Big Brother Is in High Gear

bigbroSocial media and smart phones don’t have to be evil – there’s nothing bad about talking to your friends, after all – but right now social media and “Big Brother in your pocket” phones are very clearly servicing evil. It wouldn’t be hard to build non-evil alternatives, but for the moment, the evil versions enjoy a monopoly. (At least with search engines, there are non-evil alternatives.)

However we choose to look at it, Big Brother is on the greatest roll in all of history. No Pharaoh, no Caesar, no commissar ever had anything approaching the surveillance and manipulation capacities of modern rulers. And in support of it all stand Jane and Joe Average, ever-compliant, who simply don’t want to know. Give them the slightest excuse to close their eyes, and they will.

This kind of thing doesn’t often end well.

Two Recent Outrages

Not that many people will actually be outraged, of course; there won’t be a great deal of that so long as ignorance remains possible. Joe and Jane have already forgotten about Snowden, after all. Still, I will continue to do my part.

One of the hundreds of US government offices, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), recently announced that they developed a system to predict the psychological status of smartphone users. They’re in the process of farming this out to businesses now.

This system tracks your location, tracks your psychological state, and when necessary, will “deliver an automated intervention.” In the NIH’s typical gov-speak, it sounds like this:

Continuously collected ambulatory psychological data are fused with data on location and responses to questions. The mobile data are combined with geospatial risk maps to quantify exposure to risk and predict a future psychological state. The future predictions are used to warn the user when he or she is at especially high risk of experiencing a negative event that might lead to an unwanted outcome…

This is all couched as “help for drug addicts,” of course. (Is “do it for the children” already out of the rotation?) No thinking person, of course, believes that this system will be used only “for good” and by beneficent angelic beings. And if not, then how shall it be used?

The second recent outrage was a long list of manipulations that were cataloged by The Washington Post. They make it very clear that the US government is actively manipulating its populace. Their list is only a small fraction of the whole, of course, but I was grateful to see it.

And from the Glorious United Nations…

Yes, the shining white knights at the UN are chiming in with their new plans to protect us from all evil.

As Mike Krieger reports, the UN (to protect women from harassment, of course),

proposes both that social networks proactively police every profile and post, and that government agencies only ‘license’ those who agree to do so.

So, if you wish to run any kind of “social” network (do comment boards count?), you’d have to be licensed. And if not, you’ll be a law-breaker. Granted, the UN pushes out destructive ideas all the time, and many are never implemented but some of them are. And this isn’t the first idea like this I’ve seen.

From Here, It Gets Ugly

A few months ago, I devoted an entire issue of my subscription newsletter (#59) to the subject of what’s coming next from the Big Brother crew, and it’s not comforting.

Do you remember old episodes of Star Trek where a civilization became controlled by computers and eventually no one moved without the system moving them? Well, that’s where Big Brother is headed, and their new Big Data systems are capable of reaching that kind of result.

Yes, I know it sounds farfetched. So did the lectures I was giving in 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, and even earlier. And then came Snowden, and it didn’t sound so farfetched anymore.

My job is to deliver information. What you do with it is up to you. Still, to provide some backup, here’s a reminder of the infamous Facebook experiment that came and went from the newsfeed in early 2012:

Facebook ran a troubling set of experiments on 689,000 of its users, to determine if they could tweak their news feeds and purposely change their users’ emotions. And it turned out that they could… and that those emotions spread to their friends.

What they’ve been doing along these lines since then, we don’t know. We learned about this experiment more or less by accident.


And so, I’ll close here. I feel I have discharged my duties. Make of it what you will.

Paul Rosenberg