I am a user of Google services. I don’t rely on them (in the meantime I’ve started to backup my GMail mails locally, my blog has been on my own hosting account for years, only my phone is 100% dependent on Google), but using their services makes my life more convenient. Much more.
The price of this convenience is, that they know pretty much everything about me. I’ve always joked that if Google has not been secretly created and operated by the NSA, it must nevertheless have come as a god-sent to them.
Turns out this was not so far from the truth.
I never had any doubts that American secret services have access to everything on the Internet, even if it’s unlawful by American standards. It’s just too easy to not be done. It’s not only the carriers, not only Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, it’s essentially everything stored by everyone.
What’s next? Microsoft admits that the next X-Box could technically spy on you in your living room, they only say it won’t. Can you believe it?
Do you think the US government will be able to resist the temptation to require from Google a switch, that allows them to turn on the camera and microphone in a certain user’s Glass?
Are you sure that those devices will always indicate recording mode with a visual signal like, for instance, a red light?
Your iPhone? My Android? We know of “silent SMS”, a reality in today’s phones, that allows “lawful interceptors” to make contact with your phone without you being given any indication. Maybe smartphones can be activated remotely as well. Do you know? Would you know? Could you know?
Sometimes literature allows for a reality check. I’ve just finished Stefan Zweig’s autobiography “Die Welt von Gestern” (“The World of Yesterday”). For all who don’t know him, he was the second son of a rich Austro-Jewish entrepreneur, enjoyed an excellent education, early on turned to poetry, and due to his privileged situation was able to follow that way and become the internationally best known, most translated German speaking author. He knew everyone who counted in arts and politics, and his book is extremely interesting as an account of how the two World Wars came to pass, how Europe slid into the first and how its resolution automatically led to the second.
That’s not what’s important here though. I only want to direct your attention to one aspect that currently occupies my mind: how he perceived a progressive loss of freedom, a progressive shift of control from individual people to states and their agents, and he illustrates that for example with the fact that in pre-WWI times he was able to visit England, France, even the US and India, without having a passport, without ever having been searched at a border, without having been required to obtain permits and visa.
I found this astounding, but what really shocked me, was that his description of post-WWI restrictions pretty accurately described my baseline, the status quo that I had known, that I had grown up in, and from where I’ve been able see a progressive tightening of the noose.
Change happens all the time and while we have been evolutionary selected to detect all rapid change, slow change is an entirely different matter. Each time and each generation has a baseline, something they perceive as normal, and I have no doubt, that the generations grown up after the conservative backlash of the late 1970s / early 1980s are much more more tolerant versus governmental abuse than I am, just as I am much more tolerant than Stefan Zweig’s generation was. Small, gradual change may go largely undetected, but literature’s conserving power reveals a disturbing general direction.