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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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 )

Big Tech dangers we are not talking about — especially, how the theft of our personal data is opening the way to future subjugation and control at the scale of masses, not just individuals

dark cloud looming -- postgutenberg@gmail.com

This week marks the first anniversary of an attempt by the Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger to organise a social media strike. It did not attract the support it deserved. That was largely because mainstream media — including nearly all the best-known newspaper sites in the UK and US — declined to publicise it. Indeed they did not mention it at all, even though the BBC and the online version of The Daily Mail — two of the most-frequented news sites in the English-speaking world — ran reports about the plan and call to action. This site outlined the probable reason why: ‘ Mystery solved? Famous newspapers that ignored the Social Media Strike of 2019 have agreed to accept regular payments of millions of dollars from Facebook.

Grassroots tweeting and similar advertisements by the general public could — conceivably — have made up for the media silence. They did not. One reason why — probably outweighing all the others — is that in this ironic Information Age, we seem increasingly less able to absorb information and assess the reliability of its sources, especially when it is about risks and threats to our safety. 

We have to find new ways of establishing credibility. What could be better than handing out tools to let people run their own tests of any assertion? Read side-by-side, the two public-interest comments below show how helpful this can be — in the context of Big Tech’s siphoning of our personal data, the subject of innumerable posts, here (this one, for example). The first is a statement about a trend to which this site has been trying to draw attention since 2011. The second offers a way to assess its substance. They are recent, actual comments by readers on the Financial Times site (whose real-life identities pG does not know) made a few days apart, on different Big Tech-related articles there. 

The highlights are pG’s:

PiotrG

Big/Bug Tech relies on an ever-expanding expropriation of personal data to make money. Its endgame is to turn people into trained monkeys whose behaviour can be predicted and ultimately directed towards specific objectives. For now the objectives are commercial, but they could become social or political. That is the problem, and it won’t be solved by antitrust laws alone. 

However, concentration and excessive market power make the problem worse. A world where 10 people own information on 3-6 billion “customers” and manage to kill market competition, avoid supervision and remove internal (stakeholder) control is a perfect Orwellian nightmare.

Frederick E.

Anyone who thinks that it is easy to escape surveillance should install a pfsense router, or some equivalent. Set up firewall logging, even better deep packet inspection (including https via certificate installation). Then set up your privacy settings on your devices  they way you think is max what you need. Use them for a week as you would normally. Then check the firewall logs on your router. You will be surprised to see how much info from simple DNS, or DNS via https to much more detailed surveillance both facebook, google, microsoft or apple carry out. 

An average home with a computer, three phones and a tablet, plus roku (boy does that thing spy) and smart speakers leaks an inordinate amount of data even when privacy settings are set to max. 

Privacy settings are a false sense of security. Smart devices as well as computers are now designed to spy at the core OS level, no firewall, or app/plugin is going to stop it – these are higher level process that cannot override core level ones. 

The only way to block stuff at home is at the router level, but when you do so, many things simply stop working. The deal is be spied on, or don’t use it. This goes for free stuff or paid.

Unfortunately, where there should be discussion of what @PiotrG and @Frederick E. are trying to protect us from, there is precisely none about any such specifics.

How a well-meaning Angela Merkel choosing the wrong tactic for protecting Europe from Big (U.S.) Tech’s incursions could make Orwell’s dystopia our reality

 

What is the one essential step required for George Orwell’s nightmare of totalitarian centralisation — Nineteen Eighty-Four — to become even more plausible than it is already, in freedom-loving western countries? 

That is, the step that would determine exactly how we get to One power to rule them all: a single, giant database or store of personal information about us, created by merging all the facts the government has with all the data that the social media and other technology giants have been gathering — to give a Big Brother-for-real absolute control? 

A scoop by The Financial Times last week — Google lists no other source, and FT.com was offering free access to the piece when pG last checked — suggested, for an answer, a superficially innocent and at first glance, desirable proposal by a European leader. Proceeding with that proposal would create a  route to deadly centralisation far easier and more straightforward than the possibility sketched in the last pG entry: 

Who in the traditional Establishment could we count on to oppose a deadly merging of government and commerce — by, say, a government trying to invoke emergency powers to requisition Big Tech’s vast and ever-expanding stores of data about us? Invoke those powers illegitimately?

In its report titled ‘Angela Merkel urges EU to seize control of data from US tech titans,’ The Financial Times said:

Angela Merkel has urged Europe to seize control of its data from Silicon Valley tech giants, in an intervention that highlights the EU’s growing willingness to challenge the US dominance of the digital economy.

The German chancellor said the EU should claim “digital sovereignty” by developing its own platform to manage data and reduce its reliance on the US-based cloud services run by Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

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Ms Merkel was speaking just two weeks after Berlin unveiled plans for a European cloud computing initiative, dubbed Gaia-X, which it has described as a “competitive, safe and trustworthy data infrastructure for Europe”.

Peter Altmaier, economy minister, said the data of companies such as Volkswagen, and that of the German interior ministry and social security system, were increasingly stored on the servers of Microsoft and Amazon. “And in this we are losing part of our sovereignty,” he added.

He said 40 companies had signed up for Gaia-X, including Deutsche Telekom, SAP and Bosch, and the new platform would be ready by the end of the year. “We want to be able to offer companies . . . ministries and governments the chance to store their data in Europe, according to transparent, clearly recognisable standards.” 

[ continues here … ]

Yes, her remarks were about corporations, not private citizens, but the identical argument — digital sovereignty — could be used by the EU or some other government to justify commandeering the intimate personal facts that the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter are hoovering up about us all day long. With or without our permission, and whether or not we are paying for their services.

Why didn’t it occur to Frau Merkel (or her policy advisors) to throw all her weight behind decentralising the net as the solution — proposed by none other than the inventor of the World Wide Web, (Sir) Tim Berners-Lee — ? 

For an outline of his ideas on that subject, scroll down this post:

‘Mystery solved? Famous newspapers that ignored the Social Media Strike of 2019 have agreed to accept regular payments of millions of dollars from Facebook’