Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Surveillance Giants [pdf] (amnesty.org)
55 points by DyslexicAtheist 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 7 comments

>The Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which data from 87 million people’s Facebook profiles were harvested and used to micro-target and manipulate people for political campaigning purposes, opened the world’s eyes to the capabilities such platforms possess to influence people at scale – and the risk that they could be abused by other actors.

>Ultimately, it is now evident that the era of self-regulation in the tech sector is coming to an end: further state-based regulation will be necessary, but it is vital that whatever form future regulation of the technology sector takes, governments follow a human rights-based approach. In the short-term, there is an immediate need for stronger enforcement of existing regulation. Governments must take positive steps to reduce the harms of the surveillance-based business model—to adopt digital public policies that have the objective of universal access and enjoyment of human rights at their core, to reduce or eliminate pervasive private surveillance, and to enact reforms, including structural ones, sufficient to restore confidence and trust in the internet.

Note: I only read the executive summary, emphasis above is my own.

We've had the Snowden leaks, Cambridge Analytica, and others in the last decade which have brought the power, abuses and potential for abuses of Google, Facebook et al. into the mainstream conversation on a number of occasions. Brows furred, briefly, but ultimately society decided that it ultimately didn't care.

Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Google (all products), Android, Oculus, Nest, etc. etc. are all still soaring on success after success, despite mainstream society having had their darker sides widely revealed to them.

The facts were laid out, even Colbert broke it down to a level of "<Facebook/Google> can see your dick pics", society evaluated the situation and ultimately decided it preferred "free" services, media, content, algorithm-driven filter bubbles and more above all else.

These services are empowered by consumer choices (primarily one of convenience above all else, there's no shortage of alternatives to these services) and hence will only change due to changes in consumer choices.

Tech moves too quickly for meaningful regulation, tech companies are powerful enough to lobby to gut most proposals and they are rich enough to have the very best of legal counsel to actively utilize loopholes, and defend their behaviour if/when someone does pull them up on it. The potential upsides for regulation are minimal, at best. The potential downsides are absolutely enormous and could readily result in human rights abuses that far exceed data-driven ad targeting.

One example of the such potential regulations is the current talk about weakening encryption to "protect the children".

Handing the regulation and well-being of the internet to government's that change entirely every 4-8 years, and whose priorities change on smaller timelines, who've been shown to use that internet to commit absolute acts of abuse as is (Five Eyes et al.) will only end badly. As we've seen with China, handing it to life-long dictatorships only ends badly also.

If people care, they'll stop using these services and products. Those that don't accept the consequences they've acknowledged and signed up for. Based on the outcome, that which is known as the internet will iterate and evolve to meet whatever the new needs of the consumer are. Let's keep the government out of it.

I view the real issue is the "why" behind the surveillance, rather than the tool itself. Examples:

- Consumer-based: Facebook and Google's type of data collection is best handled through the use of GDPR-like legislation, in USA. It's just a matter of these tech companies lobbying and watering down the statute so it's ineffective.

When this conversation gets brought up in congress, I implore everyone to go to https://congress.gov and read the actual bill to make sure it covers everything they claim. Look at it side-by-side with GDPR. Is it really giving consumers the protections they feel they deserve from businesses (I guess we can use the term "user")? Politicians are masters at making bills seem like they handle an issue when they're stripping regulation and giving a deal to business interests at the expense of natural persons.

Business get bail outs all the time and are very hawkish making sure their legislation meets their interests. They have lawyers and team up to secure objectives, no care is given to making sure it's not to the detriment of "us". Natural persons are quelled by nice little platitudes, that's why reading bills themselves instead of news articles/tweets is so important.

- National security in terms of subversion: This is the one that worries me most because it depends on how national security is defined based on a countries policies. In China, this entails this Xinjiang and Hong Kong situation. From their view, they are quelling uprisings, but one could also intellectually argue HK / Xinjiang / so on should have self-rule and nation status.

If you want to talk about human rights and surveillance, what liberties do the people in Xinjiang have? Imagine being born in your ancestral homeland and find your own culture is being methodically destroyed from foreign oligarch bureaucrats thousands of miles away. If you were Uighur and born there, how would you make sense of life?

When people in Xinjiang are being watched closely, the backstory has such direct implication to people's lives, and what options do they have to leave? To redress grievances? When does it finally end?

US and UK have a history of giving countries democratic self-rule and a rolodex of success stories. There will always be surveillance in various ways, hopefully in the future the backdrop with Xinjiang will be them 1. protecting their own independent nation and 2. consumer data protection laws? (not to say East Asia region are privacy sensitive as US/EU, heh)

- What do people really feel?

Would an independent Xinjiang vote for a GDPR-like consumer regulation? If you look at Kazakhstan, it doesn't feel like they care about surveillance at all. It's not fashionable to pretend to care about, a la twitter, people have other pressures in live to worry about.

On a final note, the few people in US that scoff at surveillance are the same people who line up to get $1600 smart phones. They don't wait for GDPR laws to pass before getting a phone, they hit "I agree" to the privacy policies on tons of apps/websites. I wonder how much it really matters to them. :P It's not easy to tell what a society feels.

> What do people really feel?

They probably feel being stalked. They must be anxious and paranoid.

> On a final note, the few people in US that scoff at surveillance are the same people who line up to get $1600 smart phones

Like they have a choice not to have a "smart" phone. Like with dumb-phone they can avoid cell-tower tracking, voice recording. The people that scoff at surveillance are an indicator that something is broken. State and corporate stalking must stop.

> Like with dumb-phone they can avoid cell-tower tracking

I don't think there's any kind of cell phone that can avoid being triangulated. I believe it has to do with call routing.

If that mechanism was completely removed, wouldn't there be no way for us to get phone calls, and calls would drop between towers.

Wouldn't a better way of exploring this be to begin at who is accessing the data and why? Businesses have a legitimate case to access their own information to provide a better experience, at the very least.

Also if it's a criminal / national security purpose, what's wrong with the idea of a big data / hay stack warrant, in certain circumstances? Isn't there some situations where it'd clearly make sense?

> The people that scoff at surveillance are an indicator that something is broken.

While there's probably always a case to improve things, when I read conversations on data privacy, I feel many don't want to draw nuance into the technical and legal specifics.

Regardless of society, isn't there always a certain kind of person, due to their upbringing, feels persecuted, though? Isn't there also a type of person who just raises a stink out of pure catharsis? Aren't they almost always ignorant of basics behind the law or technology of what they rant about, often both?

If it was really a sincere thing, why not go into details: e.g. For instance, GPS'ing a vehicle. State or federal law? What predicate / proof is needed? Is there a notification or redress? How long does it last? Any scoping/minimization? Is it supervised judicially or administratively?

While I think of it, maybe there's a reason these things are kept ambiguous, I guess in every country: I don't think people want organized criminal enterprises like mobsters, spies, drug lords, and terrorists gaming the system.

> State and corporate stalking must stop.

I don't think all government surveillance is the same. In most cases they seek authorization to access a private businesses data some how.

If someone is a "normal" consumer, a hospital patient, etc. I don't think the conversation is the same anymore. Wouldn't this be what most normal people care about?

> If someone is a "normal" consumer, a hospital patient, etc. I don't think the conversation is the same anymore.

That's the thing. Crime-prevention is a plausible excuse. "Normal" consumer's data is mass harvested, profiled, stored, and used for social engineering of some more convenient "normal" consumer. Is there so many mobsters that require exabytes of data storage https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utah_Data_Center

> Regardless of society, isn't there always a certain kind of person, due to their upbringing, feels persecuted, though?

Well there were some precedents of abuse in history. Secondly, people don't like to be a subject to be ruled. Thirdly, some people are under(d)evolved and still are primates that fear any powerful entity (leopard) watching them. Surveillance makes them paranoid and then depressed and then they snap and bad things happen.

> Well there were some precedents of abuse in history.

And in the case of Xinjiang is right now, unfortunately!

> Surveillance makes them paranoid and then depressed and then they snap and bad things happen.

Two points / ways I can take that:

- Big picture: In Eastern Europe, the turning point was more more complicated than that. Many informants / surveillance - but they were ancillary - antagonists being monitored were eclipsed by legitimate beef with how they were getting treated day to day. There were strikes, austerity things, and the security apparatus clamping down harder was probably one of the last straws. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanian_Revolution

The other thing worth mentioning is how the government monitored and disrupted strikes in workplaces, which presents an impossible situation to employees. In USA there are rules around that: https://www.nlrb.gov/rights-we-protect/whats-law/employers/i.... In this instance coworkers, eventually will talk to each other, and this situation is so much more direct and practical rather than a vague thoughtcrime thing

- Individuals: There are people who develop schizophrenia, very rarely will they be violent. That process begins partly due to biology and partly due to trauma during childhood, and sometimes involves substance abuse. They are super, super sensitive and associate conspiracies to objects, people, and events. They attract attention to themselves, and the thing just feeds itself.

Persecution is a recurring theme (it's not that people are oh so nice! the world is bad and spiteful), and it commonly manifests itself with suspicion of being watched and followed. Also noteworthy is the intensity attributed to events, and the compulsion they feel to keep bringing it up. Common is bringing up sexual fears out of thin air (https://youtu.be/5LPS7E-0tuA?t=525), superego run amok. The sad truth is many were traumatized as children and further degraded as an adolescent. Not being able to process twisted family situations makes it extraordinarily hard for them. You wouldn't want to trade childhoods with them.

Normal people feel distrust, in these cases they're processing information extremely dysfunctional way. Like people who complain about privacy, they have an amazing pattern of not understanding technology, laws, and organizational structure. Everyone is busy and stressed with their own lives and trying to figure it out (and people are also caring, on the other hand, but they won't accept that). You'll also notice the common theme of omnipotent paternal/maternal persons or organizations. There's always an information deficit, they don't go research or pull documents on a subject.

They feel there's no potential reality for them without a punishing, omnipotent presence. So they're in hell, no doubt.

There is one issue with Uighur people in your statement that if you dig into history, Han Chinese have been living in Xinjiang much longer than the Uighurs. In fact, Chinese people have been in Xinjiang even before the Han dynasty, and incorporated some Buddhism-worshiping minority groups and formed the so-called Han Chinese. You can still see the splendid ancient Buddhism relics in Xinjiang. Uighurs, a Muslim minority, entered the region several centuries later, mainly after the Yuan dyansty. To compare with, there is another Muslim minority, Hui, descending from the Central Asia and Middle East (Persian) immigrants during Tang Dynasty. So if people argue that “ancestral land”, they really need to see that in good ol’ Asia, history is such a bitch that one can easily get lost. But that thousands of years old bitch still haunts you in the night.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact