18 thoughts on “Automation, Metadata, Surveillance: Putting All the Pieces Together”

  1. I am sorry you have a family member navigating health issues. Just wanted to say I appreciate your posts and no matter what direction you take with photos and observations it is always thought provoking, informative and fascinating.

  2. As a software engineer well aware of these issues, I have at times attempted to go “off the grid” vis a vis privacy and surveillance. Here’s a few things you can do:

    – Use DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t track you
    – Use Firefox browser or Opera which has a built-in proxy server (spoofing your real location)
    – Setup browser to clear or delete cookies when closing browser
    – Use OwnCloud for my calendar, contacts and cloud documents
    – Use Linux or at least use “local” accounts on Microsoft/Apple products rather than enabling their cloud products (i.e. Siri, Cortana)
    – Use OpenStreetMaps instead of Google or Apple Maps
    – Use physical cash or at least debit rather than credit cards
    – Don’t use “club” cards that are in effect programs that punish shoppers who opt out of tracking
    – Use credit unions rather than commercial banks
    – Don’t use sites that aggregate your financial data, like Mint or Personal Capital
    – Backup your photos with a European provider with strong privacy laws, such as JottaCloud
    – Assume Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are public forums

    I could go on and on and these measures don’t even cover what Johnny outlined in this essay. The short answer: even where it’s possible, it’s painful to opt out of surveillance and requires forethought and in some cases, technical chops. In addition, you are often downgraded to poor user experience because many products that offer privacy are free & open source and not funded by said data mining (which DOES improve the user experience, further cementing the product as the superior option). To add insult to injury, when privacy focused products are offered commercially, they’re very expensive. Bottom line, privacy has become a luxury good.

  3. Oh, I guess deep down I know this but don’t want to be reminded.

    My wife is traveling and accessed our credit card statement from her phone to check whether payment had been applied. I got an email telling me this had happened and asked me to “register travel”; in the meantime, “extra security measures” would be in place.

    Mind you…she did not use the card, just checked in the account online.

    A modern reminder that it is 1984 and has been for a while.

  4. “And all of these systems can be hacked.”

    You nailed it right there. Computers are like Silly Putty: they can be molded into anything that anyone with sufficient skills and energy can make them into – and that includes the “bad actors”.

  5. When this topic comes up, I can’t help thinking of the Hated in the Nation episode of Black Mirror… (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hated_in_the_Nation) and really every episode of that show. The increase in automation and presence of technology in almost every aspect of our lives disturbs me more and more by the day, and not just because of the jobs it takes or the reliance we’ve developed upon it. I don’t think we risk a future where one day we wake up to robots taking over the world; rather, we’re hurtling toward a future where technology slowly and insidiously invades our homes, our bodies, our relationships, our jobs, etc. until we become like these guys https://goo.gl/images/AdFgIk and we don’t even realize it’s happening. Or at least, that’s my nightmare vision.

    1. The Chinese have launched a national Social Credit System that will be mandatory beginning in 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Credit_System If you’re a good citizen and follow the rules you are rewarded. If you’re a slacker or trouble maker your options are curtailed. This sounds terrifying to Americans since it’s the government who is doing it with the explicit goal of controlling the population. But Americans already have their choices limited in exactly the same ways by a wide range of private corporations who rate our credit, judge us by our education, and filter out unworthy individuals from all sorts of things.

      Black Mirror is the current version of the old Twilight Zone. Back then the threats to civilization were nuclear war, race relations, and the unintended consequences of new technology. The more things change, the more they stay the same.


      1. A recent book “Weapons of Math Destruction” describes misuse of data systems and their significant flaws. Many are still hidden or rarely seen by the public. For instance, credit scores were a closely guarded secret for many years before known enough to be regulated and accessed by the public. Even those used by governments (like bail, sentencing and parole decision systems) are created by opaque and unaccountable private companies.

  6. I wonder about much of this too. After losing my car in airport parking, finally remembered to call and ask where my car was, as parking recorded plates and locations. Even though you can’t just drive out without paying.

    Some surveillance is audio. Sacramento installed ShotSpotter, that listens and triangulates gunfire, so police can proactively investigate. Discovered such incidents were considerably underreported. And triggered eavesdropping complaints. Although company asserts they record a short window surrounding a bang, ignoring all else.

    Then there was that Fitbit type tracking app that unwittingly revealed movements of military personnel in very remote and secret locations not normally shown on public satellite images.

    Stuff like this makes me think perennial predictions of a cashless society won’t happen anytime soon, barring gov’t coercion.

      1. Electronic money, stored on bank computers and accessed from PCs, tablets, and phones leaves an exact trail of both transactions and locations.

        Like our toll transponders it creates a picture of where we go and what we do. If monitored in real time by bad actors…use your imagination.

        1. The argument against cash has already been concluded. Sooner or later cash is going away. I attended an emergency preparedness presentation offered by the fire marshal. Among the recommendations – keep is a supply of cash in small bills on hand for power failures and such when plastic cards won’t work. The next day I went to the bank and asked for $500 in $5 bills. The clerk looked in his drawer, then asked the clerks on either side, then went to the back office to ask the manager… It took a certain amount of effort for a bank to find 100 $5 bills. There just isn’t that much paper money in the system anymore.

          If any one of us were to appear with more than a certain amount of cash on hand it automatically looks funny. The argument in the American context is, “What kind of transaction would you be involved in that would require secrecy?” Yes, yes, I know… I can think of a hundred things people buy that are completely ordinary that they might not want the whole world to know about. Baptists buying alcohol, a stoner paying his pot dealer, or a married man getting a motel room for a “business meeting.” I suspect people will adapt as they always have.

          The larger fear of the police state (liberal and conservative alike) tracking our every move… that too is a done deal. It’s already here. Average people just don’t feel it yet because it’s subtle.

          1. Oh, I guess deep down I know this but don’t want to be reminded.

            My wife is traveling and accessed our credit card statement from her phone to check whether payment had been applied. I got an email telling me this had happened and asked me to “register travel”; in the meantime, “extra security measures” would be in place.

            Mind you…she did not use the card, just checked in the account online.

            A modern reminder that it is 1984 and has been for a while.

          2. I built my cash stash by saving small change over a number of years. Mainly because pissy banks refuse to make change unless you have an account (mine is out of state).

            Supposedly the number of $100 bills far outstrips all the rest, most presumably held outside the country. I’ve heard that in some European countries like Germany, it is still customary to pay cash for large purchases like furniture. And “legal” US pot dispensaries are cash based as most banks refuse to service them. On the other hand, I heard a fellow tell me he no longer uses cash after he got mugged.

            1. Recommendation re cash: don’t carry large amounts unless you are going directly to a store where you intend to use it.

              A guy I knew once explained to me that in the hood, the world is cash based, and you are assumed to be carrying a significant portion of your net worth around; if you “looked rich” to a knucklehead, the calculation was that you MUST be carrying real cash.

              Since I worked in a fringe neighborhood and often wore dress clothes to work, the next day I put two folded $100s in my wallet from my mad money stash at home, since I normally carried $20 or less, and $200 is all that a robber could demand at gunpoint that I take out of an ATM. I considered it insurance. (A decade later I still have those bills in my wallet.)

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