If You’re Not the Customer, You’re the Product

A bunch of hangers with men's greyshirts

We had the chance to speak with security and privacy expert Bruce Schneier on mass surveillance and the hidden battles happening behind the scenes to collect our data  …  all kinds of data!

Does anybody actually care?!

Wasting no time, Bruce jump started the conversation reminding us all that everything we do that involves a computer, creates a transactional record of what we did.  And I do mean ‘everything’ . Browsing the Internet, carrying a cellphone, making a purchase, using any IoT sensor, or passing a security camera creates data about us. Any socializing we do online – phone calls, emails, text messages, online chats, creates data about us.

A lot of this data that’s being produced and stored is called metadata, basically it’s data about the data. Bruce’s explanation really put it into context for me: I make a cellphone call – the data would be the conversation that we’re having and the metadata would be my cell number, your cell number, the date, time, duration, and location of our call.

Following is a teaser of part one of our thought provoking discussion on:

The Business of Surveillance

In many contexts, metadata is actually much more important than conversation data. Metadata tracks our relationships and associations, it captures what we’re interested in, what’s important to us – metadata reveals who we are. As Bruce so vividly pointed out, we’re living under constant surveillance and this surveillance is incidental. It’s a side effect of using all those computerized services that we have become so dependent on. It’s covert.

When we browse the internet, we don’t see the dozens of companies silently tracking us. It’s not like there are 12 people behind us looking over our shoulder. We don’t see the cookies. We don’t see most of the security cameras. It’s hard to avoid them because we have to use things like a credit card, we have to have an email address. Sure we can choose to not have a GMail account if we don’t want Google to store all of our emails but Google would still get our email because while we don’t use GMail somebody else that we know does. It’s what Bruce called ubiquitous surveillance. What makes ubiquitous surveillance different – why should we care? Here’s a great example. It’s not follow that car- it’s follow every car. And when you can follow every car, there are things you can now do that you couldn’t have done otherwise.

What was most interesting to me is that, this data, is also collected and used by corporations of all sizes. There are corporate systems built to basically spy on us in exchange for our services. How and why did this come about? Blame it on the Internet. With no obvious way for companies to charge for the many things on the Internet and people expecting the Internet to be free, advertising as a business model was all that remained. All this data web sites collect on us is sliced and diced by agencies into small targeted segments that companies can then buy and use at a premium price

Remember the title of this : If you’re not the customer, you’re the product. So I ask, “do you care?”

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