I used to be the person that was excited, overjoyed even, at the idea of a technology company announcing a new device at a fancy event. I envisioned somehow getting a job at one of those companies, working to connect new people to others.

Now, I’m just incredibly concerned.

What the – absolute – fuck are we doing to our society?

We’re normalizing a future where neighbors turn to algorithm-driven apps to spread disinformation and spew racist tirades instead of getting to know the people next door.

We’re creating an ever-growing sense of fear of others with technology such as Citizen, which is using cash rewards to convince people to hunt down others accused of crimes – with few little checks and balances. Seriously. The company is basically just trying to privatize police services – probably because of our capitalist society needing ever-increasing industries to sink their teeth into and people’s lives to ruin (or make better, if you’re a billionaire). Other areas are already trying it with fire services.

Government(?) Surveillance

For a moment, let’s also talk about government surveillance. Has anyone been able to see definitive proof and evidence that more surveillance means a safer society? A more fair society? A more equitable society? A better society? Or just safer in the eyes of people that seek to maintain the status quo?

I’m particularly frustrated that the news that someone in the Saskatchewan Government signed themselves up for Clearview AI – a ethically-horrendous piece of technology that allows users to point their device’s camera at a person, and then scraps the entirety of the internet to figure out who that person is with remarkable success – didn’t get much attention. I have a lot of personal feelings on this topic, but this NY Times article does a lot of explaining.

The Saskatchewan Government’s response?

Clearview AI has never been purchased as a software solution by the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General or the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety. After review, we have identified standalone instances where ministry staff did use a trial version of this software. The Crown has not used Clearview AI to support a prosecution. Given the concerns around the use of this technology, ministry staff have been instructed not to use Clearview AI’s software at this time. We also understand that Clearview AI’s software is not currently available for use in Canada.” —Margherita Vittorelli, spokesperson”

Police In At Least 24 Countries Have Used Clearview AI. Find Out Which Ones Here. (Ryan Mac, Caroline Haskins, Antonio Pequeño IV)

Let’s get this straight – a random individual – or many individuals – signed up for a privacy-busting application, which has been wholeheartedly revoked by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner, and used it for… who knows what? They could have used it, at a bar, to identify the name and information of an individual they wanted to ask out. That’s… yeah, I don’t have enough words for that.

Envisioning a Future of Corporate Surveillance

We’re welcoming powerful corporations in to our homes without any second thought.

We use their platforms to get in touch with other people, without the understanding that the people at the company (and in some cases, contractors) have full access to our messages.

We’ve created corporate surveillance networks, such as that of Amazon’s Ring Neighbors, which is using it’s internet-connected doorbells famous of the same brand (Ring) to create a neighborhood-wide network of cameras, that provide police with almost instantaneous access to review ring feeds. Amazon has partnered with hundreds of police departments across the United States to create this network and allow for easy submission of legal documentation to gain access to videos. Wait no, that last article was from a few years ago. It’s now up to over 2000 police and fire departments that have partnerships or close relationships with Amazon. Insert the usual, “who do the police protect?” thoughts of your own here – I’ll probably have to write out my thoughts on that later.

Speaking of Amazon, just today (September 28, 2021) they announced their newest home devices, adding to their lineup of smart speakers and displays, camera-enabled doorbells and security systems. For the record, I’m okay with smart speakers (even if they have their own issues), but you should be aware that you can – or anyone with access to your Google/Amazon account – see the entire history of what you’ve said to your smart speakers.

Back to what Amazon announced, which includes a FLYING CAMERA to check on “suspicious activity” and a ROBOT that follows people around the house to get to know patterns, watch what you’re doing, and again, check on “suspicious activity”.

I’m sorry, I’m just getting major Minority Report vibes from this shit. Like can we just pause and think about the societal consequences from this never-ending surveillance? Side note, Jon Fasman’s We See It All is a fantastically terrifying read on this topic.

The Future

Let’s just pause and think in the hypothetical here. Let’s say, that Amazon continues it’s push into home technology and surveillance. Sometime in the future (hypothetical), Amazon is partnering with home-builders to offer fully outfitted technology-driven houses; Internet-enabled door locks, Ring doorbells & cameras, in-house surveillance drones and robots. Plus, guess what – Alexa is in more vehicles; your personal vehicle (if you have one, for whatever reason), and your work vehicle. All linked to your Amazon account! Great. Now let’s say, Amazon, in it’s desire to please shareholders, is the lender for young people to get a taste of home ownership in this area (because, where else are we going to be able to buy homes?).

You’re paying your mortgage to Amazon. Amazon has the keys to your house. Amazon watches your house (and you). You supply your house with things almost exclusively from Amazon (I mean, why wouldn’t you – surely it will be easy with the Amazon tablet on your wall). Oh, and don’t forget, your heating and cooling is controlled with an Amazon thermostat! Great.

Your life is Amazon. Everything you do, for the most part, will be through Amazon. You might be thinking to yourself, “Well, come on, not everything!” Need I remind you, Amazon’s AWS runs about a third of the internet. Yes. Yes. *evil Jeff Bezos voice* YESSSS.

So that’s it, all is good!

Well, what happens if Amazon notices, that in your connected bank accounts (or Amazon bank accounts, who knows), that you’re going to be short on funds for this month’s mortgage? Ah, don’t worry. Amazon will just turn down your heating in the house automatically (and forcibly) to save you the $10 extra you need to make your mortgage payment.

Lose your (Amazon?) job? Can’t afford the house payment for the month? No worries, Amazon will watch over your stuff. Oh, and while they are at it, they lock you out of your house. You have some possessions in there, but don’t worry – Amazon knows what you have (with their in-house cameras!) and will ship those off to a Distribution Center to make sure they can hit their quarterly business goals.

Or maybe, with their in-vehicle systems, Amazon starts to charge you each time you make a driving error? Gives that data right to your insurance company (if it’s not Amazon).

In Conclusion…

…if I see an Amazon Robot in your house, I’m going to gently (forcibly) nudge (kick) it towards (down) the stairs.