Is Big Tech Merging With Big Brother? Kinda Looks Like It

from Wired

A friend of mine, who runs a large television production company in the car-mad city of Los Angeles, recently noticed that his intern, an aspiring filmmaker from the People’s Republic of China, was walking to work.

When he offered to arrange a swifter mode of transportation, she declined. When he asked why, she explained that she “needed the steps” on her Fitbit to sign in to her social media accounts. If she fell below the right number of steps, it would lower her health and fitness rating, which is part of her social rating, which is monitored by the government. A low social rating could prevent her from working or traveling abroad.

China’s social rating system, which was announced by the ruling Communist Party in 2014, will soon be a fact of life for many more Chinese.

By 2020, if the Party’s plan holds, every footstep, keystroke, like, dislike, social media contact, and posting tracked by the state will affect one’s social rating.

Personal “creditworthiness” or “trustworthiness” points will be used to reward and punish individuals and companies by granting or denying them access to public services like health care, travel, and employment, according to a plan released last year by the municipal government of Beijing. High-scoring individuals will find themselves in a “green channel,” where they can more easily access social opportunities, while those who take actions that are disapproved of by the state will be “unable to move a step.”

Big Brother is an emerging reality in China. Yet in the West, at least, the threat of government surveillance systems being integrated with the existing corporate surveillance capacities of big-data companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon into one gigantic all-seeing eye appears to trouble very few people—even as countries like Venezuela have been quick to copy the Chinese model.

Still, it can’t happen here, right? We are iPhone owners and Amazon Prime members, not vassals of a one-party state. We are canny consumers who know that Facebook is tracking our interactions and Google is selling us stuff.

More here.

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6 Responses to Is Big Tech Merging With Big Brother? Kinda Looks Like It

  1. Tyler Graham April 5, 2019 at 4:41 pm #

    I don’t think it would be too far along to see that big-tech and big-brother are becoming one of the same. I’ve discussed at length both in class, in Slack, and in other comments on this blog about how Facebook, Google, and Amazon are encroaching on our personal lives in ways no other companies have. Apple just announced a credit card – turning their tech ecosystem into a lifestyle. Through social media profiles you can build an entire, well, profile on someone and determine the best way to attack their insecurities to market to them.

    What we’re seeing in China is something we should consider something of a “beta test”. Those of China are used to living in an oppressive government – they have for years already. Thus, a system such as the social credit system does not seem like a big jump in government control to them. I won’t lie – aspects of it seem like a good idea. Especially when you consider that some Chinese citizens have said it makes them better people. But is good through fear the best idea? Moreso should you be banned from travel or other important services because of a few mistakes you’ve made? Social credit doesn’t forgive – and it doesn’t forget. It’s like nobody here has ever watched Black Mirror. I recall one episode where you could up someone’s rating if your experience with them was good – and lower it all the same. This lead to the protagonist being barred from using the airport, the taxi, and more. They were essentially put into a lower class of life that they could not recover from. Or that one episode of Community where they develop an app where you can rate people, and those at the top are treated like kings while “One-Stars” are more or less slaves.

    Will we see this in America? Probably not, but possibly so on a smaller scale. I can clearly envision a future where Facebook restricts you from posting to certain groups or posting certain types of media if you’re found to go against what they believe in. Scary times we live in…

  2. Horace Bryce Jr April 6, 2019 at 1:04 am #

    “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”This is a quote that always comes to mind whenever in the midst of discussing historical events such as the one the article “Is Big Tech Merging With Big Brother? Kinda Looks Like It” presents. The historical event that is presented is the use of technology to help the national security state undermine freedom of speech, democracy and privacy. The article describes how the ruling Communist Party of China is following through with their 2014 promise of a social rating system. What is even more bizarre is that this system is supposedly going to up and running by 2020.
    This invasive system of social rating is that it monitors the everyday acts of ordinary citizens and rates it in accordance to what the government sets as a standard for that specific task. An example of this government set standard is given at the very start of the article and depicts an aspiring filmmaker for the People’s Republic of China walking to work because she “needed the steps” to register on her FitBit in order to be able to sign into her social media accounts with the alternative being a lower health and fitness rating which would then lower her social rating. The problem with this system is that it can easily lead to corruption favoring a very select group of upper class individuals. This conclusion is going off the fact that points of “trustworthiness” will be used to decide who will be apart of a “green channel.” This channel grants the individuals in it easier access to social opportunities and public services. One can easily see that this system will ultimately favor the upper class because if it did not it would not be in the process of being implemented. This favoritism of the rich is the very reason why other countries are in the process of implementing it too as the article explains. Such an observant system allows those who set the standard to have absolute power and control over what is acceptable and more importantly, who is acceptable. Now there are just points to prove so! Not only would such a system of surveillance permit absolute power to the government but it would also keep the citizens looking over their shoulders wondering if they are up to par.
    it is a scary realization that the highly joked about but anticipated coming of the New World Order is in the making. With huge companies like FaceBook, Amazon, and Google allowing government spy agencies to access consumer data and use the technologies of companies camera and microphones I can see a possible future merging of the companies. This would then form a huge monopoly that would then have absolute control over everything that goes on socially, economically and politically. They would not only have control on a continental scale but a global one. Technology would enables this monopoly to monitor a global society and with such an exponential growth this is basically what the New World Order needs to establish itself in a way that is subtle. Here is a video explaining what the New World Order is (hopefully my keystrokes are not being monitored this very second) —–>> Conspiracy theory? I think not. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-w3zVGGRXE

  3. John Holliday April 10, 2019 at 5:39 pm #

    When this article talked about the new way China was developing their social media platforms to give citizens that do good things rewards it reminded me of the T.V show Black Mirror. One episode portrays a society that has to use social media and get liked to receive rewards. The reason behind China using this system is because they are communist. They believe in a society where the government controls everything and everyone. Big brother is constantly watching over you in China, however in the United States big tech is. The United States governs with a more capitalistic approach than China does. The big tech companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc. store your data and sell it to advertisers. This way they can sell targeted ads and charge more money. People can think that it’s unethical to do so, but that’s not the underlying problem in this article. I think companies in the United States want to stay far from the Government unlike the situation in China. All the big tech companies in the United States want two things; to continue to grow and to make profits. By doing this they need to avoid government regulation instead of joining the government.

    The article also goes in to detail towards the end that artificial intelligence will overtake multiple jobs and cause a whole uproar in our society. I simply don’t see that happening. The people that are scared of their jobs being taken away due to artificial intelligence would have been the same people scared of machines taking their jobs during the industrial revolution. Artificial intelligence doesn’t kill jobs, it creates jobs. The United States unemployment rates have dropped significantly in the last couple years, and I beleive the last jobs report stated a 3.8% unemployment rate. Keep in mind that there is more artificial intelligence used now then there was five years ago. Artificial intelligence also allows corporations to increase profits by cutting costs. Artificial intelligence can do the dirty work that nobody wants to do and the company won’t have to waste any money paying someone to do it. With this being said, companies can retain more earnings to invest in CapEx or other projects. Also, keep in mind that every job a robot is doing someone needs to program the algorithms and back test them to ensure they are working properly. In conclusion, I don’t believe that big tech will merge with big brother and artificial intelligence will help our job market instead of hurting it.

  4. Richard Gudino April 12, 2019 at 9:05 am #

    As I read the beginning of this article I remember back to an episode of black mirror that is eerily similar to what the article is saying the Republic of China is trying to incorporate. Much like what China is trying to do by making you act like a model citizen in order to move up in the world seems like they are trying to get everyone on a leash. Although in the episode it was a social commentary on how we base everything on our social media presence it still mirrors the article. In both your social standing will be determined by how highly rated you are and how productive you seem to be, in this case it was the worker using her fitbit to record steps so she could use her social media. In Black Mirror it was your peers giving you a rating out of five stars, the higher that your rating was the better standard of life that you could afford would be. In the anthology there is an instance the main protagonist is trying to upgrade her home but is denied because her overall rating is too low. This does mirror the objective that China is tying to achieve a reward and punishment system to be able to have more or less public access. I am now worried because art finds a way to imitate life and as it stands like the article mentions all the books that have warned us of technology creating a dystopian future, life is not looking so well. In fact the idea that now all our information is being packaged by the companies that we use everyday is discouraging, and its not like I could just stop using any of these services because my whole life is based around it. I can’t go a day without going on social media or going on amazon and ordering something I think I need. Something else that really worried me that the article began to point out is that amazon has a security contract with the CIA that allows amazon to be able to form a cloud storage of all the information the CIA has. Now not only does amazon have billions of user data but now it holds some secrets that the government does not want us to know. I already feel as if I am a number in a system, and not that system where I am just a profit is turning into a system that wants to know where I am and what I am doing at all times. Big Brother ha snow gained an all seeing eye and my rights to privacy and freedom all seem like an idea that has faded away into history. Technology is taking away our fundamental rights not just given to us from our fore fathers, but its also taking away fundamental human rights. Things that we as humans cannot be denied. Because how many times have we seen a monitored state, a network that has allowed an entire country control itrs citizens fails.

  5. Ashley Bock April 12, 2019 at 12:36 pm #

    This article by David Samuels takes the concept of Big Brother watching you at all times to a scary level. Can the government track every moment in one’s life and see everything that one does day to day? The answer is scary to think about but indeed the tracking information is in front of us every day. We all use smartphones and the capabilities to track and open up video surveillance is a tool that can be turned on very easily. China by the year 2020 will have the ability to track every social media outlet one visits, or app one goes to or likes and swipes one does in a day and then use those social contacts to see if the individuals have “creditworthiness”. The communist party of the People’s Republic of China will use this data to determine in you are worthy to receive benefits such as health care or employment or punish the ones that do not conform to what is trustworthy. This idea is frightening. The hope that the Big Brother concept of China does not come to America is on the front burner of every citizen, but the technology is out there. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Yahoo among others have the capabilities to monitor and watch everyone in various ways using a multitude of technologies. That is why the government of the United States keeps close eyes on these companies and purchases various methods of these advancements to guarantee that they are on top of their tech game. Each one of us carry our smartphone with us every moment of our day and utilize sights like Amazon, Facebook or Google, is our privacy safe and secure? Our data is getting out there to anyone willing to pay the price to buy it from these large tech companies whether we agree to it or not. The government should keep the “right to privacy” a more fundamental right and we as consumers need to be more diligent to make sure data is not transferred to any one that can use it for harm.

  6. Domenico Cirielli April 12, 2019 at 8:08 pm #

    I chose to comment on this article because it is truly astonishing as to how advanced technology is nowadays and how corruptly the People’s Republic of China uses it. The ruling Communist Party in China had established a social rating system in 2014 that dictates whether or not individuals will be entitled to social opportunities like healthcare, travel, and employment. While high scoring individuals will have more opportunity or social advancement, those who take actions against the general consensus of China will be “unable to move a step,” as articulated in the article. If this plan falls into place, by 2020 the Chinese government will be able to monitor everything – “every footstep, keystroke, like, dislike, social media contact, and posting” will be tracked by the government authority. To me, and I would assume to almost everyone else on the planet, this is a complete violation of human rights, privacy, and is indicative of how danger emerging technology is. As the article notes, if an individual is not up to par in health or fitness for example, his or her social rating can drop and leave he or she hopeless for societal advancement. This may seem farfetched for someone like you or me in the United States; however, it is necessary to understand that these same technological capabilities exist within the society in which we live.

    As we have seen in the news recently, technological powerhouses like Facebook and Google monitor our activity. These companies record our every move – not necessarily to violate our privacy, but more in a way to enhance our experience on the respective platforms. For example, when using Google maps, the service records where you go, how long you were there, and where your car was parked. Let’s say you have a routine drive you take almost every morning – Google will start to suggest that route on maps every morning, even before you type anything into the application.

    While these companies monitor behavior to help enhance one’s experience, who’s to say when they will start to dictate how we actually behave. I imagine that a time will exist when these online platforms start to make our decisions for us – in instances like those, I feel as though a dangerous precedent is being set. The economy will be completely automated to the point where the decisions we make are no longer ones that we explicitly make, rather what artificial intelligence makes. Because of this, I think it very important to regulate the extent as to which the government and which online platforms, especially Google and Amazon, monitor our behavior to ensure that we do not lose control of our own lives.

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