Panoptic corporate imperialism, Googled and Liked


From Dutch public television’s VPRO Backlight comes a remarkable documentary posing a fascinating question: Is the absence of digital connectivity becoming the newest luxury good, a costly product for consumption by the world’s elite?

Consider the case of Silicon Valley, where elites send their children to low-tech Montessori and Waldorf schools where they are disconnected from the web and the incessant call to the iPhone is precluded.

Consider even the case of Mark Zuckerberg, a billionaire thanks to the incessant pull of the digital that has fueled the rice of his Facebook empire.

From BBC News:

A photograph of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg shows tape has been used to cover his MacBook Pro’s webcam and mic.

Facebook has not responded to requests for comment about the picture, shared to celebrate Instagram reaching its 500 million monthly user milestone.

FBI director James Comey has previously said he also covers his laptop’s webcam to prevent hackers spying on him.

And digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said it regularly sold its webcam “stickers”.

Documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden allege US and UK spy agencies intercepted webcam images from millions of Yahoo users around the world between 2008 and 2010.

And a section of the image in question with the tape clearly visible as a square covering the round camera aperture:

BLOG Zuck

And it’s not just digital cognoscenti like Zuckerberg who display obvious concerns about the intrusion of the digital into daily life.

One of those interviewed by VPRO is Birgitta Jónsdóttir [previously], the founder of Iceland’s Pirate Party, now leading in the polls, and the improbable yet distinctly possible pick as the country’s prime minister.

An early adapter, Jónsdóttir played a role in one of Wikileak’s most explosive releases, video of the American helicopter machine-gunning of two Reuters journalists in Iraq in 2010. The video, likely leaked by Chelsea Manning, embarrassed the U.S. government and made Jónsdóttir the target of efforts by U.S. intelligence agencies and federal prosecutors.

Our digital connectivity, she notes, is all about turning us into commodities by exploiting our deepest secrets and relationships as tools for our own exploitation.

And like Zuckberg, Jónsdóttir keeps her laptop lens covered. And she warns that a’ those “smart” connected devices in your home, especially those responding to voice commands, make every aspect of private lived vulnerable to incessant snooping, catching every cry of ecstasy and despair, and with no legislation anywhere restricting corporate use of your innermost desires to seduce your wealth away.

Evgeny Morozov, a scholar and prolific writer who focuses in the social and political implications of the digital world, notes that the drive for global digital connectivity is driven by a fusion of the imperial interests of American corporations and the Washington establishment, with the implicit demand that those corporations are free from legal liability for their actions.

Especially chilling is a brief excerpt from a speech in India by Mark Zuckerberg in furtherance of his ambition to unite that nation in a digital Webb entirely controlled by his company, and effort he never accomplished until popular opposition forced a pullback.

Especially fascinating is way folks of our own ancestry are adapting to the wireless world. Our last name is Pennsylvania Dutch, folks of the Amish and Mennonite persuasion. The documentary reveals that even the Old Order Amish, the folks who still live in gaslit houses and travel by horse and buggy, now have cell phones and computers [though the phones have no internet capability and online computer access is tightly restricted, and the built-to-order hardware comes with no video capability.

There’s much more. . .

From VPRO Backlight:

Offline is the new luxury [VPRO backlight]

Program notes:

To be online all the time and everywhere. It sounds great, but it has its drawbacks. As digital networks are closing in, there are fewer places to be really on your own. Being offline is becoming a luxury. Where can you be offline?

We are connected to the internet even in our bedrooms. It’s the ambition of companies like Google and Facebook to connect the entire world, so that we can be online all the time and everywhere. This month, Google will send balloons up into the skies over Sri Lanka to provide the island state with free Wi-Fi. On the ground, more and more devices communicate through the so-called Internet-of-Things. We are going to be ‘glass citizens’ in a transparent house, connected for life to a wireless intravenous drip and traced anywhere via our smartphones. What does it mean, this shift to 100 percent connectibility of the entire planet?

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