Saturday, September 28, 2019

Our deal with the devil

I just received a new Samsung smartphone. It replaces the iPhone I've had for many years and was so out-of-date that I couldn't download the few apps I might've found useful. The new phone is an amazing piece of technology and so pretty. It's got way more capability than I'll ever use. In fact, my first chore was deleting many of the apps that came standard. Years back, when cameras were first installed on a cellphone, I thought, "That's dumb. Who would bother?" So much for that prognostication.

But my use of the Samsung is haloed with trepidation. Everything I do on the phone is tracked and recorded, then fed through computers to build my profile and from that, predict what I'm going to do next. We've all had the experience of searching for something on one platform, our phone for example, and then finding similar search results when we access Facebook on the computer. We know we're being constantly watched but act like we're cool with it. People who opt for smart speakers like Alexa astound me. You're okay letting a corporation put a microphone inside your house? Then again, every new car is a rolling fountain of your personal information. Where you went. When. What you listened to. What you accessed on your phone. With every passing day, privacy means less and less. We've become a society of exhibitionists exploited by professional voyeurs.

Last week I was watching Hitchcock's North by Northwest and I noticed a scene in a hotel where people retreated into phone booths to make calls. Contrast that when a couple of days ago, a young woman passed me by on the sidewalk while she was doing a video chat and discussing her recent trip to the gynecologist.

Our attitude toward technology, more specifically, social media and communication is increasingly bipolar. The Wall Street Journal ran an article about the detrimental effects of this constant exposure to social media (mostly by phone) for young women. The same issue then published a piece about using phone apps to improve romantic relationships. Which is it?

The surveillance Orwell predicted in 1984 is tame compared to what we've willingly accepted. Winston and Julia never carried a pocket device that tracked their every move or recorded every snippet of conversation. At the present, our individual ensnarement in the web seems benign. It's all about convenience. But the dark side looms ahead. You've no doubt heard of doxxing, which is the publication on social media of your private details such as residence, contact information, place of work, family and their addresses for the purpose of harassing you into silence or banishment. In the not too distant future, expect what I hereby coin "idoxxing," meaning the public disclosure of your internet search history. What naughty things have you been looking up? Shame. Shame. Shame.

What interests me more as a crime writer is how all this technology creates the illusion of security and safety. Idoxxing will be used for blackmail. Also, every advance in cyber security only exposes more gaps to be leveraged by the bad guys. Our homes and financial accounts have never been more vulnerable. Once criminals crack into any system, they're free to loot and pillage. Nest eggs will vanish into the electronic ether. You can buy a device that blasts a signal over a broad spectrum to disable cellphones and wifi connections within a perimeter for the purpose of robbery or worse. The victim can't call for help and all the security systems are shut down. Pretty slick gizmo. Watch for it in my next crime novel.

1 comment:

Panthera leo said...
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