Posts by Cheryll Barron

Tech power has gone bully-boy, part 2: as they shove apps, QR codes and their spying tool siblings onto us, why are the technologically unskilled more thuggish than tech insiders?


About these images: see part 1 on this topic — in which a top-ranking AI researcher took a question from the daughter of a former Chief Rabbi of Britain about whether we are powerless against coercive AI 

Is the chick wondering whether RSPB.org knows that the QR code in its call for participants in a wildlife survey could be hijacked, diverted and deployed for human tracking-and-profiling?

[ Part 1 is here. ]

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Discovering that the youngest of us treat apps like a digital pox, presumably because they pay more attention than their Generation X and Boomer parents do to the use of apps as spying and profiling tools will, after a second’s pause, surprise no one. Decades have passed since grownups turned their bright teenagers into family tech support departments.

Checking on this site’s indexing by search engines by typing in the header of my last post, I was pleased to find Bing persistently showcasing, for a virtual companion, a two year-old article on the Forbes site: ‘91% Of Us Hate Being Forced To Install Apps To Do Business, Costing Brands Billions’. This section of it was reassuring about the newest generation of adults:

[T]he younger we are, the more likely we are to give a brand the middle finger for requiring an app install. 87.1% of people from 18-24 have abandoned purchases for being required to install an app, compared to just under 70% for people in the 55 and over age category. 

“77.9% of mobile phone users say the mandatory app installation roadblock caused them to abandon at least one transaction in the last year […] Younger users are progressively more likely to abandon transactions if required to install an app to make a purchase, complete a sale or try a service.”

Perhaps: older people feel “that’s just how they do business,” whereas younger people are aware that services can be delivered over the web as well … and that apps have privacy implications.

… One good thing about apps being required for purchase?

It’s saving consumers billions of dollars.

30% of us saved over $100 in the last year because we stopped a purchase decision that required an app. Another 30% saved between $20 and $100. And almost 8% saved over $500, according to Heady.io.

Older people are still running most influential institutions — anything from the companies pressing us hardest to install their apps to idealistic non-profit organisations. But age alone is not a reliable guide to whether someone has correctly weighed the pros and cons of tracking and data-gathering software. Perhaps Amir Khan, an M.D. and president since last October of Britain’s RSPB.org  — Royal Society for the Protection of Birds — knows that using the QR code included in a print notice of this week’s crowd-sourced species count could put the privacy and security of participants at risk. But — perhaps he doesn’t.  

Judging by search results, no other high-profile mainstream publication is as enlightening about seemingly innocuous tracking tools as Forbes, which has a 55 year-old editor, Randall Lane. This is especially remarkable for anyone who remembers that for years, the magazine’s slogan was ‘The Capitalist’s Tool’. Media coverage of data collection and reselling is full of surprises. One newspaper on which many of us cosmopolites fondly imagined we could depend for protection from capitalist excess used to run excellent reports on commercial tracking and profiling, but stopped doing that without any announcement or explanation. It also appears to be an unrepentant hawker of personal facts about its readers. 

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Please see the note in ABOUT explaining my switch to subscriber-only access. If it makes sense to you, I hope you’ll subscribe to read the rest of this post.

Tech power has gone bully-boy since its spread beyond Big Tech and Silicon Valley to traditional enterprises. For the fightback, we want a super-app that puts our choices first

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Coercive early, everyday AI is forcing us to install apps and submit to privacy-smashing data collection by organisations of all kinds. It’s the ugly face of endearing, emotionally attentive AI and charming ChatGPT

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[ Part 2 is here. ]



Above, left. Ravishing, subliminal magnetisation: Google/YouTube algorithms link a follow-on recommendation from a search for a fragment of Vivaldi to a powerful 18th-century portrait of a young English prioress in a French convent

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Above. Through their shadowy data-gathering, data brokers in a low-profile $200 billion-plus industry are rapidly filling in outlines of our identities and lives

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Can there be light at this disturbing tunnel’s end? Maybe.

An underpublicised idea floated by a computer scientist of the underpopulated Yoda class offers a speck of hope — countering this site’s gloom about companies tracking, collecting deeply personal data about, and profiling us

As noted already, their methods have sped up our descent into George Orwell’s hell-on-earth since they began to be aped and exchanged by political operatives as far apart as India and the U.S., for deployment in campaigns in national elections — and the essential facts about them have been laid out not by hallucinating conspiracy theorists but in the MIT Technology Review.  

I will get to that promising idea — eventually. First I must explain why you could call the need to fight back against the destruction of our privacy and freedoms desperate, with no fear of exaggeration.

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THE SLIPPERY OPERATORS BEHIND ‘GET THE APP!’ DEMANDS

Let me introduce you to the Digital Dirty Tricks (DDT) department that now exists, in some form, in virtually all companies and nearly all organisations, and which — in an unregulated sphere — is forcibly compelling customers and any site users to do exactly what it wants us to. Congratulate yourself if you are guessing that its coercion specialists are, in effect, Big Tech mimics. The ugly face of the digital revolution has taken us from being unsuspecting dupes of corporate surveillance of all sorts — not just by Silicon Valley enterprises — to puppets bamboozled or bullied past any wish to resist submission to monitoring, data-siphoning, and profiling through special (application or ‘app’) programming. 

You might not recognise the DDT tech invertebrates for what they are.

(**see About )

for 25. 12. 2022

The single most intelligent virtuoso sentence I read this year was in an anonymous book review in late October in an offline, print-only publication.

The lives of the rich and beautiful are now smeared across the internet like a caviar skidmark, a constant, oppressive reminder to the poor of the things they can never have.

I looked at that page in the magazine again before I opened  A Christmas Carol a few days ago, as I usually do at this time of year.  The reviewer, I guessed, was almost certainly writing from a life far removed from the existence of the people he was worrying about. In this year’s browsing, Charles Dickens’ peerless capacity for doing that — after he survived his childhood — stood out in a grandly panoramic yet comical scene in a lighthouse in a rough winter sea, a setting that reminded me that thanks mainly to the pandemic, it has been at least three years since I was on the water’s edge. My

 H A P P Y   C H R I S T M A S 

wish for any reader who happens this way comes with my excerpt. Scrooge has been transported to a ‘black and heaving sea’ by the Ghost of Christmas Present.

To Scrooge’s horror, looking back, he saw the last of the land — a frightful range of rocks — behind them; and his ears were deafened by the thundering of water, as it rolled and roared and raged among the dreadful caverns it had worn, and fiercely tried to undermine the Earth.

Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some league or so from shore, on which the waters chafed and dashed, the wild year through, there stood a solitary lighthouse. Great heaps of seaweed clung to its base, and storm birds — born of the wind, one might suppose, as seaweed of the water — rose and fell about it, like the waves they skimmed.

But even here, two men who watched the Light, had made a Fire that through the loophole in the thick stone wall, shed out a ray of brightness on the awful sea. Joining their horny hands over the rough table at which they sat, they wished each other Merry Christmas in their can of grog, and one of them — the elder, too, with his face all damaged and scarred with hard weather as the figurehead of an old ship might be — struck up a sturdy song that was like a Gale in itself.