Brett Kavanaugh’s turbulent entrance into the Supreme Court will first be met with a potentially groundbreaking free speech case. The case is that of Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck, No. 17-702. As CNBC reports, this case centers around whether a private operator of a public access television network is considered a state actor, which would leave it accountable to the free speech protections in the First Amendment.
Americans today face a world of rapidly accelerating technological innovations, but this progress is a double-edged sword. While it has increased the comfort and convenience of those living on the first world, it has also increased the powers of the state and allowed the private sector to intrude upon the lives of common people. There are few ways that these two extremely powerful facets of society independently work towards a common goal. However, both are getting better at gathering and utilizing the information of the people. With this, it’s not hard to see the irony in the U.S. government putting the founder of Facebook on trial.
The evidence of this expanding system of monitoring is all around us, and it’s not just the worryingly extensive network of security cameras in urban areas across the globe; from the use of targeted ads (clearly the result of your search history being fed into an algorithm) to the realization that most online communications can be viewed in vivid detail by the NSA (in the name of security, of course), complete privacy seems like a nearly impossible goal. Small steps such as using a flip phone and placing tape over webcams can certainly lower one’s profile, but any connection to the conveniences of the modern word comes with a catch―giving up your personal information to organizations that don’t always have your best interests in mind.
A key difference between most public and private monitoring systems are motive and consent, both of which are vital in determining the extent to which a person’s private information can be breached. While search engines and social media companies often use the content they gather to make a profit (usually by selling it to advertisers), in many cases, they do so with the unwitting consent of the individual through impossibly long and complicated terms of service agreements. In signing these, most people are either too ignorant to realize what they are giving up or willing to sacrifice security for convenience; there are few alternatives for those in the latter category anyways.
On the other hand, government surveillance on all levels presents a much greater threat. It’s no revelation that there’s an inherent danger in a powerful federal organization infringing upon the privacy of its citizens as ours is so famous for doing. What most people need to be reminded of, however, is the monitoring that takes place on the state, local, and municipal scale. The highly publicized data leaks by the likes of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are easy to latch onto, but it’s important to consider the implications of the smaller, seemingly harmless cameras used to monitor traffic and common areas present in all towns great and small.
With that in mind, it’s also alarming to know that in several cities such as Charleston, West Virginia, governments have cooperated with local businesses to install security cameras in areas with high pedestrian traffic. Although this seems like a small, mostly inconsequential change, it represents a fusion of the two greatest threats to privacy in the world today. A combination of the innate ability of private companies to coerce customers into signing over their rights and the extreme data-gathering capabilities of U.S. government could usher in a ‘surveillance state’ more powerful than ever.
It is man, not machine, however, that is ultimately responsible for these problems. New and better technology has certainly made it easier for the parties in question to access online data, but the human tendency of sacrificing freedom for security and morality for personal gain can be blamed for the existence of the current structures of surveillance in place around the world today. Those who blame innovation for society’s issues are railing against the inevitable, and against a facet of our nature that has proven to be more beneficial than harmful to humanity as a whole.
The bottom line is, we should be mindful of any invasion of privacy in order to safeguard what little true solitude Americans have left. Every law-abiding citizen should have the rights to their own personal information and how it is utilized, but it’s likely that things will have to get whole lot worse before they get better. It is the American people who must decide when they’ve had enough. Only time will tell when that breaking point is reached, but in the meantime, the expanding powers of the state push us ever closer each day.
Facebook has been on fire lately. And this is not the type of fire that means you’ve been trending and achieving. This is the fire that signifies a burn to the ground.
It is the fire that results from the masses realizing that you have sacrificed psychological freedom on the altar of crony corporate profits mixed with disgusting, primitive democracy.
On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission officially announced it was moving forward with an investigation surrounding the actions of the social media giant. They are doing this in response to a week of privacy scandals implicating that Facebook may have engaged in unfair acts, resulting in “substantial injury” to its users.
What exactly happened, though? Few know the full story, with bits and pieces trickling through their Facebook feed, ironically.
An organization by the name of Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm, was used as Steve Bannon’s secret weapon in the 2016 election to gather data about 50 million Facebook users and create psychological profiles that would allow them to target. They would do this by utilizing fabricated stories and eventually sway voters in favor of the desired candidates.
We know this because Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on the operation. He was integral to the development of the program, having close ties with it every step of the way.
Yeah, it wasn’t the Russian boogiemen. It was Steve Bannon utilizing Mark Zuckerberg’s platform to get as close to mass mind control as he could, leaving privacy in the ditch with every opportunity.
To pour gasoline on the fire, a former Facebook manager made clear that hundreds of millions (yes, you read that number right) have had their data reaped for the use of private companies.
In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson came out and explained just how far this data grabbing goes:
“The most important part of apps and services that help you make connections is to make it easy to find the people you want to connect with. So, the first time you sign in on your phone to a messaging or social app, it’s a widely used practice to begin by uploading your phone contacts.
“Contact uploading is optional. People are expressly asked if they want to give permission to upload their contacts from their phone – it’s explained right there in the apps when you get started. People can delete previously uploaded information at any time and can find all the information available to them in their account and activity log from our Download Your Information tool.”
Many have jumped on the bandwagon, including Elon Musk. He removed both Tesla and SpaceX’s pages from the platform, following a challenge from a Twitter user. This has blossomed into a larger movement that has begun to be known as #DeleteFacebook on the tweeting machine.
The market is already deciding. Facebook stocks are plummeting, and people are choosing that they are done with this. Yes, we agreed for them to do these things with our data when we signed the terms of service, and yes we have let Facebook walk all over us before. It is about time we stop. We reserve the right to not be consumers for Facebook and to encourage others to leave too.
As the FTC steps in, and we see the abhorrent actions of such an organization, it is critical that we take this opportunity to exercise our power as consumers within the market. Do your part, and take your data away from Facebook. Don’t let them use your data to allow companies to target you and exert subconscious influence upon you.