Robert Scheer, with Sara Beladi, They Know Everything About You; How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy (New York: Nation Books, 2015), 256pp.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any creepier, as I finished this book, Google announced its new "Your Timeline," which shows everywhere you've been on a map by time and date. But don't worry! There are privacy controls, and you can always delete any of the data. The Facebook terms-of-service agreement is only 9,000 words of legalese. Good luck with that.
When Robert Scheer uses the word "everything" in his title, he's barely exaggerating. Not just your physical location, but photos, phone records, downloads, purchases, books and movies perused, where you work, how you voted, and on and on. About 1500 pieces of data per consumer. We can thank Edward Snowden, says Scheer, for debunking the "mass denial" about just how invasive our surveillance state has become.
We've accepted all this as the new normal, with barely a whimper. If it's ever needed, the military-intelligence complex of our government and the commercial data mining companies like Google, which collude and collaborate in a symbiotic relationship, offer the bogus justifications of national security and consumer choice. Yes, technology has brought us numerous "liberations," but the tradeoff has been what Scheer calls the "ruthless exploitation" of the citizenry due to the monetization of our personal data.
Scheer, founder and editor-in-chief of the online magazine Truthdig and Professor at University of Southern California, argues that our Orwellian state of affairs is badly undermining democracy, because, "for democracy, privacy is the ball game." Without the assurances of privacy, say goodbye to the First and Fourth Amendments. In his last chapter, Scheer looks at some positive developments among privacy advocates, like Aleecia McDonald at Stanford, but the big challenge is that the problems he identifies aren't personal but systemic.
For more on this important subject, see my reviews of the books by Dave Eggers, Jaron Lanier, and Evgeny Morozov.