Safety

The Surveillance Threat Is Not What Orwell Imagined

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Shoshana Zuboff • June 7, 2019

George Orwell repeatedly delayed crucial medical care to complete 1984, the book still synonymous with our worst fears of a totalitarian future — published 70 years ago this month. Half a year after his novelʼs debut, he was dead. Because he believed everything was at stake, he forfeited everything, including a young son, a devoted sister, a wife of three months and a grateful public that canonized his prescient and pressing novel. But today we are haunted by a question: Did George Orwell die in vain?

Orwell sought to awaken British and U.S. societies to the totalitarian dangers that threatened democracy even after the Nazi defeat. In letters before and after his novelʼs completion, Orwell urged “constant criticism,” warning that any “immunity” to totalitarianism must not be taken for granted: “Totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.”

Since 1984ʼs publication, we have assumed with Orwell that the dangers of mass surveillance and social control could only originate in the state. We were wrong. This error has left us unprotected from an equally pernicious but profoundly different threat to freedom and democracy.

For 19 years, private companies practicing an unprecedented economic logic that I call surveillance capitalism have hijacked the Internet and its digital technologies. Invented at Google beginning in 2000, this new economics covertly claims private human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data. Some data are used to improve services, but the rest are turned into computational products that predict your behavior. These predictions are traded in a new futures market, where surveillance capitalists sell certainty to businesses determined to know what we will do next. This logic was first applied to finding which ads online will attract our interest, but similar practices now reside in nearly every sector — insurance, retail, health, education, finance and more — where personal experience is secretly captured and computed for behavioral predictions. By now it is no exaggeration to say that the Internet is owned and operated by private surveillance capital.

In the competition for certainty, surveillance capitalists learned that the most predictive data come not just from monitoring but also from modifying and directing behavior. For example, by 2013, Facebook had learned how to engineer subliminal cues on its pages to shape usersʼ real-world actions and feelings. Later, these methods were combined with real-time emotional analyses, allowing marketers to cue behavior at the moment of maximum vulnerability. These inventions were celebrated for being both effective and undetectable. Cambridge Analytica later demonstrated that the same methods could be employed to shape political rather than commercial behavior.

Augmented reality game Pokémon Go, developed at Google and released in 2016 by a Google spinoff, took the challenge of mass behavioral modification to a new level. Business customers from McDonalds to Starbucks paid for “footfall” to their establishments on a “cost per visit” basis, just as online advertisers pay for “cost per click.” The game engineers learned how to herd people through their towns and cities to destinations that contribute profits, all of it without game playersʼ knowledge.

Democracy slept while surveillance capitalism flourished. As a result, surveillance capitalists now wield a uniquely 21st century quality of power, as unprecedented as totalitarianism was nearly a century ago. I call it instrumentarian power, because it works its will through the ubiquitous architecture of digital instrumentation. Rather than an intimate Big Brother that uses murder and terror to possess each soul from the inside out, these digital networks are a Big Other: impersonal systems trained to monitor and shape our actions remotely, unimpeded by law.

Instrumentarian power delivers our futures to surveillance capitalismʼs interests, yet because this new power does not claim our bodies through violence and fear, we undervalue its effects and lower our guard. Instrumentarian power does not want to break us; it simply wants to automate us. To this end, it exiles us from our own behavior. It does not care what we think, feel or do, as long as we think, feel and do things in ways that are accessible to Big Otherʼs billions of sensate, computational, actuating eyes and ears.

Instrumentarian power challenges democracy. Big Other knows everything, while its operations remain hidden, eliminating our right to resist. This undermines human autonomy and self- determination, without which democracy cannot survive. Instrumentarian power creates unprecedented asymmetries of knowledge, once associated with pre- modern times. Big Otherʼs knowledge is about us, but it is not used for us. Big Other knows everything about us, while we know almost nothing about it. This imbalance of power is not illegal, because we do not yet have laws to control it, but it is fundamentally anti-democratic.

Surveillance capitalists claim that their methods are inevitable consequences of digital technologies. This is false. Itʼs easy to imagine the digital future without surveillance capitalism, but impossible to imagine surveillance capitalism without digital technologies.

Seven decades later, we can honor Orwellʼs death by refusing to cede the digital future. Orwell despised “the instinct to bow down before the conqueror of the moment.” Courage, he insisted, demands that we assert our moral bearings, even against forces that appear invincible. Like Orwell, think critically and criticize. Do not take freedom for granted. Fight for the one idea in the long human story that asserts the peopleʼs right to rule themselves. Orwell reckoned it was worth dying for.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editor

Have you ever wanted to step off the world?

On the 8th December 2015 at 15:50 when I received a call from Clair, my darling wife, I certainly wanted to step off the world.

Luke, my 14-year old stepson, ran away from school apparently very upset, he ran for over a mile and jumped 40 feet of a structure to hit the ground with force to try and commit suicide. I will deal with the ’why’ later.

In case you're wondering, he is alive, but...

He has multiple injuries and has been in several hospitals every since, indeed so has Clair, nurturing, supporting and encouraging him back to life.

His injury list makes painful reading, multiple skull fractures, brain injury, eye socket fracture, multiple fractures in one elbow, punctured lung, pelvis fractures, spinal injury, nerve damage to his bladder (causing him to be currently incontinent), broken ankle, crushed heel. He's had major surgery to his pelvis and spine and to his elbow.

Needless to say he's receiving some counselling for his state of mind as well.

This is going to be a very very long journey and currently this is without doubt THE biggest mission Clair, Luke and I are facing so far during our lives.

We’d like to think that our thought process is different compared to most and indeed we have learnt a lot from many thought leaders over the years, which will help us to get through this very challenging episode of our lives. However nothing can prepare you for something like this, not even the most enlightened and trained. It certainly has knocked my positive mindset for six. I’m sure it will be back, but it will be a while that’s for sure.

We believe ’Intention’ is hugely powerful, we use it in our lives every single day and now more than ever in our lives we are asking everyone we know to hold an intention for Luke’s healing and recovery. The ’Intention’ is shown in the image below. If you are interested in joining us with this ’Intention’, we would of course be delighted.

We know that already in a very short period of time our ’Intention’ has resulted in a positive change in Luke’s condition. I wrote and circulated the ’Intention’ within hours of Luke's accident. Luke was placed into sedation to assist his pain and also prevent any brain damage, as he did have some bleeding on the brain. When after a few days they brought him out of sedation and then when he could communicate slightly, he was able to know who he was, how old he is, who his family members are and all their birth dates. The consultant doctors thought this kind of a recovery of his brain injury was nothing short of miraculous (their words). 

I first learnt about intention setting during the summer of 2006, where I participated in the first ever group ‘Intention Experiment’ hosted by Lynne McTaggart in London with very interesting and successful results. Lynne is the author of The Field, The Intention Experiment, What Doctors Don’t Tell You and The Bond. You can check out her website and learn more about her.  She certainly has done some fascinating research.

I won’t even try to explain how intention setting works, because I have no idea, except that I have read studies and witnessed many of my own personal examples. You can probably divide the world into 3 camps, the scientific, the religious and the spiritual (non-religious). And there are some that hover somewhere in-between. I completely acknowledge the fact that some of you will say that 'Intention’ is just ‘prayer’ and at some level I do agree with that too.

Anyway for now you have to decide whether you believe or not.

Apart from creating some images with the intention words, I have also asked Lynne McTaggart if she could share the intention with her audience. She has very kindly agreed to send an email blast to her database asking them to take part. This will have potentially hundreds and maybe even thousands of people who are going to be taking part. Here is the link to the email that went out on the 8th January for a global multiple intention on 10th January.

I have also created a meditation audio track, which you can listen to on Mixcloud or YouTube. The embedded tracks are below.


I promised to share with you why Luke decided to commit suicide.

Truthfully we will never really know, except to say that he had planned it and had even written a suicide letter, which he handed to his ex-girlfriend, who he had only 48 hours previously broken up with. This was Luke’s first ever proper girlfriend at the very young age of 14 years. Luke is a very balanced young man and committed to his word. We believe that he had to follow through with it because he had committed himself in writing. He has managed to briefly speak to Clair about it at times when he has wanted to. The good news is that he does want to get better and fit again.

Back in 2014, I wrote an article about suicide to highlight the dangers of those thoughts in young people. Far more needs to be done to help younger people have a better understanding about their emotions in early relationships and that they need to talk about their feelings. Easier said than done.

Thank you for reading and thank you so much if you are deciding to take part. I will of course post an update on Luke’s progress in the coming weeks and months.

Much love and gratitude ❤️

Does LinkedIn's Privacy Abuse Protection Work?

To be fair, I don't receive a huge amount of spam or abuse on LinkedIn, so I believe that their security systems are sound. Except for this one guy in Ghana, who keeps inviting me to connect. He has around 5 profiles on LinkedIn. His name is Sherif Akande. Go on look him up on search, but probably best not to click through to his profile, just in case he notices that you've looked at him and starts inviting you too!

I’ve reported this fellow now several times to LinkedIn support and their trust and safety department ensure me they are dealing with it. So why does this person still have several profiles on LinkedIn and why does he manage to find me again and again and keeps inviting me?

For me there is something not quite right if someone can do this multiple times. I've blocked every profile of this guy that has sent invites to me, but it doesn't seem to be working, because he just creates another profile and sends another invite. LinkedIn tell me I can't block member profiles unless I'm connected to them. Actually that's not true. You can block them, because I have and when use the URL to look them up I can't find them. So even their support haven't got the correct knowledge about blocking members, which is a bit concerning really.

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So what's wrong Jeff Weiner? Why can't your team solve this?

Small kinks like this makes you nervous about your own privacy on these social networks. If someone in Ghana can keep getting away with this abuse, what else can they do?

Sure I could completely hide my profile, but that completely defeats the objective of being on LinkedIn. So why do their support team then suggest this to me, by sending me their help pages instructing me to follow those to secure my privacy. By blocking myself in this way, I might as well come off LinkedIn, as it won't be worth being on there.

I'm not giving up though and I will keep pushing their support teams to highlight this with their development teams and look to solve this.

You can see the thread of my communication with their support team in the slideshare below. I'm far from happy with their standard template response. It really does make you feel like, well, you're not really that important to us, so we will send you out template responses, because it will allow us to close your ticket as soon as possible.

LinkedIn support desk is probably the worst I've experienced recently for these standard template responses. Much room for improvement needed Jeff Weiner.

This is the last response I received from LinkedIn on the matter. In my view they have completely misunderstood the issue, suggesting that I should be more careful who I connect to. A very strange and bizarre situation.

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Do You Have Suicidal Thoughts?

Most of you who are reading this are no longer teenagers. But do you remember having suicidal thoughts when you were? It’s being reported regularly that teenagers these days are very prone to having suicidal thoughts and there may be no logical explanation for it. However it appears to be contagious.

Research showed that 32 per cent of young Britons have had suicidal thoughts, while a similar proportion (29 per cent) of young adults deliberately harmed themselves as teenagers. And more than one in 10 (12 per cent) felt a failure almost every day when they were under 16. http://styin.me/1ewlGuB

- flickr | Ktoine

I read some teenagers twitter feeds (no I wasn't stalking) I was intrigued and yes I was spying on my stepson’s feed because he was saying stupid things and he thought it was private!

But one feed lead to another and I could see a pattern of comments for example; ’I wish I was dead’ and ’I'm so close to taking as much pills as I can right now’ and ’Guys, don't any of you ever kill yourselves. If you are ever feeling suicidal just dm me, you can trust me, and I will try to help you <3 xx’.

At home we even had to call the police, because someone said on twitter that they had actually swallowed a load of tablets. When we also reported this to the head teacher at the school of this youngster, she confirmed that the instances of these are on the rise.

So why are youngsters having these thoughts and why are they sharing these openly with not just their followers, but if they realised, with the whole world!

Is it just attention seeking or is something fundamentally wrong with society, education, parents, nutrition (sugar overdose), lack of exercise, social media, television, gaming, greed, government or something else?

I know teenage years are about self-expression and finding your place in the world around you and yet for some reason they appear to be obsessed with wanting to end it all?

How do parents and teachers deal with this heightened threat of suicidal thinking in kids? Surely this must be playing out in their minds all the time and putting them in a place of fear themselves?

Do teenagers even realise what they are doing with this behaviour? Do they realise this behaviour increases further stress on their parents, who are already under pressure having to deal with a world of expectation, financial worries and keeping their kids happy.

Does one tell them to stop behaving so stupidly or do we take them to counselling? Is it just a phase of hormone development or are there serious underlying issues?

I can't help thinking that when they finally want to find a job their social feeds will be explored by employers (it's not illegal yet), who will find all sorts of silly communication on there and thereby making up their mind about whether to give them that job or not. And unfortunately teenagers don't see that as a potential threat at all!

- flickr | ohmann alianne

If we want our kids to be successful no matter what their background, then we seriously need to tackle this epidemic of suicidal thoughts in young people.

Should this become part of the curriculum at schools, should teachers openly discuss this with students and get them to open up and discuss these feelings in group sessions? Should we encourage their friends to speak up about those that are openly declaring these thoughts?

I haven't got the answers but one thing’s for sure something needs to be done.

What are your thoughts? And if you have youngsters go and talk to them and find out what's going on in their heads, that is if they'll tell you!

Success

Do You Drive a Car?

Share_the_Road_Sign21552I do and I'm also a cyclist and a Dutchman. I grew up in a cycling nation, where the bicycle has priority over cars and cars respect the cyclist. In The Netherlands most cyclists don't even wear helmets, because they know that the risk of an accident is very low and the car driver would more than likely get prosecuted if they knocked someone off a bike. I've lived in the UK for 36 years and the cyclist is still treated like a bl..dy nuisance on the road. Car drivers treat us cyclists like we shouldn't even be on the road.

I won't generalise but most car drivers speed, yes indeed, most break the law and drive way over the speed limit. Do I? I did in the past, so I'm not one to judge, but I don't anymore, it saves fuel, it's safer and you don't get there any faster, FACT.

So if you take disrespect for cyclists add some speeding to the mix, you've got a recipe for death and disaster.

I like to cycle whenever the weather is fine and dry. I don't live in the middle of the countryside but I'm also not in the city. I live and cycle near a few towns and yes the traffic at times can be heavy, although actually most of the time it's fairly quiet, but that's part of the problem. Car drivers also believe they are invincible and that mostly there are no cars coming the other way...wrong!

And...car drivers see me as a massive nuisance on the road and for some bizarre reason decide to speed past me. Whether these are small cars, 4W drive cars, people carriers, taxis, trucks, vans, ambulance, fire brigade, police, basically everyone does it.

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I am convinced that those drivers have never been a cyclist as they would know what it felt like to be out in the elements, very often with strong winds in this country and to have vehicles speeding past you, you do feel very vulnerable and very much in danger. I know keen cyclists who have given up on cycling and sold their bike, because they are in fear of the British roads.

And when they pass at high speed they have no regard as to what might be coming the other way. I witnessed 5 near miss head-on collisions in just 3 cycle trips. And I see at least 1 on most trips. They are in such a hurry to get past me that they take risks and have no regard for oncoming traffic and pass even though there might be blind spots.

At least on every journey, people pull out in front of me, cut me up and speed past me so close that their wing mirrors nearly clip my handle bar.

These drivers may have their own children and I wonder how they would feel if they knew, when their kids were out on their bikes, that cars behave in this way?!

They would soon change their own attitude towards cyclists.

So if you are reading this and you can look in the mirror and identify with the fact that you are one of these drivers who has no patience for cyclists, now is the time to change your attitude.

I see many drivers who slow down to a snail’s pace for horse and rider, but I virtually witness nobody doing the same for a human cyclist.

I've just been to Amsterdam for a short holiday and OK it's my home city, so I will be biased. The inner city is almost completely void of cars now. It's a joy to be seeing how cyclists are given priority and are treated with respect, something I feel probably won't happen in the UK EVER!

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Some great comments and discussions started as a result of this article, please read them below in a special storify slideshow.