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  1. A year ago, Shoshana Zuboff dropped an intellectual bomb on the technology industry. She hasn’t stood still since. In a 700-page book, the Harvard scholar skewered tech giants like Facebook and Google with a damning phrase: “surveillance capitalism.” The unflattering term evokes how these companies vacuum up the details of our lives, make billions from that data and use what they’ve learned to glue our attention more firmly to their platforms. A bestseller in Canada and Britain, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” was published in the U.S. in January, is being translated into 17 languages and has inspired two theaterproductions (if by small companies). Zuboff, meanwhile, has spoken to audiences from Los Angeles to Rome and counseled politicians across Europe and North America. She has offered input on several pending U.S. privacy bills and wrote a 34-page policy paper for the House Judiciary Committee, whose antitrust panel is looking into Big Tech’s potential abuse of its market dominance. In early November, she received the Axel Springer award, a four-year-old honor for technology luminaries offered by the eponymous German publisher. (Its first recipient was Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg; last year Amazon’s Jeff Bezos got it.) Zuboff has “put the language of economics around the experience that we all know we’re having,” says Beeban Kidron, a film director and U.K. House of Lords member who spearheaded child-protection rules limiting how apps gather data and tempt kids to linger online. “She’s a rock star.” Early on, Zuboff realized that researchers had missed the importance of the ambient data that digital services collect — where we use them, for how long, what we like, what we linger on and with whom we associate. They were calling it “digital exhaust.” Zuboff saw that this data wasn’t just an unexpected byproduct of online services, says Chris Hoofnagle, a University of California-Berkeley privacy expert. “It is the product.” Tech industry allies denounce Zuboff’s thesis as conspiracy-minded hyperbole and argue that consumers willingly trade their personal data for access to valuable services that don’t cost them a cent. Google and Facebook declined to discuss Zuboff or her book. But after more than a year of tech-related privacy scandals, malign election-interference and online platform-fueled extremism and the U.S. government’s first tentative steps toward reining in its technology titans, it’s become clear that Zuboff helped crystallize previously vague apprehensions about the tech industry. In her slashing diagnosis, the dark-maned, fashionably bespectacled academic describes how Silicon Valley’s once-utopian promises degenerated into the like button and that shoe advertisement that follows you around the internet. In person, Zuboff is focused and precise. She speaks in composed paragraphs and brooks no interruption until she has unfurled a thought. The effect is of a highly structured thinker compelled to make complete arguments before she can move on to the next topic. And her book can be a difficult read. Open to a random page and you’re likely to confront phrases such as “behavioral surplus,” “prediction markets” and “instrumentarianism.” Cut through the jargon, though, and Zuboff’s indictment is straightforward: Tech companies put out new apps designed to suck up our data trails; companies then use those insights to steer us toward our next YouTube video or Facebook interaction or Amazon purchase — and to develop their next apps. Rinse and repeat. Such manipulations aren’t unique to tech companies, although Zuboff argues that the industry has refined them to such a frightening degree that they are molding our behavior. Worse, she says, they’re spreading. “By now this is a virus that has infected every economic sector,” Zuboff told Canadian parliamentarians in May. The rise of surveillance capitalism strikes a sharp contrast with Silicon Valley’s hallowed self-image as a champion of personal autonomy, creativity and liberation. In an iconic 1984 television ad introducing the Macintosh computer, Apple portrayed itself as a lone runner smashing the grip of a Big Brotherish figure —an obvious stand-in for IBM — lecturing rows of stone-faced conformists. Zuboff traces the origin of surveillance capitalism to 2001 as Google, then little more than a search engine, considered going public. Faced with the need to generate revenue, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin decided to mine the data Google amasses when people make searches —such as what you searched for, when and where you searched and which results you clicked. That helped Google improve search results but also informed it about users’ family lives, religious beliefs, ethnicity, political or sexual persuasion and more. Google fed those clues into a personalized advertising machine and the company became a global juggernaut. Following Google’s example, Facebook and other tech companies offered an irresistible bargain. People could connect to long-lost friends, search the world’s information and watch endless streams of video at no cost. Before long, smartphones launched an explosion of “free” apps with a hearty appetite for your data. Nowadays, your movements, conversations, facial expressions and more are snatched by smart TVs, thermostats, refrigerators, doorbell cameras and connected cars. Your smart TV might read how you react to shows or ads. Smart speakers can capture unguarded chatter. Behind the scenes, artificial-intelligence systems comb through that data to compile dossiers on each of us. “When you walk people through all this at first it can feel really alarming, and (they) go into denial and say, ‘This isn't happening — maybe that guy was just exaggerating,’” said Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist and co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology. One of the first women professors to earn tenure at Harvard Business School, Zuboff won plaudits for her early grasp of how digital technology would transform the business world. Her 1988 book “ In the Age of the Smart Machine ” highlighted how automation might lead to less hierarchical, more collaborative workplaces. Her next book, “ The Support Economy ” — co-written with her late husband James Maxmin — predicted that out-of-touch corporations run from isolated boardrooms would give way to rivals responsive to the feedback of technology-empowered consumers. To Zuboff, surveillance capitalism poses a deep and existential threat, one whose hidden costs are intentionally obscured by executives much more eager to talk about new features than data-collection strategies. It is an “antidemocratic and anti-egalitarian juggernaut,” she writes. In the name of personalization, she says, “it defiles, ignores, overrides and displaces everything about you and me that is personal.” Consider, for instance, how long it took to energize public concern about Facebook’s sloppy handling of user data. The company was sanctioned by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations in 2011, but Facebook didn’t get critical attention from Congress until two years ago, when Russian election interference and the Cambridge Analytica scandal linked its voracious data collection to the election of President Donald Trump. Not everyone agrees with the Zuboff prescription, to put it mildly. Vice President Carl Szabo of the e-commerce trade group NetChoice, whose members include Facebook and Google, said her book “paints a typical dystopian picture of technology, dismissing the remarkable benefits of online platforms and data analysis.” The vice president of an industry-affiliated think tank, Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said an alternative explanation to Zuboff’s arguments is that “consumers are generally satisfied with the tradeoffs they make.” That’s not what the Pew Research Center found in a June U.S. poll. Eighty-one percent of respondents said they feel they have little or no control over the data companies collect on them and that the potential risks of that data-collection outweigh the benefits. In a lengthy polemical review of Zuboff’s ideas, socialist cultural critic Evgeny Morozov said some of her conclusions on surveillance capitalism outrun her evidence. Among other things, he argued that she failed to prove that surveillance capitalism is a “soul-sucking” rebirth of totalitarianism that makes people puppets of manipulative data wizards. Zuboff acknowledges there is no simple way to undo surveillance capitalism. Breaking up technology giants, she says, would do little to prevent their smaller progeny from continuing their work. She does think the EU’s year-old data protection rule and California’s new data privacy law, which takes effect in January, are a good start. So is a recent flurry of regulatory energy in Washington. “I think it’s the very early stages of a sea change,” she says. Whatever form it takes, change will take time, Zuboff says. She takes heart from an unlikely source: the free-market economist Milton Friedman, who taught one of her classes when she was a student at the University of Chicago. Friedman, she says, frequently noted that the law can take decades to catch up with societal change. Source
  2. Chris wants to better protect his privacy. What can he easily do besides de-Googling his online life Protecting your privacy online requires changes to the tools you use and the way you access information on the internet Having read Edward Snowden’s revelations in the Guardian and in his book, I would like to protect myself from both the surveillance state and surveillance capitalism. I already use a VPN, and I am in the process of removing Google from my online life. What else should I be doing that’s reasonable for a home environment? Chris Great timing! On Monday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published a 17,000-word report on this topic. Behind the One-Way Mirror: A Deep Dive Into the Technology of Corporate Surveillance, by Bennett Cyphers and Gennie Gebhart, covers both online privacy problems and the growth of real-word surveillance. BOWM, for short, explains how personal data is gathered, brokered, and used to serve targeted advertisements. In theory, users should prefer useful adverts to irrelevant ones. In reality, it provides a stream of data to anyone who wants it. Most of us, I suspect, don’t object to the ads as much as to the vast infrastructure used to deliver them. Non-targeted ads are fine with me. As the report points out, when you visit a website, data associated with your online identity will be sent to anyone interested in bidding in an auction to show you a targeted advertisement. A data-snorting company can just make low bids to ensure it never wins while pocketing your data for nothing. This is a flaw in the implied deal where you trade data for benefits. You can limit what you give away by blocking tracking cookies. Unfortunately, you can still be tracked by other techniques. These include web beacons, browser fingerprinting and behavioural data such as mouse movements, pauses and clicks, or sweeps and taps. Data brokers can try to connect whatever information they get to data that you are giving away in other areas. This might include your email address, mobile phone number, location, credit card and store card numbers, your car’s number plate and face recognition data. Some of this information may have been purchased from third parties. You probably handed over your email address to get coffee-shop wifi or to register on various websites. You probably gave some social media sites and app-based services your phone number. You used your credit card to buy things online, and provided your home address for deliveries. Your smartphone is constantly giving away your location. Even if you turn off location tracking, your phone can be found by triangulating from cellular masts or by companies that have beacons listening for potential wireless or Bluetooth connections. Even if you could avoid all the real-world trackers, you probably have smartphone apps that have access to all sorts of personal data and keep “phoning home”. Some of these apps may know how many steps you have taken, your heart rate, and how you slept, among other things. As BOWM points out, real-world identifiers can last a lot longer than your browsers or even your devices. Your main email address, phone number, credit card number and car number plate don’t change very often. Good luck changing, or disguising, your fingerprint and face recognition data. “Gait recognition” is already being used in China. You can run but you can’t hide. Today, we are past the stage where it’s a technology problem. Only governments can protect our privacy by banning the collection of data and giving us the rights both to prevent its collection without explicit permission, and to delete data that has already been collected. The EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) was a baby step in the right direction. BOWM also mentions Vermont’s data privacy law, the Illinois Biometric Information Protection Act (BIPA) and next year’s California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). We need many more things like this, but I don’t expect we’ll get them in the UK – especially not if we’re outside the EU. In any case, the game looks like moving on from browser-based surveillance to exploiting data from smartphones, smart watches and “Internet of Things” devices, with smart cars and smart roads to come. And rather than just flogging you stuff, the new threats include manipulating behaviour, as Shoshana Zuboff discusses at length in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Browser choices Try the Mozilla Firefox browser if you’d like to try and avoid Google’s Chrome or the open-source Chromium technology it is built on. Google pioneered surveillance capitalism and it still dominates the market. According to Ghostery privacy extension-maker Cliqz, quoted in BOWM, Google collects data on more than 80% of measured web traffic, which is far more than Facebook or anybody else. It’s not enough to avoid Chrome and Google’s web properties because its trackers are on most other popular sites as well. You should therefore install Google’s “opt out” cookie in your browsers and pause data collection in My Activity. There are lots of alternatives to Google Chrome, the main one being Mozilla’s Firefox. It’s the only major browser that is fully open source and not controlled by one of the web giants. It has some privacy features built in, such as tracking protection, and “containers” that can isolate privacy-threatening websites from other tabs. Multi-account containers let you operate two or more Twitter, email, Facebook or other accounts from a single browser. But Firefox aims to provide ordinary users with a good online experience, where websites work as intended. If you take privacy more seriously, you will want to install a few extensions, and Mozilla has some recommendations. Tor, the original anti-surveillance browser, is based on an old, heavily modified version of Firefox. However, it is more complicated to set up, and uses distributed relays to hide your internet address, which makes it rather slow. It’s less suitable for ordinary users. Most other browsers are now, like Chrome, based on Google’s open source Chromium. Once enough web developers started coding for Chrome instead of for open standards, it became arduous and expensive to sustain alternative browser engines. Chromium-based browsers now include Opera, Vivaldi, Brave, the Epic Privacy Browser and next year’s new Microsoft Edge. True to its name, Epic tries to maximise your privacy. It defaults to a sort of private-browsing mode, anonymises searches and clears browsing data when you quit. Epic has removed several Google features that could leak sensitive data including URL checks, URL tracking and error reporting. You will lose some features, such as auto-translation and spell checking. But there are often trade-offs between privacy and convenience, and Epic is still worth a look. I’ve been using the beta version of Chr/Edge and recommend it as your second or third browser, because Microsoft has put a lot of effort into de-Googling the Chromium code. Microsoft may get some personal data in return, but I already use Windows 10, Defender, Outlook, OneDrive and Microsoft Office as a paying customer, not as an unwilling victim. Also, Microsoft’s business is based on selling software and services, not, like Google’s, on surveillance. People who disagree are welcome to use Linux (free) or buy a Mac (expensive), but the US Defense Department and most major corporations are using Windows 10. Extensions and plugins Bennett Cyphers, co-author of BOWM, works on the EFF’s privacy-oriented browser extension, Privacy Badger. It’s a good option for most users. It’s lenient to begin with, but learns as it goes along. People who want something more aggressive can try Ghostery, Redmorph or Disconnect. The last two also work on Android smartphones and Apple iPhones. Ghostery doesn’t block anything by default, but you can set it to block things you don’t like and either whitelist sites or unblock certain services (eg Disqus, in my case) as required. Ghostery’s data sharing “is solely related to tracking technologies” and it’s turned off by default. Also, it’s now open source and owned by a German company, Cliqz, in which Mozilla has invested. Raymond Hill’s uBlock Origin is a general-purpose blocker, and what it blocks depends on the lists installed. EasyPrivacy and the Malware domain lists are among the ones installed by default. If you want to block trackers or analytics systems, as Ghostery does, you will need to add more filter lists. Otherwise, be careful not to confuse uBlock Origin with either uBlock.org or AdBlock. uBlock Origin is efficient, non-commercial, open source, and completely free. HTTPS Everywhere tries to make your browser use an encrypted connection, where websites provide the option. It’s a joint project by the EFF and Tor, and it’s also available for Firefox on Android. It can run into problems with “mixed content” pages where some elements are sent securely (https) while others are sent insecurely (http), but it generally works pretty well. It doesn’t cost anything to try different browsers and different extensions, except a little time. However, bear in mind that, like smartphone apps, extensions can compromise your privacy instead of enhancing it. Always uninstall any you don’t really need. Source
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