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I have never been angrier about the corporate surveillance complex, which I have rallied against for years, than I am today. Buying and selling user’s private information on the open market is bad enough for the obvious reasons, but today, I learned that the depths of depravity this market will descend to are without limit. Today I am more angry and ashamed at this industry than I have ever been. Corporate surveillance and adtech has turned your phone into an informant against you and brought about the actual murder of the user.
Say you’re a Muslim. You download some apps for reading the Quran and participating in Muslim-oriented social networks. These ads steal whatever personal information it can get its hands on, through any means available, and sell it to Locate X, who stores every GPS location your phone has visited and tags it as being associated with a Muslim. This is used, say, to place Muslim-targeted ads on billboards in Muslim-dense areas. It’s also sold to the Iowa National Guard, who uses it to conduct drone strikes. The app you installed is selling your GPS data so it can be used to kill you.
For a long time, I have preached “respect the user”. I want us, as programmers, to treat the user with the same standards of common decency and respect we’d afford to our neighbors. It seems I have to revise my sermon to “don’t murder the user”! If you work at a company which surveilles its users, you are complicit in these murders. You have written software which is used to murder people.
This industry is in severe need of a moral health check. You, the reader of this article, need to take personal responsibility for what your code is doing. Your boss isn’t going to. Do you really know what that database is being used for, or who it’s being sold to, or who it might be sold to in the future? Most companies include their hoard of private, personal information about their users as part of their valuation. Do you have stock options, by the way?
I’ve often heard the excuse that employees of large surveillance companies “want to feed their families, like anyone else”. Well, thanks to your work, a child you’ve never met was orphaned, and doesn’t have a family anymore. Who’s going to feed them? Is there really no other way for you to support your family?
Don’t fucking kill your users.
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“The corporate surveillance machine is killing people” was published on March 6, 2021.
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