the westminster news
Published by the students of Westminster School
By James Beit ’22
It is a well-known fact that companies care most about their profits. It is the jungle law of the free market that directly encourages companies when left alone to monetize as much as their business as possible. Here, in the world of Big Tech, we see its consequence with the monetization of data to sell advertisements. There exist spreadsheets reported by some to contain your address, consumer preferences, job, and sexual orientation. All of this can be sold for pennies, usually to potential advertisers, however this data is valuable and if in the wrong hands can be used for much more sinister purposes. While it may be scary companies are the not only ones who track and keep this data. The National Security Agency (NSA) keeps massive logs and various blacklists of potential threats the scale of which we have only with Edward Snowden’s testimony about P.R.I.S.M
In the recent storming of the Capitol, any phone found in the building was sent to the government. Photos, videos, and even the deleted data were made available to the American security apparatus. Nearly everyone present on the Capitol was put on a no-fly list and arrested. America can be an authoritarian state when it wants to be without much accountability. The strange disconnect between what happened during and what happened after is evident to many. A muted police response began the capitol riot, and the full mustering of the American Security apparatus followed. Moreover, The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security knew about the attack on the Capitol before January 6th. These Agencies knew what would happen, and they did nothing about it, revealing that agencies formerly meant for America’s security can be used as a political tool.
The increasing encroachment of both Big Tech and the Government shows that privacy as a right exists only in platitudes if left unregulated. Phones, keystrokes, and webcams are all tracked and monitored by many, and then all found data is sold. With the Cambridge Analytica scandal, when a British consultant firm stole millions of Facebook users’ data for political advertising, we saw how data could be used as a tool to manipulate a political election. With its ability to predict and sway your politics, this slow but steady advance on your rights is nothing more than a plan to concentrate power and money for the next century.
The lack of privacy measures can lead to information falling into the wrong hands. The power of data to influence our politics is stronger than ever. The Israel lobby has used this to great advantage. In a documentary, Al Jazeera exposed that they can detect and respond to any anti-Israel event on campus within minutes through technical skill and money assistance. This can lead to odd results and skew of American foreign policy as a foreign country can influence our politics with the data Tech companies collect every day.
The scary manipulation of our politics through obscene amounts of money and data is only the beginning of the full-on assault on privacy in America. If knowledge is power, then absolute knowledge is absolute power. Right now, this power lies in the hands of our elected governments; however, our very democratic process is slipping. If our government does nothing, soon, democracy will be undermined and controlled like a puppet with strings attached not to the “consent of the governed,” but to the powerful Big Tech companies.