'd all been tracked on a database for decades previously. There are children born last week, who will probably be getting similar communications in fifty years time. their lives will be continuously tracked from day one.

  16. Palpy

    Possible that opting out --

    -- may become somewhat punishable.

    An acquaintance of mine is disabled, and was trying to find affordable housing. The market here is very tight. Being quite skint, he had always paid in cash or checks for everything; no plastic. Several property management companies turned down his applications to rent because he has no credit history.

    Future: "Terribly sorry, we can't sell you a car. You've insufficient data in the GoogBook registry for us to evaluate." Or "Membership in our discount store is denied; insufficient customer data in GoogBook."

    Who knows, though. Any coercive commercial tactic can be an opening for startups emphasizing non-coercion, non-tracking, non-spying.

    1. AdamWill

      Re: Possible that opting out --

      Yep, there's more and more of this. I quite like my city council in a lot of ways, but one thing that drives me up the wall about them is their cheerful willingness to use foreign hosted services in critical online processes. I can't file my property tax without doing some unpaid labor teaching Google how to identify cars (thanks, reCAPTCHA, for nothing). Whenever they run any kind of survey it's inevitably done through some third-party US company. Grr.

  17. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Looking at the SMARTR Option

    There are fabulous opportunities readily available to all, to provide to systems which are dependent upon snooping/phishing/surveillance/monitoring and mentoring ..... and all SCADA Systems are so reliant and catastrophically vulnerable to such activity .... that which one thinks that they need to assist them in leading intelligently with increasing support for that which is revealed to be leading.

    And you can't do any of that if you do not exercise appropriately an online virtual presence.

    But you will encounter in current positions of power, the virtually braindead and less than well enough intellectually equipped who would have no idea about how to proceed in what is undoubtedly a Brave New Age. Whenever that happens, ignore them and move on to greener pastures/better minds.

    The world is awash with frauds cloaked in powers which they can possibly command but not absolutely control and reliant upon mysterious anonymous third parties to remain in office.

  18. David Nash

    Privacy vs. Convenience

    Some people smugly claim that they don't use Google, don't have a Smart phone, etc. etc. so they are not affected. Unfortunately it's not as simple as trading a little convenience for privacy. It's not just convenience, it's entertainment, information, research, my kids' homework, and increasingly the way of doing business these days.

    I try to avoid it where possible, don't use FB, am wary of signing up for things online, but you can't avoid it all without going to full hermit mode. Opting out has more consequences than simply losing a little convenience.

    1. Stork Silver badge

      Re: Privacy vs. Convenience

      Spot on: "...the way of doing business these days"

      We run a small company, renting out holiday cottages in Portugal. I can tell you it is not ideas that stop us doing new things or doing things better, it is lack of time.

      So, try to block all scripts and you will not check many competitor websites. Or use your online channels/advertising sites/e-banking/compulsory upload of data to goverment/...

      We need a website, so we bought a template that we liked for Joomla! Is it Google-Free? No, it loads google-apis (whatever that does). I _could_ code a simple website by hand, but not up to todays standards - and taking bookings, not making website is what pays the bills.

      In this business it also looks like you need to be on social media - if you are not on Instagram/FB you barely exist to some people.

      I am sorry, but if you are B2C you have limited choice.

  19. David Tallboys

    Use a crisp packet as a Faraday cage.

    There are several news stories about this.

    Can The Reg's readers tell me whether this works.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Use a crisp packet as a Faraday cage.

      "Can The Reg's readers tell me whether this works."

      Only as a crisp packet.

  20. 0rdos

    There is something that you can do

    Interesting article - I'm finding more and more that people think that privacy is a good idea but really cannot be bothered to follow best practice. I've actually built an app that is seeking funding which looks to dramatically reduce your data footprint.. the issue is that people like it but wont spend the 5-10 minutes to make a difference. (if your interested, search for getmappd)

    We can wait for people to start experiencing identity theft and surveillance more however by that point people will expect it as the norm, similar to cyber / data breaches.

  21. mensch

    contributing to the problem?

    This is a great article, some really important ideas and relevant facts...I'm just going to share this with my kids...let me email them the article...now where is the email link...hmm...not where I would expect to find it...maybe it's hidden by the Reddit/Twitter/Google+/LinkedIn icons? Pot meet kettle....

  22. sloshnmosh

    I think the average person DOES care..

    I believe it has a lot to do with how much technical knowledge a person has (or wants to have).

    I see lots of people take steps to protect their data at least in some small degree but they clearly have no understanding of how things work and end up giving away the keys to the kingdom.

    Many people have "antivirus" apps on their Android devices because they have at least some concern that their data may get stolen by some "virus" but most of these apps are stealing far more data from their devices than any "real" malware ever could.

    Some of these dodgy "antivirus" developers go so far as to "advertise" their apps by tricking users into installing their warez through the use of fake virus warnings capitalizing on the users inherent fears as well as their lack of technical knowledge.

    I was looking at the web browser 'Brave" the other day, it claims to be pro-privacy and in the browser extension request webpage of Brave users were requesting all kinds of dodgy VPN add-on's and other extensions that would defeat the whole purpose of using Brave.

    I believe that most people care about their privacy/security but "convenience" wins out or users just get overwhelmed.

    It is kind of a pain trying to limit your data footprint, and the more knowledge you have the more you have to do.

    I run a custom OS on my phone with only a few FOSS apps that I personally inspected, script blockers on my web browsers, block a multitude of social media sites on my router and HOSTS file, run BleachBit several times a day, only allow programs through the firewall when needed etc etc...I really feel I was better off 5 years ago when I was blissfully unaware of the things I now know.

    And to hear members of congress or politicians speak..they're either more clueless than everyone or they're all in on it.

    It's all so tiresome.

    (sorry for the rant)

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