Big Tech Surveillance Could Damage Democracy
As long as these tech companies remain unregulated, there is a direct threat to US democracy.
The more tech companies know about their users, the more effectively they can direct them to goods and services that they are likely to buy. The more companies know about their users, the more competitive they are in the market.
Custom-tailored capitalism is what has made Google, Facebook, Amazon and others the richest companies in the world. This profit incentive has turned big tech into a competitive field of mass intelligence gathering. The better and more comprehensive the data, the higher profits will be.
While it is not presently a direct threat to US democracy, I worry that the potential for future abuses exists so long as big tech remains largely unregulated.
Big Tech’s Spy Machines
This is not Facebook’s first privacy PR nightmare. In 2018, data firm Cambridge Analytica used a Facebook app to collect people, which was later used to distribute targeted political advertising during elections.
Facebook is not alone in the data collection boom. This May, it was revealed that to obtain location data, pictures and email addresses without users’ consent. goes into great detail of the practices of what she calls “surveillance capitalism.” Zuboff writes, “Once we searched Google. Now, Google searches us.”
The practice goes beyond someone’s taste in music or what they purchase on Amazon. Apps created to help people through mental illness or quit smoking . These users could be potential targets for social stigmatization or targeted advertising that rather than solving them.
In December, The New York Times on what one can learn about someone using their collated data from apps and smartphones. By blending location tracking with other online behavior, researchers were able to put together a detailed portrait of the most intimate details of users’ lives, such as where their children go to school or who was cheating on their diet. They could even tell which area of a nuclear power plant an individual worked in – information that is typically classified.
For The Worst-Case Scenarios, Look Abroad
Big tech is a highly unregulated sector of the economy. Existing regulations have struggled to keep up with a rapidly innovating tech sector. In some scenarios, big tech’s capabilities are being used by dictators to craft a dystopian digital reality.
Autocratic governments around the world have already begun to use emerging technology to violate human rights. . China integrates AI, biometric data and online activity to track and monitor dissidents and members of ethnic minority communities, who are then .
From the ways Russia uses these platforms to threaten democracy, I am familiar with the worst-case scenarios of big tech’s capabilities. Because platforms’ success is predicated on making information go viral, the most successful content can also be some of the most divisive. Russia believes that by disseminating about the most inflammatory areas of American politics, it can sow chaos in the system. Big tech is the perfect port of entry for such campaigns.
If a monopolistic tech company decided to fully embrace its capacity to spy on its users and leverage that data to a personal or political end, the . Americans got a taste of what an influence attack looks like during the 2016 US presidential election. So long as big tech remains largely unregulated, future influence attacks on American elections will become only more potent.
Big Tech Isn’t Going Anywhere
A surface-level solution to this privacy dilemma would be for people to decouple their online lives from these companies.
While there are many different companies in question, they all hold over their corner of the market. Amazon dominates online shopping. Facebook dominates interacting with friends and causes. Google dominates web browsing.
Individuals are thus faced with a choice: Radically change their lifestyle and how they interact with the world, or continue to be the target of big tech’s spy machines.
Oversight and regulation may seem dramatic and anti-growth at the moment, but I believe that it is a necessary check on big tech – before the worst of its potentials come true.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.)
(Published in an arrangement with The Conversation)
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