Big Brother is watching…

…with this collection of creepy gizmos.  Know your opposition.
 flock of stationary license plate readers

Read it for the cameras, then follow the link to Tattoo Recognition Programs.

Tip from the Geek Press.  He links, you decide.


The Abolition of Cash, Frisco Edition

Do people not understand the words “Legal Tender?”


If you want a hot coffee at Blue Bottle, cold hard cash may not work anymore.

The high-end coffee company will ban cash at 12 locations across the country starting on March 11 as part of a month-long experiment that aims to speed up purchases.  (photo from this article)


Commenting on The Instapundit, Ed Driscoll notes

On Twitter, Rob Province, aka, “Educated Hillbilly” asks, “Am I a total racist for thinking this is a way to keep poor & minority customers out of their hip San Francisco coffee shop?” Not at all. Beyond that, as Glenn noted in December, “This is mostly a stealthy way to keep homeless people out.”

It’s much more than this.  Remember, surveillance institutions–whether corporate or state–have an imperative to collect behavioral data in ever-widening scope.  No aspect of your life is immune.  The Chronicle’s Shwanika Narayan blithely swallows the pretense offered by the restaurant industry

The move reflects a growing cashless trend across the restaurant industry, which is eager to make service more efficient.

That’s the businesses fronting for the credit card folks, who would love to track every purchase made by every person, every day.  Think what a goldmine of behavioral profiling this would be to their “back end” customers in advertising, law enforcement, and more nefarious endeavors.

As for me, “Real Texans pay cash,”   (unless I working the x% cash back on my credit card).  As for places like Blue Bottle, if you don’t want my cash, I don’t want your coffee.

Update:  On further consideration, I really don’t like this; it abuses the help.  My custom is to always tip in cash, even when paying by credit card.  (Try this where you’re a regular customer; you’ll notice a boost in service.) A tip is a private transaction between me and my waiter.  It is not the business of the employer, the IRS, or some band of tip-sharing Nazis.  No cash, no tip.

Big Brother Invades the Ice House

The Surveillance Market is set to invade your local quick-stop, grocer, or ice house.

A new digital door technology from a company called Cooler Screens is now being tested in Walgreens, and it sounds absolutely awful. Rather than a basic, transparent glass door, coolers and freezers will be sealed by screens that show a sanitized image of the products behind them. Supposedly, these screens will:

  • Save energy
  • Help monitor inventory
  • Help customers with poor eyesight
  • Make products more visually appealing

That’s all nice enough, and those mild benefits might even be worth replacing a simple glass pane with a complex TV screen. However, further reading ultimately makes those benefits sound like nothing so much as an after-the-fact justification for the real motives behind this technology:

Flashing banner ads float between the digital rows of goods…in addition to the flashy ads and “smart” merchandising, these screens are equipped with sensors and cameras designed to watch and profile the appearance and actions of customers who find themselves in their path, like me. Approximate age and gender. How long my gaze lingers on the bottles of tea.

And they don’t even hide the fact that they’re watching you!  Zuboff is right when she says the corporate desire for behavioral data is insatiable.


Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think having Big Brother determine whether I’m buying milk, soda pop, or a cold beer is any of their business.  I won’t patronize Cool Screeners.

Be a dirty shame if someone banged a shopping cart into these screens and disabled them (hey, it happens to smartphones all the time).

Tip from Stephen Green writing at the Instapundit.

You’re not just web surfing, you’re participating in an A/B test

Pretty much every time you log on to Facebook or use Google, you’re participating, as a subject, in an A/B test.  Unknowingly.  Without informed consent.  This is how privacy and human rights are eroded, one click at a time.  Worse yet, the folks who do this brag about it!  Don’t believe me?  Type “A/B testing internet” into your favorite search engine (I avoid Google) and see what you get.


There’s a friggin’ geek army of snoops out there.

Even your doorbell is spying on you

In it’s unbridled quest for behavioral data, Google put microphones in its subsidiary Nest’s home security systems.   Ostensibly for future upgrades.  Without telling their customers.  Who does PR for these guys?  Jussie Smollett?

Bonus:  apparently Google was pushing privacy limits with Street View as well, sucking up local WiFi addresses.

Tip from Stephen Green at the Instapundit.

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?