Surveillance Capitalism

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You are Being Tracked

Many Internet services and devices are tracking you, and using your information for manipulation, and selling it on the Surveillance Capitalism Supply Chain.

Wild West

Once upon a time, wire tapping your telephone required a court order. Surveillance Capitalism is the wild west where law and order are very rare.

The corner stone of some hugh empires like Amazon, Facebook and Google business plans seem to be built on Surveillance Capitalism. Every transaction you have with them, may be exploited, packaged, and sold on the Surveillance Capitalism supply chain.

What is Surveillance Capitalism?

“A new economic order that claims human experience as free raw material for hidden commercial practices of extraction, prediction, and sales.” 1

Google invented and perfected surveillance capitalism in much the same way that a century ago General Motors invented and perfected managerial capitalism. Google was the pioneer of surveillance capitalism in thought and practice, the deep pocket for research and development, and the trailblazer in experimentation and implementation, but it is no longer the only actor on this path. Surveillance capitalism quickly spread to Facebook and later to Microsoft. Evidence suggests that Amazon has veered in this direction, and it is a constant challenge to Apple, both as an external threat and as a source of internal debate and conflict. 2:

Tracking

A deep dive by Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) into the technology the The Corporate State is using to manipulate you, is a sobering read. The problem is far deeper than I imagined 3:

Trackers are hiding in nearly every corner of today’s Internet, which is to say nearly every corner of modern life. The average web page shares data with dozens of third-parties. The average mobile app does the same, and many apps collect highly sensitive information like location and call records even when they’re not in use. Tracking also reaches into the physical world. Shopping centers use automatic license-plate readers to track traffic through their parking lots, then share that data with law enforcement. Businesses, concert organizers, and political campaigns use Bluetooth and WiFi beacons to perform passive monitoring of people in their area. Retail stores use face recognition to identify customers, screen for theft, and deliver targeted ads.

The tech companies, data brokers, and advertisers behind this surveillance, and the technology that drives it, are largely invisible to the average user. Corporations have built a hall of one-way mirrors: from the inside, you can see only apps, web pages, ads, and yourself reflected by social media. But in the shadows behind the glass, trackers quietly take notes on nearly everything you do. These trackers are not omniscient, but they are widespread and indiscriminate. The data they collect and derive is not perfect, but it is nevertheless extremely sensitive.

Top Trackers

Proportion of the web traffic tracked by these companies 4:

Google trackers are present on 79% of the web traffic. That is more than the next 4 biggest trackers combined.

23% of the web has a hidden Facebook tracking pixel. Facebook knows more than what you just do on Facebook

461 companies track more than 0.1% of the web traffic each. Which of these have you heard of?

../_images/top_trackers.png

Read this research paper 5 for details of online tracking

Supply Chain

Those who are tracking you are packaging where you have been on the Internet and maybe personal information they have gathered about you. They may be selling your information on the Surveillance Capitalism supply chain with or maybe without your permission, and without knowing what buyers may do with your information.

Google’s “DoubleClick/Authorized Buyers” ad system is active on 8.4+ million websites. It broadcasts personal data about visitors to these sites to 2,000+ companies, hundreds of billions of times a day. 6 So much for “Don’t be evil”.

Surveillance Capitalism supply chain buyers may buy more information about you from multiple sellers. They bundle information about you and sell it to other Surveillance Capitalism supply chain buyers. Advertising agencies are an example of buyers of your information and target you with ads, and selling your informaiton to others.

Some other Surveillance Capitalism supply chain buyers and sellers who are interested in you are, insurance, retail, finance, goods and service companies, and many more.

Note

  • When any of the numerous buyers and sellers in the Surveillance Capitalism supply chain are breached, the stolen information about you may be sold to bad actors on the world wide black market.

Your TV is Spying on You, studies find

You just can’t get away from the big ad techcompanies unless you unplug your TV. 7:

Modern TV, coming to you over the Internet instead of through cable or over the air, has a modern problem: all of your Internet-connected streaming devices are watching you back and feeding your data to advertisers

The most prevalent tracker, Google’s doubleclick.net, showed up in 975 of the top 1,000 Roku channels, with Google analytics trackers showing up in 360, the researchers found. Over on the Amazon side of things, perhaps unsurprisingly, Amazon trackers were the most prevalent, showing up in 687 of 1,000 channels. Doubleclick trackers were found on 307 channels, and Facebook trackers were on 196

Perhaps most surprising, however, was Netflix. “Nearly all TV devices in our testbeds contact Netflix even though we never configured any TV with a Netflix account,” the researchers write (emphasis theirs). “This, at the very least, exposes information to Netflix about the model of TV at a given location,” if not more.

Consumer Options

Other than opting out of the 21st-century media landscape entirely, consumers’ options for preventing the trackers from scooping up and sharing information are extremely limited, both studies found. 7

Even folks who are familiar with ad-blocking services on their computers and mobile devices can’t do much about the situation on a TV device, the researchers found. “Widespread collection of persistent device identifiers like MAC addresses and serial numbers disables one of the few defenses available to users: resetting their advertising IDs.”

Owners of smart TV sets can delve deep into their device’s settings to find options, which may include disabling automatic content recognition or limiting the use of personalized ads. Available options vary by device manufacturer. 8

Summary

I am an Electronics and Software Engineer specializing in web technology. There are probably chinks in my armour against the Internet Surveillance Capitalism Dark Arts. I don’t think I’m low hanging fruit.

Like most of us, I think I have little defence against the Surveillance Capitalism Dark Arts.

  • Mobile app page sharing data with dozens of third-parties.

  • Aps that collect highly sensitive information like location and call records even when they’re not in use.

  • Shopping centers using automatic license-plate readers to track traffic through their parking lots, then share that data with law enforcement.

  • Businesses, concert organizers, political campaigns, and many others are using Bluetooth and WiFi beacons to perform passive monitoring of people in their area.

  • Retail stores using face recognition to identify customers, screen for theft, and deliver targeted ads.

  • More Surveillance Capitalism Dark Arts seem to appear daily.

When will the governments sworn to protect us step up to the challenge? Probably never. It is subservient to the The Corporate State


Footnotes:

1

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Copyright ©2019 by Shoshana Zuboff, Professor emerita at Harvard Business School https://www.amazon.com/Age-Surveillance-Capitalism-Future-Frontier/dp/1610395697/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Surveillance+Capitalism&qid=1567621568&s=gateway&sr=8-1

2

High tech is watching you: The Harvard Gazette, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/03/harvard-professor-says-surveillance-capitalism-is-undermining-democracy/?te=1&nl=on-tech-with-shira-ovide&emc=edit_ot_20201122

3

Behind the One-Way Mirror: A Deep Dive Into the Technology of Corporate Surveillance: Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), https://www.eff.org/wp/behind-the-one-way-mirror

4

WHOTRACKSME, https://whotracks.me

5

Who Tracks.Me: Shedding light on the opaque world of online tracking, https://arxiv.org/pdf/1804.08959.pdf

6

Brave browser accuses Google of using hidden web pages to track users: betanews, https://betanews.com/2019/09/05/google-hidden-web-pages-track-users/

7

Facebook and Google have ad trackers on your streaming TV, studies find: artTechnica, https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/09/studies-google-netflix-and-others-are-watching-how-you-watch-your-tv/

8

How to Turn Off Smart TV Snooping Features: Consumer Reports, https://www.consumerreports.org/privacy/how-to-turn-off-smart-tv-snooping-features/

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