Law in the Internet Society

My Compulsion

-- By MariahGenis - 03 Nov 2017


I have been using social media since elementary school and throughout the years my dependence on social media platforms and the services I obtain through such platforms has exponentially increased. In about 2004 or 2005 I began using AOL Instant Messenger once or twice a week to communicate with my camp friends. I did so under the supervision of one of my parents and although I was free to use the internet to obtain information, I was limited in my use of the internet to communicate with others. My parents’ were primarily concerned about the presence of adult individuals online who sought to communicate and initiate inappropriate relations with children. Over the years that concern remained central to my relationship with and use of technology and the threats that I perceived were all linked to the existence of third party individuals or groups who sought to benefit from my presence online. The various platforms I use addressed my concerns by including features that allowed me to report “inappropriate content” or “users” and to prevent them from contacting me or interacting with me online in the future. More and more apps were created, enabling me to access a wide range of goods and service without expending effort for a low cost. I, like many other citizens, was excited about the ease and affordability such apps offered and integrated their use into my daily life.

The Problem

While I was worrying about the potential for “creepy” people to reach me through the internet a new threat to my safety and privacy emerged. I was distracted by the sleek modern appearance of the devices and the ease with which I could use them to obtain anything I wanted. I did not stop to think about how companies were benefiting from my free use of their apps, nor did I think about the implications of my reliance on the apps for all of my consumption and communication desires. I was neither alone in my ignorance or naivete. Widespread use of these platforms has created a new problem, threatening the safety and privacy of individuals. The problem is that citizens of the US, some without knowing the consequences and most without even considering the consequences, have allowed the platforms we use to gather a level of information about our behavior that makes a new, hyper-efficient mode of despotism not only possible but inevitable (Times of India). And for now we can still pretend that our privacy has not been stripped away and that despotism is not inevitable because we live in a democracy and the government is not concerned with what "normal people" (law-abiding citizens who support at least some faction of the current regime) are doing.

I am the grandchild of Polish Jewish Holocaust survivors. I know exactly what happens when a government decides to eliminate masses of formerly "normal people" for the benefit of the nation. I know that governments can, and do, weed out dissidents for the sake of the nation. And I know that the platforms they handed us for our benefit, our amusement, social connection, and convenience, are really mechanisms for behavior collection beyond what Hitler and Stalin could have dreamed up. The right to privacy granted to us by the US Constitution is irrelevant to the oligarchs who have risen to power in the 21st Century. They are not members of government or law enforcement trying to peer through our blinds or listen to our calls. They don't need to a judge to issue a warrant to search our homes; they already know everything they could ever want to know about us.

Behavior Collection

Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Uber know more about my life than anyone else. They know what time I wake up, they know what I eat for breakfast, they know how I get to class and how long it takes me. They know exactly which bus I am on and which stop I get off at and where I walk. They know when and where I exercise and they know how many calories I burn. They know what I eat for lunch and they know what I will be eating for lunch three months from now because I will order it on my phone from the seasonal selections they provide for me. They know which books I read for school and for pleasure, which TV shows I watch and music I listen to. They don't need my neighbors to report me for reading Mao's Little Red Book or We by Zamyatin because they know when I bought those books, when I read them, and how long it took me.

In countries like China this information is already being used to "clearly oppose and resist the whole range of erroneous viewpoints" (NY Times). Our government may not be leading the behavior collection but they are allowing it, taking the information, and storing it for future use. The platforms have taken over our nation with the consent of our government leaders, who view information-gathering as an asset. But it is clear where we are heading. And when they decide that things would be easier without Jewish liberals from NY who read and think and question what they are doing and why they are doing it, they will know exactly where to find me. I won't be able to run or hide, I am already in shackles.

What Should I Do?

It isn't too late for me, or for the rest of us. I am trying to view my use of each app as a choice, and to assess whether it adds value to my life, how much value it adds, and what I must give up to obtain that value. I accept that the behavioral data the government possesses will ultimately be used to maintain despotic control. However, I am not sure how soon this will occur, and I feel that for now my rights in our democratic society have sufficient protection that I do not have to immediately give up all of the platforms I use. I deactivated my Facebook as a first step, and I am happy I did. My second step was to delete my Snapchat. Upon doing so I realized that my days seem longer and lonelier without the frequent snaps from my friends updating me on where they are and what they are doing. I miss having a casual way to check in throughout the day, and I miss receiving messages that are crafted for the sole purpose of including me in a friend's life despite the physical distance between us. My smartphone (iMessage and Snapchat in particular) serves as a security blanket of sorts, as long as I have it with me I know I have access to my support system and it helps me to feel less alone in this big, scary world.

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r4 - 03 Mar 2018 - 14:32:43 - MariahGenis
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