How the Big Tech Firms Are Threatening the Liberty of Many Americans
By Robert Steven Ingebo
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the concept of connecting any device to the internet or to another device. Technology has advanced to the point that everything from cellphones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of can be connected. This applies to industrial components as well, like the drill of an oil rig or a jet engine of an airplane.
These connections will increasingly include people, people to things and things to other things.
The logical outcome of this is: “Anything that can be connected, will be connected.” Gartner, an IT analyst firm, says that by 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices.
IoT leads to the automation of consumer features and services that makes life easier for consumers. For example, if you are on your way to a meeting, your car could be connected to your calendar and use its GPS system to give you the best directions. It would know how much traffic there is and, if it is heavy, the car could send a text notifying the others that you will be late. You could have your alarm clock wake you at 6 a.m. and tell your coffee maker to start brewing coffee. Your office equipment would know when it is running low on supplies and automatically re-order more. The wearable device you use in the workplace could monitor when and where you are most active and share that information with other devices you use while working.
Because of recent technological advances, IoT has increased consumer demand for cutting-edge online services and electronics. Consumers are constantly seeking improved hardware, software and online technologies. This has created an expanding worldwide market for the multinational technology companies.
The new technology is also being used to collect information about its users. Smart TVs, Internet-connected home thermostats and smartphones constantly gather information about us and our environment.
From the examples cited, we must acknowledge that this information provides us with valuable, time-saving services. However, these Internet-enabled devices are programmed to automatically share information. This information is used by people who want to sell us things. Smart devices can share our private information with advertisers over back-channels of which we have no knowledge.
One example of the inappropriate use of collected information is a smartphone-controllable erotic massage device called WeVibe. It gathered specific information about how often and when it was used by its customers. All of that collected information was sent back to the manufacturer. When the customers found out what the company was doing, WeVibe agreed to pay out a multi-million-dollar legal settlement.
These back-channels are also serious security weaknesses. For example, Lenovo, a computer manufacturer, sold its computers with a preinstalled program called “Superfish.” The program allowed Lenovo, and other companies it did business with, to insert targeted advertisements into the users’ web search results by hijacking the users’ web browser traffic without their knowledge, including web communications the users thought were securely encrypted, including connections to banks and online stores for financial transactions. This compromised all the users’ bank accounts and retail accounts.
The really scary part of all this is that the tech giants are beginning to apply the same rules to our smart homes, smart televisions in our living rooms and bedrooms, smart toilets and Internet-enabled cars.
The top four S&P multinationals by market value are:
Apple: $828.66 billion;
Google: $639.97 billion;
Microsoft: $573.05 billion; and
Facebook: $499.12 billion.
Let’s examine the current business models of these tech companies to understand how they share our personal information.
Apple’s business is selling hardware like cell phones and tablets. It loads up its software with easy-to-use features to attract consumers who will buy into Apple’s hardware ecosystem. It also makes development tools for software developers so the developers can make apps that will attract customers.
Google’s model is to collect information about you when you use its services such as Gmail, Android and Google Drive in order to make its ad network the best in the world.
Although it may seem it wants to gather as much data as possible, Google’s actually the best when it comes to security and letting users decide what data gets collected. This is because if users don’t trust Google with their data, and the ads aren’t relevant to the users, Google would get a much lower number of responses to ads, causing its ad revenue to decline. Google’s services and the Android and Chrome OS systems are built around keeping users online.
Microsoft has a virtual monopoly on licensing its operating system to PC manufacturers such as HP, Dell, Gateway, etc. Microsoft also has a lucrative software business called “Office.”
Microsoft’s policy on sharing personal information is: “We share your personal data with your consent or as necessary to complete any transaction or provide any service you have requested or authorized. We also share data with Microsoft-controlled affiliates and subsidiaries; with vendors working on our behalf; when required by law or to respond to legal process; to protect our customers; to protect lives; to maintain the security of our services; and to protect the rights or property of Microsoft.”
Even though these companies have different business models, they all collect personal information such as name, telephone number, credit card number and email address for use in their online and physical storefronts. Additionally, Apple, Google and Microsoft know what address you sent your email to if you email someone from your Gmail or Outlook account. All the companies protect your information by limiting access to it and by providing physical security measures to their server facilities.
If you use a cell phone, these three companies always know your exact location using a combination of your phone’s GPS, triangulating your location with cellular towers, and the location of any Wi-Fi or Bluetooth devices you are connected to.
Even though smartphone OS’s allow you to turn off the GPS and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth location finders, your location is still registered with your cellular provider by triangulation.
The multinationals’ knowledge of your location and the email addresses of your contacts can be seen as an invasion of privacy of any user of these services. However, these big companies are telling us that it’s for our own good. If you dial 911 and the call gets cut off, emergency services have a rough estimate of your location.
Also, all three companies say they need to know your exact location when providing you navigation instructions. For example, if you use apps to look for restaurants, the services need to know your location in order to provide relevant recommendations. They also record what restaurant you end up going to in order to provide better recommendations in the future.
Finally, the “Find My Phone” feature requires you to have the finer detail location settings on so your cell phone manufacturer can find the exact location of your device if you lose it.
Facebook is the world’s most favorite social media network. Facebook lets you to connect to your friends, family and others at every platform source of the parent company.
In August 2011, Facebook launched Messenger as a mobile messaging app so users can send private messages and stickers, chat with groups, and make free calls, even to people in other countries.
Facebook doesn’t earn money by selling user data like Twitter. The primary source of revenue for Facebook is advertisements, which involves the use of user data for targeting. User-targeted advertisements have been a primary source of revenue for Facebook. The Facebook business model was designed to generate revenue primarily from its unique ability to provide targeted advertisements.
Facebook gathers immense amounts of user data. With over a billion daily active users, Facebook does the work of data collection and uses it to help marketers reach their target group easily and economically.
The top four multinational tech companies are threatening our liberty in three ways:
Through loss of free speech, ownership of property and right to privacy.
The most recent development in this growing lust for power by the big multinationals is their enforcement of political correctness. Political correctness is the enemy of free speech.
James Damore has confirmed to multiple news outlets that Google dismissed him for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.”
Here’s a statement made by a former employee of Microsoft: “Diversity is getting less, replaced by politics or political correctness.”
Daniel M. Ladik, an associate professor of Marketing at Seton Hall University, said about Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, “For the past year Cook has been weeding out people with disagreeable personalities — people Jobs tolerated and even held close… But Cook wants a culture of harmony.”
Facebook says a “spam detection” glitch is to blame for shutting down dozens of popular Catholic websites without explanation. Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey wrote, “Had only one or two pages gotten suspended, it might be easier to chalk it up as a technical issue combined with coincidence. The number of pages impacted, plus their significant readership and the common topic of Catholicism, seems to suggest a more purposeful action, either inside or outside Facebook.”
OWNERSHIP OF PROPERTY:
In their quest for ever greater power and control over consumers, these big tech and manufacturing companies are destroying the concept of property ownership.
The reason we don’t control our devices is that the companies that make them think that they still own them, even after we’ve bought them. Although a consumer may purchase a smartphone, the manufacturer will say that the customer is only buying a license to use the smartphone’s software. The companies all say they own the software after purchase, and because they own it, they have the power to control it. For example, John Deere told farmers that they don’t own their tractors but just license the software, therefore they can’t fix their own farm equipment or even take it to an independent repair shop.
RIGHT TO PRIVACY:
The right to privacy refers to the concept that one’s personal information is protected from public scrutiny. U.S. Justice Louis Brandeis called it “the right to be left alone.” While not explicitly stated in the U.S. Constitution, some amendments provide some protections (see the 4th Amendment).
The right to privacy often must be balanced against the state’s compelling interests, including the promotion of public safety and improving the quality of life.
Many Americans believe that these companies have gone too far with the sensitive and personal nature of the data they have access to. Because our personal information is often released through back-channels, there is no way of knowing which individuals and companies have access to it.
As of June 2017, 51% of the world’s population was connected to the Internet. Unfortunately for the 51%, now that their personal information is out there, they can’t erase it. Eighty-six percent of Internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints, but many say they would like to do more or are unaware of tools they could use.
This article was written by Robert Steven Ingebo, president of FRI Corporation.