Saturday, June 29, 2013

Big Brother isn't NSA and the US Government, it's Google and Facebook

When I first heard of George Orwell’s 1984 it sounded so science fiction and beyond my capacity to grasp as a potential reality that I dismissed it. I can’t even remember if I read it. I knew very little of the sinister world at large, and in my world the internet didn’t exist. I could conceive of societal over-management in a distant sort of way but I imagined that if a Big Brother kind of scenario ever came into play it would be recognizably science fiction. And it would, of course, be about a corrupt government. 

I was wrong about it all, and it seems I’m not alone. The world has gone beserk with the exposure of NSA privacy invasion, masses of people quoting George Orwell, predicting gloom and doom. Our independence is over; Big Brother Government controls your every move.  

There’s something perfectly Hollywood about it all. Cloak and dagger shadowy organizations, spies, international relations, diplomatic nightmares, global chases from the US to China to Russia to Havanna.

But the real Big Brother – or a fraternity of them – has been operating in our lives and homes for ages. They did what all exploiters do. Groomed us. Here, you can have this for free. We’re doing it because we love you. That how can we help you? transmogrified over time from into how can we exploit you and earn billions of bucks? We all found out about it and had a hissy fit. But we didn’t stop using those products. 

There’s nothing science fiction about it. Nothing out of the ordinary. Not anymore. Only because we’ve become slowly inured to how much of ourselves we give away, and now we're kind of hooked on the idea that unless everybody knows everything about us we’re alone and isolated. 

We still hold onto the concept of the value of privacy. But the reality of what preserving your privacy involves in today’s tech world - being cut off from some potential friend somewhere - scares us. We give ourselves away every second of the day because we somehow believe it’s the only way we can get more and more connected. There was a time when the idea of having having your privacy invaded made you feel naked. Now living in a cocoon where your privacy is utterly protected makes you feel exposed.

I read a great article on BuzzFeed/CNN, "10 ways you give up data without knowing it". It’s a kind of shortened Orwellian type of expose on privacy. I followed one of the links to a pretty detailed inventory of info about how advertisers on Facebook can manipulate their friends, friends of their friends, college students, different age groups, nationalities, genders, occupations, interests, you name it.  

It’s done in the form of Q & A and is of course selling Facebook advertising. Very seductive. If you’ve got something to sell that is. It's a bit of a shock if you're on the receiving end. Nowhere on the page could I see a question like do people supply this information willingly and knowingly? 

We still hold onto the Big Brother idea that it’s the government we have to worry about; that it will control us in a recognisably sinister and science-fiction kind of way. So when Edward Snowden exposes NSA surveillance information everybody throws up their hands in a riot of protest. We know what this is! But the mundane reality of it is that the NSA doesn’t analyse all the info in detail, they simply mine it for specific alerts. They sure don’t use it to manipulate citizens. And the point of it isn’t mass control, but to try and control terrorism. They don’t want to know every intimate detail about us; they want to know whether we know any terrorists or not. 

I guess we focus on the NSA as public enemy number one because the average Joe doesn’t think its work is useful. That’s because they’ve never had to personally pay for their security. The US – and its allies – have usually chosen the military option and most of the casualties have been suffered by the enemy.  

Now the US has a leader who seems hell-bent on peace and not war, but still remains realistically alert to security risks. The only problem with the choice he's put before US citizens is that the more peaceful solution requires them to pay something. For their own security benefits. Personally, given the choice between some innocent child getting its limbs blown off while I sleep peacefully at home, and having the NSA collect my data to see if I'm cavorting with terrorists, it's a no brainer. It’s hard for me to understand why everybody doesn’t clamour to make that same choice.

In real terms this NSA surveillance isn’t much of a payment, not if one is realistic about it. But in a world where media influence has blurred the lines between truth and lies, where politicians and giant corporations are expert fear-mongers, where we get our information from movies and TV series, realism isn’t a strong point. 

Meanwhile the real Big Brother fraternity continue to really control us more and more every day. They have the key to our lives and they can let anybody in to prowl around any time they like. Whether we know about it or not, whether we want it or not. Contrary to the NSA they do want to know intimate details about us; they target each of us very specifically. 

We know it's real, what Facebook and Google do. Why don't we rise up in global protest? Because they’re useful to us. When we advertise, do we care anymore what people have had to give up so we can get to them? Not really. So in fact, we welcome the Big Brother Frat with open arms. And while we’re waving our fists at a red herring that attracts us because of the drama, the real enemy is sucking the will-power out of us through a giant umbilical cord inserted into our Achilles heel.

If you want to opt out of being ad-targeted by Google, click here. To opt out of Facebook targeted ads close your account. Click here for their reasons why they need to continue with targeted advertising and can’t give you the option to opt out. It’s all about how much they love you and how can we help you? They focus on all the things they don’t do and deftly avoid the central question, which is Can I stop my personal and intimate information and that of my friends, my family, my children, being used by Facebook?
Because the unspoken answer is unapologetically and categorically No.