Our civilization has entered the digital age. The technological realm has become pervasive, and we can hardly escape it in our daily interactions. But can we trust those steering the ship? As each day brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception, we need to be more aware than ever. With today’s hasty technological development, few people stop to examine how these changes will affect our privacy, liberty, or our ability to control our own lives. Each week, Liberty Nation’s You’re Never Alone will catch you up on the facts you need to know.
This installment features the latest updates on 5G evolution, a Google privacy invasion, and the way your worldview can be shaped by spying politicos.
Feel the Gs
Last week, we looked at the congressional push to roll out 5G technology across the U.S. as hastily as possible, an agenda which just received a boost from the commander-in-chief. President Trump made it clear on Twitter that he is not only behind 5G, but that he even wants 6G! Not that anybody knows what 6G might actually be. Only a few days after Vice President Mike Pence told European nations to “be vigilant” over possible security threats posed by China’s Huawei network, Trump tweeted that he wanted U.S. technology to beat out alternatives based on merit and not by “blocking” competitors:
I want 5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible. It is far more powerful, faster, and smarter than the current standard. American companies must step up their efforts, or get left behind. There is no reason that we should be lagging behind on something that is so obviously the future. I want the United States to win through competition, not by blocking out currently more advanced technologies. We must always be the leader in everything we do, especially when it comes to the very exciting world of technology!
While security, the economy, and the locations of network coverage continue to dominate the 5G conversation, it must be reiterated that little attention has been paid to the lack of research regarding the effects this technology may have on public health. Dr. Martin Pall, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Basic Medical Sciences at Washington State University, has called the untested rollout “mass insanity” due to the absence of biological testing. In a 2018 report, the scientist suggested possible consequences to both the human body and the environment. “Putting in tens of millions of 5G antennae without a single biological test of safety has got to be about the stupidest idea anyone has had in the history of the world.”
“Never Intended to be a Secret”
Google has once again courted controversy by invading the privacy of its customers. By now, it is fairly clear that home assistant devices like Amazon Echo’s Alexa and Google Home are listening to you at all times; that is how they detect the voice activated “wake words” that are supposed to activate them. Google recently revealed that one of its other devices was capable of listening to the noises in your house – even though the company didn’t alert anyone that it contained listening equipment. The Nest Secure home alarm system, which launched in September 2017, comprises a series of motion sensors placed around the home plus a box used to manage the network – and, apparently, microphones. The company recently announced it was upgrading the equipment to enable a voice “helper” program, inadvertently revealing that it contained a microphone, although none was listed on the product specifications. “The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs. That was an error on our part,” claimed a Google spokesperson.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit that deals with digital privacy issues, responded on Twitter: “No product should ever come with a secret microphone, regardless of whether or not it’s enabled. That’s just bad security design, @nest.”
“It is hard to believe Google cares about people’s privacy after selling a security product with a secret microphone in it,” said Silkie Carlo, director of the U.K. group, Big Brother Watch. “This appears to be deceptive rather than a ‘mistake’ … Google should be held to account for wrongly advertising this product.”
According to Google, the microphones were not previously switched on, and still require users to enable them.
Individually Targeted Political Campaigns
Since the whole “Russiagate” controversy gained traction, we’ve been told that “Russian bots” could be interfering in practically every election and political event that has taken place. But what if these meddling bots aren’t targeting your online political activity as much as, well, politicians? Tony Evers (D), who took up the mantle as governor of Wisconsin in January, spent his campaign collecting data and using it to push political ads. According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, Evers’ team used an “electronic fence” to capture the phone data (including unique device ID numbers) of guests in attendance at a state Democratic Party meeting. This data was used to “follow the devices home,” where the team could gather more information from other technology the phones connected to, including laptops, computers etc. They then used the personal information obtained to create profiles and “micro-target” campaign ads based on individual preferences.
Evers is by no means the only political actor to gather personal data in order to target campaign ads. “If I want all the devices that were at a hearing at City Hall three months ago, I can do that,” Rory McShane, a GOP consultant, told the LA Times. “Then I can target them with ads.” He added, “If we are sending out a piece of fundraising mail, we will fence the homes where it is being sent for an entire week before.”
During the 2016 elections, smart-televisions were used to collect user information, which was then sold to campaigns that could design targeted ads according to a household’s viewing habits – what will 2020 hold? Political pressure or lobby groups are also able to buy this information to target individuals; an anti-abortion group built digital “fences” to track people who had visited abortion clinics and target them with ads to persuade them not to terminate their pregnancies. The organization was legally forced to stop the practice in 2017, but what other lobbyists could be manipulating unsuspecting members of the public with similar methods?
A team of computer scientists at UC Berkeley attempted to discover which political campaigns or lobby groups are buying personal data, but without success.
The word “smart” has such good connotations, it’s hard to resist – anything smart must be sure to help us in our daily struggles to get through life unscathed, but it seems that any household object with that word in its name has spying capabilities as well. If it’s smart enough to make your life more convenient, it’s also smart enough to track your choices and pass that information on for further use. Some may feel the trade-off is worth it, some that their devices are too valuable in their daily lives, while others remain convinced that they are not so easily manipulated. Each individual is responsible for finding the balance with which they are comfortable – but one piece of advice is simply to consider carefully every piece of “smart” technology you bring into your home.
That’s all for this week from You’re Not Alone. Check back in next Monday to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.