Ask Chuck: Big Data and Big Brother – What Does It Mean For Me?
Every time I shop for something online, I see ads pop up about the item I was looking for and sometimes I even get emails trying to get me to buy it. This is spooky to me. I feel like I have lost my privacy as a shopper. Will “Big Tech” help our lives or bring destruction? Any advice?
You are correct; we’re being tracked. Unfortunately, it’s become a reality that we cannot avoid unless we want to learn to live off the grid. That would require us to stay offline, provide our own energy, stop using a smartphone, refuse credit cards, and learn to live off the land. Realistically, this is not an option for most of us.
Money drives the tracking. “Big Tech” companies and their executives have become very rich and very powerful: think Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.
For now, we can minimize their following by using a VPN, avoid Google or Facebook, and apps with built-on analytics and trackers. Check out Little Snitch or Micro Snitch – security apps that monitor microphones and cameras. I also use DuckDuckGo when searching the web. But, truthfully, most of the trackers have a significant amount of our personal information already.
It is our responsibility to stay informed, and inform others as we glean information. These privacy tips can minimize your exposure.
Cookies are saved in your web browser, the software program you use for web access (Safari, Firefox, Chrome, etc.). Different websites may store your information so they can recognize your device in the future and keep track of your visits over time in order to customize your browsing or deliver ads (yes, even emails) targeted to you.
The Federal Trade Commission provides more information.
- Third-party cookies: placed by someone else. Websites may partner with companies to deliver ads, to study how the site is used, or to monitor your behavior. Over time, a lot of information can be gleaned.
- Flash cookies: used by Adobe’s Flash player. These store browsing information, settings, and preferences. HTML5 cookies can be placed within a browser’s local storage to identify users over time. Flash cookies may not necessarily be deleted when you clear cookies from your browser.
Big Tech, Big Data and Big Brother
Consider these massive developments throughout recent years that represent the growth, and even merging, of Big Tech, Big Data, and Big Brother:
- Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon) bought The Washington Post in 2013
- Amazon is locating one of two new headquarters in Northern Virginia
- Amazon Web Services (AWS) purchased a 10-year, $600 million contract from the CIA in 2014, which establishes Amazon as the only provider of cloud services of data that includes Unclassified, Sensitive, Secret, and Top Secret material.
- National Security Agency (NSA) moved its data into the Intelligence Community GovCloud, a classified computing environment
- Eric Schmidt, former Alphabet Chief Executive, will chair the National Security Commission on AI
- Alphabet, Google’s parent company spent $18 million plus on lobbying services in Washington D.C. in 2017
- French data regulator, CNIL, recently accused Google of 2 violations
- Employment in big tech has risen sharply in the past year: Google by 21%, Facebook by 45%, and Amazon’s numbers have tripled over the last three years due to its warehouses and purchase of Whole Foods. It employs more than 500,000 people.
We are well beyond the point of ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away. I like the way David Samuels recently explained the information revolution in which we are living:
The information revolution spurred by the advent of digital technologies may turn out to be even more powerful than the Gutenberg revolution; it is also likely to be bloody. Our inability to wrap our minds around a sweeping revolution in the way that information is gathered, analyzed, used, and controlled should scare us.
The result has been the creation of a socially toxic vacuum at the heart of American democracy from which information monopolists like Google and Facebook have sucked out all the profit, leaving their users ripe for top-down surveillance, manipulation, and control.
Throughout the ages, there have been threats to the people of God, but believers have the advantage. Our King is sovereign and nothing can thwart His perfect plan. Faithful and true, He’s our Anchor in the storm, our Fortress, and Deliverer. We can avoid fear by trusting Him.
Read widely, discuss the topic with informed individuals, be alert, build and maintain a strong network of believers, heed red flags, and remember God is in control. There is no need to be paranoid, just careful and aware.
Suggested Further Reading:
Originally published on the Christian Post, February 2, 2019