The Platform

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Collecting data on subscribers of social media platforms is a fairly well-known way to “tailor” your experience on that platform as well as tailor ads to your preferences, but what happens when someone is collecting more and more information on you and all your contacts for maybe more than just your consumer preferences?

What happens when governments want to understand where the minds of their citizens are? What happens when foreign governments want to invade the assumed privacy of individuals of another country to gather information for other nefarious reasons?

Some of these questions have yet to be addressed, let alone, answered because we are only at the beginning of understanding “surveillance capitalism” and what its boundaries should be.

What is surveillance capitalism? It is a “market driven process where the commodity for sale is your personal data, and the capture and production of this data relies on mass surveillance of the Internet. This activity is often carried out by companies that provide us with free online services, such as search engines (Google) and social media platforms (Facebook).”

Search engines, like Google and others, collect information every time you do a search. Google processes on average 2.4 million searches per minute. That is over 1 trillion per year. As they collect data on you and what you search for, your digital preferences, opinions, and political leanings become clearer when it is analyzed by sophisticated data analytic engines.

As I have said for years, the introduction of new technology is constantly emerging. The acceptance of that available technology lags behind its creation, and the regulation of the technology lags behind its acceptance. And the enforcement of the regulation lags behind the framework of regulation. Right now, when it comes to regulating these search engines and what they can collect, the regulatory framework has yet to be conceived, let alone, enforced.

Remember the old adage by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German playwright, and novelist, back in the late 1700s, “Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are”? That is all part of the digital assessment when it comes to looking at who are your friends on Facebook and what group pages you belong to or read. Based on collecting that information, you are judged by the friends you keep.

As the process engages data analytics, a clear idea of who you are begins to emerge as to political preferences, hobbies, likes, and dislikes. “Guilt by association” is another way to look at the assessment as well.

The best company collecting all this information on personal information, preferences, and peers? No, it’s not Google, Facebook, or Apple, it’s TikTok. TikTok has its tentacles of grabbing information on you and all those you interact with, through their engine.

TikTok seems so innocuous that you would never think of it as Big Brother in action – but it is. It has the ability to reach out and find who your contacts are, who they interact with, and what they are into. This can be facilitated across other platforms like Facebook, Google, and even Apple by TikTok’s sophisticated software.

Our government has finally acted on restricting TikTok because some on the FCC believe that it is a serious threat to national security. They recently requested that TikTok be banned on both Google and Apple.

This is not too farfetched as the same awareness and scrutiny should be applied to all the drones we buy from China. Did you know one out of ten drones is lost on their first flight? There is a possibility that those drones were not permanently lost, and instead may have become part of a ghost armada of drones which could be used by a foreign group for surveillance and sensitive data collection.

The biggest Chinese manufacturer of drones which owns 80% market share in the United States is DJI. They also account for 60% ownership of the global marketplace and have very sophisticated software running in their drones. It is not beyond the realm of possibilities that drones linked with software back to China could also impose a threat to national security on a different level.

Drones could collect a lot of sensitive video data which could also be harvested and analyzed by the Chinese government as DJI, just like TikTok, also has direct ties to the government. Drones are a perfect collection device for getting pictures of infrastructure such as bridges, docks, airports, roads, and other critical infrastructure for future analysis and planning.

As we purchase and utilize more sophisticated products and platforms from China which have the ability to collect, analyze, and transport data to a centralized collection point, we need to address and clearly establish the safeguards for individual privacy as well as national security in these times of highly competitive and distrusting political global powers.

Surveillance capabilities and surveillance capitalism need to have a well-defined framework of operations to adhere to, as the digital world starts to overshadow the physical world and laws, as well as regulatory frameworks, become antiquated when it comes to their applications to cyber surveillance and data collection.

James Carlini is a strategist for mission critical networks, technology, and intelligent infrastructure. Since 1986, he has been president of Carlini and Associates. Besides being an author, keynote speaker, and strategic consultant on large mission critical networks including the planning and design for the Chicago 911 center, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange trading floor networks, and the international network for GLOBEX, he has served as an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University.