Metadata – 21st Century Power

When the wall came down in 1989, one of the most haunting moments was when people peered into their Stasi files. Some realized that those they had loved were spying on them, that intimate details of their life were tracked, recorded, and organized without their knowledge. Some opted not too look, for fear of being hurt, betrayed by intimate members of their life.

I was reminded of this connection while recently reading various articles on the information that Facebook and Google in particular track in regards to our daily lives -including where you have been, who you communicate with, searches you have made, and which friends you have deleted. While some people might not be all that bothered by this information, I have been particularly disturbed. Nearly half of my entire life, my evolution as a human being, spanning my social, emotional, and intellectual development, has been documented through Google searches, Facebook chats, or location data.

If we agree that information is power, then the incredible data that Facebook and Google have access to makes these corporations arguably even more powerful than nation-states. Mark Zuckerberg alluded to this in the recent testimony to Congress. When asked about the 2018 midterm elections in the United States, he responded with a list of various elections around the world that he is monitoring including India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan and Hungary.

The data and infrastructure has the potential, if placed in the wrong hands, to manipulate billions of people simultaneously. It is conceivable to imagine a form of psychological warfare, in which the images of peoples deceased loved ones, or former romantic partners, were instantly displayed on everyones screens at one moment in time, including hurtful words that were actually communicated at some point. The available information is beyond merely just knowing one’s physical state, but has the potential to form a psychological model of people through accessing our fears, desires, phobias, or dreams. These multinational entities, and the data they constantly collect, do not just have the ability to create a psychologically sophisticated representation of the entire population of the United States or Britain, but a majority of the world.

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