You Are Registered As A Protester in A Mass Disturbance ….. (and your daughter is dead)

January 21, 2014

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A few short years ago – when the FBI regularly tapped the phones of individuals they didn’t like (with or without a warrant), such as suspected criminals or alleged spies or other Un-Americans  - it was hard to foresee that harvesting millions of simultaneous conversations and activities worldwide would be possible. How could anyone manage the stuff? How could anyone possibly sift through it? Back then it was one guy with a crappy, if sophisticated tape recorder listening in on one conversation. Think Gene Hackman in The Conversation.

Over the years the process got figured out and became a trusted technique used in all sorts of global commerce. Data harvesting became a tool of the private sector. Every keystroke, utterance, and activity you or I engage in online or on mobile is analyzed and collected by someone now. Every email you or I send. Every text we send or receive. Every phone call we make. Every GPS point recorded on a photograph we take. Every location we visit. All scanned by the likes of Google and other mass data harvesters. And then everything about me and you and everyone else who uses the internet is packaged and sold. Either in aggregate or individually.

And most people don’t seem to mind.

Is it because the private sector is doing the buying and selling? Making billions from our activities and the footprints we leave. Do we feel that being fleeced by corporations is somehow OK because in the ebb and flow of private sector commerce, consumers apparently receive enough value or status from the transaction to not mind that everything about them is commoditized and sold.

Why is it then, that if  the government gets involved in data mining – people get their knickers in a knot. The Snowden revelations caused lots of tongues to wag. Mostly foreign leaders who couldn’t imagine we would spy on them. Or US citizens who couldn’t believe they were being monitored by our “intelligence” agencies.

Duh? The CIA or NSA or FBI not spy? If not, what do we pay them for? Of course our government spies on its citizens. So does every government around the world.

Now come reports that protesters in Ukraine are being identified and tracked (and warned they are being tracked) as a result of cell phone use at or near the protest site. Many protesters actually got a message from their government telling them that You Are Registered As A Protester in a Mass Disturbance.

Does this surprise anyone? Well, what surprised me was that the government of Ukraine took the step of sending a warning to its protesting citizens that they were being monitored. The government might have just rounded them up and disappeared them. What might be lost in this whole transaction is that if things don’t go the protester’s way, they have been registered by the government. Noted in a data base somewhere. The round-up might come later.

Time will tell whether that disclaimer (veiled threat) will actually dissuade anyone from protesting (as is undoubtedly the intention) before more bloodshed?

Social Media and Smartphones are nodes with more power than most people acknowledge. They empower the user, yes. But they also empower government and private industry (rightly or wrongly).

That brings me to the and your daughter is dead part.

Just this week, a family grieving the loss of their daughter in a car crash received an email that was part of a marketing campaign. The subject line read Daughter Killed In Car Crash. The company that sent it was trying to sell them office products.

How do you suppose that information was collected? Why do you think it was sold? What algorithm will be blamed because of the clearly inappropriate, insensitive and downright offensive private sector email?

I can almost hear the newscaster reporting on that story; “And in a marketing campaign gone terribly wrong….”

And the campaigns will go terribly wrong sometimes. Collateral damage, I suppose. They always have, and they always will. I don’t care how smart the computers are that run them.

My advice?

Don’t confuse personalization with caring. Remember: You Are Registered As A Protester in a Mass Disturbance …….  (and your daughter is dead)

Connect to the internet of people (or things) knowing that it can be used for good, and for evil, and sometimes the line betwixt the two is hard to discern.

Only give out as much of your personal data as you need to.

And guard your liberties, particularly the rights to Free Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of the Press, as though our way of life depended on them. It does.

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