Longreads + Open Thread

Phones, Spam, Academia, Wang Huning, Growth, Wealth, Corporate Espionage, Regular Espionage



Means of Control: How the Hidden Alliance of Tech and Government Is Creating a New American Surveillance State. A book much less alarmist than its subtitle. The main thrust of the book is that historically, the organizations that were most interested in, and best equipped to, assembled detailed dossiers about people and track their movements were law enforcement and intelligence services. But the online advertising ecosystem and certain aspects of the Internet of Things have, without directly trying to, created massive collections of exactly this sort of data, and governments have learned to buy it and use it.

That's created all sorts of conflicts: adtech companies don't necessarily want their data to be used for intelligence-gathering and law-enforcement, and will sometimes block these users when they see them; consumers don't like the idea that they could be accused of a crime based on metadata, or that random law enforcement officers can snoop on them (one problem mentioned in the book: when local police departments get some fancy new investigation tool, some members invariably use it to spy on partners, exes, and the like). All that discomfort creates an incentive to use the data, but quietly, and to prefer parallel construction to transparency.

This debate will continue, and in a sense it's older than the rise of real-time bidding infrastructure for online ads in the 2000s. For example, it might raise issues if it became apparent that US intelligence operatives were engaging the services of an independent intelligence-gathering organization that dispatched agents around the globe to gather human intelligence without any direct government oversight, and without ever revealing who they gathered information from. But that's just a technically true way to describe a CIA employee reading a copy of the New York Times.

Open Thread

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