October 30, 2007
Petty dictators hate Internet with a vengeance, witness the recent crackdown in Myanmar (1). And with good reasons. Isn't Internet an ideal medium as foot soldiers of democracy free information from censors and drum up support for those in danger of losing liberty or even life?
Originally conceived to limit the vulnerability of communications to warfare, Internet is decentralized and thus democratic by nature. The relentless fall of digital equipment costs lets it realize its potential. And so beware the Internet. The next great dictator will rise on its strength, not against it.
You ask for proof? Very well. Let us first recognize that great ambitions need equally great amounts of money. There you go. As reported by Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane (*), phone companies caught in the wiretapping issue gave significant contributions to the campaign of a senator influential in the case. "That's the standard Washington way of doing business", aka pronaocracy. Real Big Brother will only need to promise undying support to enough important corporate interests, especially in the information related industries. Isn't Silicon Valley the Ruhr of today? Verizon is not based there? Let us be broad minded, as Real Big Brother will be, and tap the phone companies as well as Hollywood studios.
Money buys elections. Only ruffians seize power at the point of a gun. But popularity is fickle and once in power a great dictator needs to inspire awe. Nothing as crude as sending lots of boots up to loot. Rather give everyone a GPS enabled cellphone. As the title of Laura M. Holson's paper pleasantly says, "these phones can find you" (**). Peruse Christopher Maag's report for some practical applications (***). Why forbid gatherings of more than five people when you can track rabble rousers' every move on a map, courtesy of your pals from the phone companies?
Just in time policing of the streets is good. But Orwell understood it helps to anticipate the public mood and monitor everyone's thoughts. Last year's fillip about government mandated keylogging was a bit outré, I confess. Brian Stelter is happy to give us a more realistic update about how Google tracks TV audiences to the second (****). "The reports [...] can pinpoint the moment when viewers most commonly change the channel". Do subscribers even know what's happening? Today Google only covers 13 millions subscribers and monitors set-top box signals, not people. Make sure everyone gets the benefit of this wonderful service and simply link Google behavior records with your universal GPS people tracking system.
For more detailed intelligence, avoid censorship like the plague. Do no evil. All major search engines will send you their users' request histories. Befriend all major social sites. They will let you look at their users' pages and map out for you their networks of influence. Remember too that great dictators have the health of the people truly at heart. Offer universal health insurance and turn related data mining companies into your minions. Deborah C. Peel has the list ready for you (*****). Learn what troubles trouble makers' loved ones.
Last nail in the coffin of democracy, open a frank feedback loop to let people know you know. Big Brother's posters are so yesterday. For Real Big Brother, personalized advertising channels dreamt of by Google, Facebook and Verizon will enable you to talk to everyone in the comfort of his or her intimacy. Why resort to explicit threats. With everyone's pressure points in mind, the right advice at the right time is all you need. Happy reelection! Oh, I almost forgot, remember to follow the Constitution to the letter. Long live the Vice-President for life!
Internet without true privacy. An unfolding nightmare, and not just for that one day in the year.
- (*) ........... Phone Companies Seeking Immunity Gave to Senator, by Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane (New York Times) - October 22, 2007
- (**) ........ Privacy Lost: These Phones Can Find You, by Laura M. Holson (New York Times) - October 23, 2007
- (***) ...... Technology, The Stealthy Tattletale, by Christopher Maag (New York Times) - October 27, 2007
- (****) ... In Foray Into TV, Google Is to Track Ad Audiences, by Brian Stelter (New York Times) - October 24, 2007
- (*****) . HIPAA: The Data Miner's Dream, by Deborah C. Peel, MD (mdng.com) - October 2007
- (1) see Myanmar: Internet Blocked, by Preetam Rai (Global Voices) - September 28, 2007