The War Against Big Brother

Today I begin a series of posts of observations and comments about what I call cyber fascism, the harnessing of ubiquitous information technology to impose political, commercial, and social control over much of the developed and developing world.

My first real inkling of the enormity of our situation came as I prepared material for a course I teach in statistical methods, where we discuss the ethics of experiments with human subjects, informed consent, and data protection and privacy.  I quickly learned that despite well-intentioned efforts like The Belmont Report or the ASA’s Ethical Guidelines, the world of data privacy is pretty much the Wild West, rife with confidence men, bandits, snake-oil dealers, and robber barons.  But this was just the tip of the iceberg; privacy encroachments linked to a worldwide cultural affliction.  Witness

  • the Chinese “social credit” system
  • viral “outrage mobs” on Twitter
  • tabloid “tell all” behavior and cyber-bullying on Facebook
  • creepy “recommendation systems” on Amazon
  • third party data mining of user data from Google and Facebook
  • Google’s evolution of “sucker lists” into “behavioral prediction markets”
  • and more…

All of these are manifestations of small groups (I hesitate to use the term “elites”) to exploit and control societies for their own purposes, without concern for the privacy or welfare of the individual.

My current reading and “go to” resource is Shoshanna Zuboff’s startling new book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism  (good recommendation from Fortune‘s Robert Hackett here).


Zuboff  focuses on one aspect of cyberfascism, the industrial exploitation of personal data in market economies (with Google the primary mover).  As Hackett notes, the phenomenon is much larger than this, and raises the spectre of a new totalitarianism around the world.

I’m certainly not the first to see this situation. Like a fish, I spent most of my life unaware of the water.  But the water has changed, and now it wants to change ME.  It’s time to sound the alarm.

After all, whether the state captures industry, or industry captures the state, don’t they all become fascists in the end?

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