CRISCIONE: Spying by tech companies among many detriments of big technology


Column: The Digital Downfall

Is technology really watching us?

The answer to that is yes. Even though it is not a simple yes, it is a yes. Our very society thrives on technology and social media. The ability to connect has given us near-endless opportunities to become what we want and gather as much information as we want. 

This comes with a cost, though: privacy.

Nothing we do or say is private anymore. People tend to say that technology itself is evolving and that is not the case in this situation. We are evolving as a whole, and so are the companies distributing these technologies or applications. 

When someone buys the new iPhone or Apple device, the company knows that no one is going to read the terms and services and the agreement that takes place when purchased. We are signing away any bit of privacy we have left just to use the latest phone since older technologies are becoming obsolete.

If everyone read the wall of text agreement before buying something or using something, there would be much fewer sales. The issue is that people are willing to give away their own privacy for the ability to become part of society. 

Then at times, we will have certain apps on our phones asking us to “enable location services,” and for what reason? Why would a simple time-killer game or study app need my location? Some apps will not even work without giving this information.

Recently, the world has been experiencing a total backlash when it comes to the realm of social media and government control. I just learned about the all in one app “WeChat.” When I heard about it in class it seemed interesting, but of course like everything it comes with a cost. This app is only available in China, to my knowledge, and people use it to do everything, even pay bills. 

The issue with this is that if someone does not have this they cannot function with society. There is even heavy censorship of certain things said or done, without an alert about what was censored. With the rising issues that are happening with the government in China, it is astonishing to see what could happen when a government takes control.

Granted, in the U.S., we have not faced anything to this level. The companies that are essentially in control are Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. They not only control a segment of the entire market, but also they impact the future. 

From Siri to Alexa to face recognition, we are giving precious information and opening up more doors for control. The world seems to slowly be turning to the ways of George Orwell's “1984.” Maybe in some regard we have reached that point in certain countries with full government control. 

Stopping all of these advancements is not something that can be done overnight, or ever. It is a global trend of people wanting more and getting more. Every time a new phone comes out we lose a little bit of ourselves with it, whether it is giving away more information or opening up the door to our lives. 

Siri and Alexa and many virtual assistants are always listening. This is a wonderful feature for people who like dictation and on the fly responses, but at the same time, they are listening every hour of the day, every day. At what point is it going too far?

Even with our Google searches and words said on the phone we are put in categories based on our provider and government. Usually, people who tend to be more aggressive and speak of committing crimes or searching how to do so will be put on a watch list without anyone knowing. 

Is everyone on a list of some sort? Yes. Are we being followed or watched? No, to an extent. If someone has not done anything or said anything to incite violence then no one will be watching closely, but otherwise yes.

These companies tend to only care about money at the end of the day, and our privacy and information is money to others. What we do and where we go can be sold to someone somewhere for a price. What they do with that information, who knows. 

At the same time, the government does have to protect the people and prevent violence and the like from happening, but with everything it comes at a cost. Unfortunately there are governments that seek full control, believing it is stopping and preventing issues when it is only causing more.

Maybe Orwell was right about big brother always watching.

Alexander Criscione is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies. His column, “The Digital Downfall,” runs on alternate Thursdays.

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