Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Big Business Is Watching You


Remember 1984? Not the year, the book. Remember its famous phrase: “big brother is watching you”? Well, Big Brother—let’s call it government—is indeed watching you, but not as much as Big Business. The Internet is how Big Business watches you.

Simply put, Big Businesses know more about you than you do about them. Not only do they know more, you have no idea what they know—or how they know it. In Who Owns The Future? Jaron Lanier calls this “information asymmetry.”

Some people think of the Internet as a two-way street. Some even think they have an advantage because download speeds (to you) are many times faster than upload speeds (to them). True, but irrelevant. Instead, measure your information vulnerabilities.

Look at the connection in terms of computing power. At one end is your device: smart phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. At the other end are giants like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft—and all their attendant computing power. See the asymmetry now?

While you browse and shop at some Big Business on the Internet, they can be looking at everything you look at—even how long you look. They know all your past choices and can probably predict what you’ll do next.

That’s what they can see at their end. While you’re connected, they can also see things at your end: other sites open on your browser, other programs connected to the Internet, even other programs on your computer. Not to mention your hardware.

Now think about this: if Big Business knows so much about every customer, how do you know the price you see is the same price others see? Where is it written they must sell to everyone at the same price? There’s a dirty word for this: profiling.

The fear in 1984 came from television sets watching the viewers. Farfetched, but that was old technology. Take a look at the camera on your device. How do you know it’s not watching you right now?

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