An essay on the blog Download Squad with the alarming title Facebook — with or without Google — will destroy the world as we know it explains the two companies’ diverging strategies. It’s interesting (though I can’t get very worked up about yet another apocalyptic scenario, in which something from the movie Terminator is used to get across how frightening it is), but what I was struck by was this line (emphasis theirs):
In other words, Facebook knows who we want to be, while Google knows who we actually are.
The article closes with this warning, which I find pretty believable. Referring to Facebook’s announcement yesterday that it was going to offer the equivalent of Facebook email, the article cautions:
You will be given the choice of opting out, of course. But think about it: can you see yourself leaving Facebook today? Now fast forward a few months, a year. Imagine what it will be like once all of your communication goes through Facebook; quitting won’t be an option.
Now, the thing is, I use Google mail, I collaborate with others using Google documents, I have Google voice pointing to my cell phone, I use the calendar, and so on. It seems as if I’m pretty wrapped up in Google. And yet I think if Google disappeared tomorrow, all I’d lose is my saved email and this month’s household budget. My life would go on, for the simple reason that Google’s mail system communicates with the rest of the world, while Facebook’s is designed not to. A “walled garden” is the term commonly used for such an exclusive online universe. I can think of another word.
I’m glad I’m not a Facebook denizen; I never registered. It’s like having gone through the 00s without having gotten a tattoo: once you participate a little, you’re marked for life.
From Valleywag, emphasis mine:
On Monday, a guy in California posted pictures of an FBI tracking device his friend found on his car to the social news site Reddit. Tuesday afternoon the FBI showed up at his friend’s house and demanded it back.
Reddit user Khaledthegypsy posted this picture to Reddit, asking “Does this mean the FBI is after us? … Afifi’s deceased father was a prominent member of the local Muslim community and was on a federal watchlist.
The FBI left Afifi with “You don’t need to call your lawyer. Don’t worry, you’re boring,” according to Wired.
Read the Wired story, which adds:
His discovery comes in the wake of a recent ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals saying it’s legal for law enforcement to secretly place a tracking device on a suspect’s car without getting a warrant, even if the car is parked in a private driveway.
Speaking of surveillance: This blogger says illegal surveillance by various agencies is increasing.
Daniel Ellsberg interviewed in the L.A. Times, reflecting on his role in history:
Although he was attacked by political opponents for betraying his country, Ellsberg’s regret is rather that he didn’t leak documents earlier — in 1964 when the conflict was still escalating.
“I’m one of a few dozen people who could have prevented the Vietnam War,” he says, drumming his finger on his wooden table with every syllable. A Democratic Congress would have turned on Johnson, he thinks, if they had seen how bogus his war justifications were. “But I was very inhibited — I felt like I was breaking my promise.”
It’s human nature that troubles him the most.
“Humans are herd animals,” he says. “They depend very much on being part of the group, and to remain part of the group, they’ll do anything. And a much larger number will go along with anything. And the broadest form of that is keeping your mouth shut.”
Imagine the familiar movie scenario where a detective is desperate to track and find a suspect, or where a detective is hired by a suspicious spouse to trail their errant husband or wife. Or an alternate scenario from the Cold War, where the secret police manipulate ordinary citizens to inform on one another (cf. the film The Lives of Others, pictured at left). Or the horrible situation of a controlling husband who wants to know where his wife is at every minute of the day. In those situations, one person wants to track another; the person who is tracked would rather not be tracked and sometimes would do anything to avoid it.
Now consider yourself, or any ordinary bourgeois, and how much you are tracked on a daily (and sometimes minute-to-minute) basis. Credit card companies and credit reporting firms register every purchase you make with something other than cash. Airlines, grocery stores and other businesses with rewards programs know where you’ve traveled and what you’ve bought. The phone company knows, within a few hundred feet, where you made that cell phone call from, and if you have GPS enabled, they know within a few meters.
And so on. Any modern consumer knows all this, so there’s no need to go into it at length — though the Wired story Gone Forever: What does it take to really disappear? is somewhat of an eyeopener, in that it communicates the ease with which some modern-day gumshoes, such as private detectives working for bail bondsmen or insurance companies, can locate you through the databases compiled by airlines, Amazon, Visa and others.
You may or may not feel comfortable with all that tracking and archiving of data about you, but there’s not much you can do about it. After all, you “agreed” to it when you signed up for whatever credit card, rewards program, cell phone, etc. etc. you use. Just check your “End User License Agreement.”
If this makes you feel just a little bit creeped out, then I would ask you: Why do you have a Facebook page? Why are you on Twitter? Why do you post your name, address, preferences and picture online on any number of sites, from Amazon to Yelp? In my novel How They Scored, I put it this way: Why would you even need an East German-style secret police these days when people are putting so much effort into reporting on themselves, compiling their own dossiers? (We call them online “profiles.”)
There’s no need to be needlessly paranoid about this. No one (unless he or she is actively stalking you) has hired a private detective to compile a report on the details of your quotidian doings. But they could. Because your life’s an open book.
I’m aware of all this and I still tweet what I’m doing, what I just ate, where I am. I still blog about books I read or music I listened to (facts which, if they were in the records of the public library, would require a court order for anyone to access, but I give them away for free). I still have my picture online in a dozen places, along with the neighborhood I live in, and so on.
But I still rebel in small ways. For example, I don’t have a Safeway card, but I still take partial advantage of their program. How? I thought to myself, probably most people in the neighborhood of this store have Safeway cards. All I have to do is type in the local telephone exchange and four random numbers. For the Safeway on 29th and Mission, in my neighborhood of San Francisco, that’s 415-824-xxxx. And it almost always works. I get my TV dinners 4 for $10 and whoever actually owns the account gets some points toward the purchase of … whatever Safeway gives. That’s my big protest.
This story on wired.com, about the difficulty of losing your identity and taking up another, is something I wrote about in How They Scored.
The characters are looking at the business possibilities of a proposed business named Dreedle, which would compile vast databases of consumer behavior; the narrator reflects on how such databases would make it difficult to disappear, as you used to be able to in the old days.
There were plenty of things about me I didn’t want rolled up into some online repository. One or two of these things I might confide to a lover — that I liked to watch a certain kind of porn, for example (though I wasn’t sure Meeghan was ready to know that). Another, less embarrassing detail I might write about on a blog — my appreciation of the Giants infielders, say, or my enthusiasm for Russian composers. Other things I wouldn’t mind mentioning in a phone call to my mother. But put them all together, combined with the records of everything I buy, books I read, music I listen to — no. It’s already creepy enough to see my house from space on Google Maps, to see on Amazon that people who live in my zip code read scads of self-help books…
And then there’s the American fantasy of disappearing. … I might merely want to start over. I love the idea that you can move to a big city or a small town and get lost. Isn’t that what hundreds of people did after 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina? — claimed that all their papers were lost, whether or not it was true. Got new ID with a new name, moved to another state, faded into the woodwork.
You can still do that in America — barely. But with Dreedle, no way. That dead guy whose ID you stole probably liked completely different music, wore completely different clothes, had totally different jobs. Once I started buying Shostakovich CDs and had them delivered to a zip code the dead guy never lived in, a red flag would go up. A complete change in shopping habits combined with a change in address equals the probability of identity theft. That’s what it would be called. Not “starting over.”
A strange font for use in airport signage has the most sinister glyphs ever, including a suitcase filled with gasoline, an all-seeing surveillance camera, and a man running into a toilet.
I’m in a cafe in the Mission, sitting toward the front. It’s a dimly lit cafe that’s very quiet and comforting on a bright, cold morning. In the back there’s a twelve-step meeting going on. “See, chronic alcoholics — they don’t know. One day they’ll know but not today.” They spell out Roman numerals that denote sections of their scripture: “That’s X-X-V-I?” “No, it’s X-X-X-V.”
This morning I’m going to the SFMOMA to meet artist and writer Trevor Paglen and interview him.
Paglen may be best known because of his appearance several months ago on “The Colbert Report” talking about his short book about the unit patches worn by people working on secret military projects, I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have To Be Destroyed By Me. He’s also the author of “Blank Spots on the Map,” a geographical approach to the black world of secret military projects, and co-author of Torture Taxi, about the Bush administration’s uncharted rendition air flights.
But he’s not just an author and academic — he is in the geography department at UC Berkeley — but a photographer whose work is hanging at both SFMOMA and the Altman Siegel Gallery in SF. His photographs, many of which use what he calls “Limit Telephotography” or the practice of taking very long-range telephoto pictures, peek into places you’re not supposed to see and pick out needles — secret surveillance satellites — in the haystack of the night sky.
This is so awesome! Instead of shooting a video the old-fashioned way, a British band performed in front of their city’s ubiquitous surveillance cameras, requested the footage from cops and private companies using the British equivalent of a Freedom of Information Act request, then edited the footage to produce the finished product. Courtesy BoingBoing.
The finished video, viewable at that link, shows the band performing in crosswalks, taxicabs, public plazas, and the entrance ramp to a parking garage.
This prototype phone from Nokia would be able to track your health and other “conditions.” Apparently you strap on a sensor that monitors your vital signs, sends the data to the phone over a wireless signal, and then God knows what happens to the information.
This is just astonishing:
The next time you visit your doctor for your appointment and flip through the pages of the magazines kept in the reception room, you might not be aware of the fact that a watch is being kept on your reading habits using RFID. Mediamark Research & Intelligence and DJG Marketing have come together to use RFID for measuring magazine readership in public waiting rooms.
More here. RFID is the little bitty chip already used to track library books, merchandise, and in some localities, children.
I take it back — this is even more depressing:
The next time you visit your doctor for your appointment and flip through the pages of the magazines kept in the reception room unknowingly to kill time you might not be aware of the fact that a watch is being kept on your reading habits using RFID. Mediamark Research & Intelligence and DJG Marketing have come together to use RFID for measuring magazine readership in public waiting rooms.
Reprinted from the Washington Post, 16 Nov 07, as a public service.
The Picture Of Conformity
In a Watched Society, More Security Comes With Tempered Actions
By Lynne Duke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Don’t look now. Somebody’s watching.
But you knew that, didn’t you? How could you not? It’s been apparent for years that we’re being watched and monitored as we traverse airports and train stations, as we drive, train, fly, surf the Web, e-mail, talk on the phone, get the morning coffee, visit the doctor, go to the bank, go to work, shop for groceries, shop for shoes, buy a TV, walk down the street. Cameras, electronic card readers and transponders are ubiquitous. And in that parallel virtual universe, data miners are busily and constantly culling our cyber selves.
Is anywhere safe from the watchers, the trackers? Is it impossible to just be let alone?
There, in that quintessentially public space, the Mall, came Michael Thrasher, 43, an ordinary guy, just strolling on a lovely recent day. We found him near an entrance to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, where a tower-high surveillance camera loomed overhead.
Thrasher didn’t immediately see it. But when asked his feelings about privacy and surveillance, he said, “You just feel like there’s always someone looking at you.”
He’s a baggage handler at Reagan National Airport, so he knows that he’s watched at the workplace. Since Sept. 11, 2001, transit hubs have been laden with layer upon layer of surveillance: cameras, biometrics, sensors, even a new thing called the “behavior detection officer.”
And it’s good, Thrasher says, that someone’s watching out for the bad guys. “Look what kind of world we’re in now.”
But Thrasher doesn’t like the way his private space is shrinking. Like surfing the Web and knowing his data trail can easily be mined: “If I’m not doing anything illegal, why is it any of their business?”
Like being on the telephone and believing it could be tapped: “In the back of my mind, I’m thinking anybody could be listening to whatever I say.”
And just going about one’s daily business, walking down the street, going to the market?
“It just feels like there’s no privacy now at all when you’re doing public stuff.”
Suddenly, he sees the camera, his exclamation point, and throws his hands in the air.
A Watching Culture
All this surveillance, monitoring and eavesdropping is changing our culture, affecting people’s behavior, altering their sense of freedom, of autonomy. That’s what the experts say: that surveillance robs people of their public anonymity. And they go even further, saying that pressure for conformity is endemic in a surveillance culture; that creativity and uniqueness become its casualties.
While there are benefits to surveillance — the sense of security, the ability to view crime scenes — the loss of autonomy represents the downside of our surveillance-heavy culture, says Jeffrey Rosen, a George Washington University law professor and author of “The Naked Crowd: Reclaiming Security and Freedom in an Anxious Age.”
“You need a sphere of immunity from surveillance to be yourself and do things that people in a free society take for granted,” says Rosen. Things like going to the park or to the market. The loss of such autonomy is one of the “amorphous costs of having a world where there’s no immunity from surveillance.
“This will transform the nature of public spaces in ways we could hardly imagine,” he says. “People obviously behave differently when they’re unsure about whether they’re being observed. We know this from personal experience.
“I’m not at all suggesting that Orwell’s ‘1984’ is around the corner,” he continues. “But things will change, and some of the changes will be good and others will be bad.”
Christopher Slobogin, a University of Florida law professor, writes in his upcoming book, “Privacy at Risk”:
“Anonymity in public promotes freedom of action and an open society. Lack of public anonymity promotes conformity and an oppressive society.”
After all, who is Big Brother looking for in all this surveillance? People who are different, who do not fit a preconceived norm.
In their insistent way, those public digital message boards that urge us to “Report Suspicious Activity” are pushing a sense of that norm. In effect, they call upon ordinary people with no training or expertise to become surveillants and enforce a code of conduct, an expected norm, based on what might seem, to them, suspicious, or just different.
We watch what we say on the phone. Where once it was just a joke, now it is real: You never know if you might be tapped. We don’t joke about bombs or hijacking, especially not in public. Not that we’d want to, mind you, but who remembers the days when it was just a joke? In mixed company, we don’t say anything about al-Qaeda that isn’t flat out condemnatory. And we are aware, alas, that our library book selections could be added to our possible dossiers, as per the USA Patriot Act.
How far can it go? We have only to recall the 2006 film “The Lives of Others,” which portrays how the Stasi of Communist East Germany deployed hundreds of thousands of ordinary people to spy on their fellow citizens and turn them in.
The work of the new “behavior detection officers” watching us at airports is all about enforcing a norm. Part of the Transportation Security Administration, the officers are trained to detect extremely nervous, deceitful or unusual travelers by observing travelers’ facial expressions and their behavior.
In training the BDOs, “we teach that everybody’s been in an airport long enough to know what the norm is,” says Carl Maccario, a program analyst for what the TSA calls SPOT, or Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques. “There’s an expected norm or an expected baseline environment. . . . We teach the BDOs, in a simplified form, to look for anomalous behavior in that environment.”
Being different? A big problem.
If we know we’re being watched and know there is an expected mode of behavior, how does that change our actions?
Call it “anticipatory conformity.” Shoshana Zuboff, a Harvard social psychologist who has studied information technology for decades, coined the phrase in 1988.
Applying that concept to the post-9/11 era, Zuboff says she sees anticipatory conformity all around and expects it to grow even more intense.
“I think the first level of that is we anticipate surveillance and we conform, and we do that with awareness,” she says. “We know, for example, when we’re going through the security line at the airport not to make jokes about terrorists or we’ll get nailed, and nobody wants to get nailed for cracking a joke. It’s within our awareness to self-censor. And that self-censorship represents a diminution of our freedom.”
We self-censor, she says, not only to follow the rules, but also to avoid the shame of being publicly singled out.
Once anticipatory conformity becomes second nature, it becomes progressively easier for people to adapt to new impositions on their privacy, their freedoms. The habit has been set. People have “internalized the surveillance architecture” within their own subconscious.
We have yet to reach the level of surveillance of, say, the ubiquitous retina-scanning in the movie “Minority Report.” But the technology is changing quickly.
“The next thing is they’ll just have cameras everywhere,” Zuboff says. “They’ll have software programmed with algorithms, and the algorithms will be able to detect these so-called anomalies. And so you may be distraught because you’re flying home to your grandmother’s funeral, but the algorithm has detected an anomalous behavior, and the next thing you’re being strip-searched by a couple of FBI agents.”
And the technology advances so insidiously, so imperceptibly, that only later will we notice how deep the changes in our lives have been.
“It’s a little bit like locked doors,” says Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster and Stanford University instructor. “Today nobody has any concept of what it’s like to have a house without a locked door or a security system.
“As the memory of a world without surveillance disappears, society will just create a new normal, and then you’ll see worse horrors,” he says. “Our whole lives will become like the TSA checkpoint. You walk in there, you don’t look mad, don’t look upset, don’t look distracted. Do nothing to stand out.”
Recalling an old Japanese saying that “the pheasant who flies gets shot,” Saffo says the mindset of the future may be: “Practice being invisible.”
Surveys reflect a mixed national mood on Big Brother. In a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard University poll conducted earlier this year respondents were split, 48 to 48 percent, on whether the government is doing enough to protect civil liberties as it fights terrorism.
More than a year earlier, in a Post-ABC News poll, 62 percent said the FBI should continue to have extra authority for wiretapping, obtaining records and surveillance in terror investigations.
In a different kind of opinion sample, Slobogin, the law professor, randomly selected 70 people from Florida jury pools and asked them to rank the level of intrusiveness of 25 law enforcement tactics, including several surveillance techniques.
In that 2006 study, the respondents ranked bedroom searches as the highest level of intrusiveness, followed by searches of e-mails, records from banks, pharmacies and credit cards, and the use of snoopware. The police pat-down — that classic of perceived intrusiveness — didn’t rank as high.
In an earlier study, in 2002, 190 respondents also said bedroom searches were most intrusive, followed by body cavity searches at the border. But the monitoring of street surveillance cameras was a close third, deemed more intrusive than even a helicopter hovering over one’s back yard.
People “don’t expect to be stalked either by a person or by a camera — at least they don’t like it,” says Slobogin. “They expect to get lost in the crowd, or at least not to be monitored continuously.”
And the “surveillance industrial complex,” as some call it, is churning out ever more sophisticated methods for watching us, tracking us. Think: radio frequency identification chips. Think: iris recognition.
The surveillance camera? It is “no longer simply the fixed camera that looks like it’s sitting inside a white shoe box pointing at the register of a 7-Eleven,” says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
“Now we have cameras that sit in black globes that zoom and pan at 360 degrees, have telescopic lenses and are beginning to interface with databases of facial images to try to do real-time matching of people in public places.”
And cyberspace is littered with our spoor, our data trails, just lying there ready for the data miners to probe and find out what we buy, read, eat, how we spend, where we travel.
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean no one’s watching.
In fact, we can be watched and tracked from so many different angles in so many different ways that hints of the Panopticon are hard to ignore. That was the invention of the 18th century British economist Jeremy Bentham, who conceived of the Panopticon as a circular prison in which warders could see prisoners at all times.
The Panopticon would create in the inmate a sense of “conscious and permanent visibility,” and yet he “must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so,” wrote philosopher Michel Foucault in his 1975 book, “Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison.”
Today, says Zuboff, we operate within an “information Panopticon.”
“In our modern dematerialized world, you don’t have to build a building to have permanent surveillance over individuals and their behavior,” she says. “You can do it with an information system.”
There is, admittedly, something creepy about all this: creepy, serious and very real, so much so that ordinary people are aware of the extent to which they are being watched and monitored. All that Doug Gooch asks is that data miners be honest about what they’re doing.
“If they’re going to monitor my use of the Internet, I should know up front,” Gooch says. “Everything, to me, should be disclosed.”
Gooch, 51, an engineer on vacation from Michigan, strolled the Mall last month with his wife and law-student son as the family took a few moments to mull the weighty questions of surveillance and a free society. They spoke with a hint of resignation.
“Maybe the free market will sort it out,” said Kyle Gooch, 23. He was talking about data mining and the push by government agencies to get the records of some search engines. Maybe people will simply stop using certain sites, he offered.
“There needs to be a balance,” said his mother, Shirlene Gooch, 49. While she wants law enforcement to be able to search for terrorists through cyberspace, she worries it could go too far. She worries, too, that worrying may be futile; that the proverbial train is well down the tracks, and it may be too late to intervene in technology’s uses.
“It’s hard to know when to stop,” she said of law enforcement, adding, “There’s no way to stop technology.”
The Gooches strolled onward, under the surveillance camera’s watchful eye.