C. Warren Axelrod

Cyberspace’s Weapons of Mass Deconstruction

The cyberworld is replete with exhibitionists and voyeurs, facilitated by social-network (or should I say social-engineering) technologies such as those provided by Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram, and others. Even seemingly staid news sources seduce the reader with teasers for titles.

This dystopian world has crept up on us slowly, but determinedly, with nary a whisper from lawmakers and regulators. But I ask you … If you are legally bound in many jurisdictions to reveal that you are recording a telephone call, why don’t you deserve notification—with your consequent acceptance or rejection—that an Amazon Echo is monitoring your every word (although, supposedly, only recording after the device has been awakened—which can happen inadvertently, especially as if a family member has the name of, or similar to, Alexa) or that an Echo Show is watching your every move?

The Amazons and Googles of the world have encouraged, and continue to encourage, many millions of households to install voluntarily the modern equivalent of George Orwell’s “Big Brother is watching you” so-called telescreens. Orwell frighteningly anticipated today’s flat-screen televisions (with built-in cameras and microphones) … but we are installing these surveillance machines at our own expense, no less! You need to be aware that anywhere at anytime you could be under surveillance without knowing it, including if you attack a Tesla that is parked and in Sentry mode. This last capability is a good thing, however, as are CCTV cameras in 24/7 stores, for example.

At least Chinese citizens know that their government is tracking them and their activities. At the other end of the spectrum, we have the European Union with its stringent privacy directives and severe penalties for nonadherence, which Google and Facebook are discovering to their dismay.

Of course, this is different from those who knowingly—and often proudly—distribute revealing and potentially-damaging images of themselves and accompanying text, without considering the ramifications if such revelations go public.

These fears are expressed movingly in a posthumous article by famed neurologist and author, Oliver Sachs, with the title “The Machine Stops: The neurologist on steam engines, smartphones, and fearing the future,” in The New Yorker of February 8, 2019, where he writes:

“Everything is public now, potentially: one’s thoughts, one’s photos, one’s movements, one’s purchases. There is no privacy and apparently little desire for it in a world devoted to non-stop use of social media.”

But that is not necessarily the case for everyone. Just ask the U.K. lawmakers who are holding Mark Zuckerberg in “contempt” for not appearing before them, as described by Isobel Asher Hamilton in a February 18, 2019 article “Mark Zuckerberg humiliated by group of lawmakers, who accuse Facebook’s CEO of spectacular leadership failure,” which is available at

https://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-ceo-mark-zuckerberg-humiliated-by-damian-collins-committee-2019-2 .

Might there still be some hope for privacy advocates?  It appears less and less promising with each breach.

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