Those in marketing have this quaint memory of Apple and its overthrow of those who enforce “information purification directives” in a stifling “garden of pure ideology” (the words spoken by the image of Big Brother on a giant screen).
If it was revolution, it was the triumph of the little guy over big intimidating folks such as IBM, not government.
But what does Big Brother look like today? What would George Orwell have railed about if he wrote about it now?
Few have heard about a program dubbed Einstein –essentially a government surveillance program. Details are understandably sketchy. It was set up for network security of government properties, but aslso to conduct surveillance, to look for the bad guys. Einstein came to be in 2009 as an early warning system, and was described this way:
Developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Einstein software provides real-time monitoring and analysis of Internet traffic flowing in and out of federal agency networks.
But then, with the ability to monitor social networking, it gets more complicated. It is one close hop from monitoring who’s clicking on links and from where they are arriving on, say a Federal web site, to doing real-time surveillance of those people via their social networks. It’s also so easy to do. Easy to eavesdrop on a Skype call, or drop in on a Facebook user and check on the frequency of exchanges with a particular person, and do some data-mining based on that user’s friends, photos, interests…
Sounds like the cloak and dagger stuff in the movies? Think again. Two years ago, the Boston Globe reported on social media savvy undercover cops, and in another case, AT&T was sued for helping the government intercept phone calls. Today Facebook is being drawn into this debate about how much we should share, and what it “knows” about us, with one researcher alleging that it could track you even if you have logged out of Facebook.
Somehow I am not shocked, or worried about this. That’s the Faustian bargain we make when we use these services, many of which come at no cost to us. I’ve made the case before that the disease of over-sharing, and our need to communicate with our friends-of-friends-of-friends every moment and minutae of our lives invites this.
We could of course turn these off, or do something else: provide information that would confuse the heck out of anyone watching over our keystrokes. There’s a line in the 1984 commercial that shows us how, and how we could talk them “bury them with their own confusion.”
Go ahead, poke Big Brother in his eye!