How Technology is Steering us Towards Digital Totalitarianism
Social media, the internet, and other digital tools, which were once hailed as great forces for human empowerment, connectivity, and liberation, have quickly come to be seen as a serious threat to democratic stability and human freedom. Social media platforms are demonstrating the potential to exacerbate risks such as authoritarian privacy violations, partisan echo chambers, and the spread of harmful disinformation because they are based on a seriously flawed business model. A number of other developments in digital technology, most notably the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), are also benefiting authoritarian forces. These changes have the potential to lead to digital totalitarianism that is much easier to slide into than to climb out of.
Social Media and Big Data
In the increasingly data-driven world, technology is everywhere. Numerous shopping apps use your phone’s GPS to determine your location, giving merchants the opportunity to send you advertisements as soon as you pass by their storefront. Retailers can charge you exactly the most you’re willing to spend on a given product, thanks to personalized pricing. Even at home, your personal information is not secure: Digital assistants like Amazon Alexa save your search history, so they are aware of all of your preferences, including music, travel habits, and specific shopping histories.
Employers are tracking and monitoring their employees using the latest technology. Biometric timecards that scan an employee’s fingerprint, hand shape, retina, or iris are being used by an increasing number of businesses. Sensors that monitor door opening and closing, vehicle engine activity, and seatbelt clicks are installed in UPS trucks. Amazon is filing a patent for an electronic wristband that tracks hand motions, ensuring, for example, that a warehouse worker is constantly moving boxes.
With a bit of sci-fi imagination and a quick glance to the other side of the planet (cough – China), one can easily see how these technologies together form a slippery slope towards digital totalitarianism.
During the Hong Kong protests, the Chinese government used information from video surveillance, face and license plate identification, mobile device locations, and official records to identify targets for imprisonment in Xinjiang, according to Human Rights Watch’s Maya Wang. The study is the most recent in a series that has highlighted the extensive use of sophisticated monitoring, more conventional security measures, and political indoctrination camps in the area, which has acted as a proving ground for methods and innovations later used elsewhere.
Social Credit Systems and Digital Totalitarianism
China’s extreme tech programs that border on digital totalitarianism are notorious. The country’s “social credit system” will track citizens’ behavior by 2020, keeping track of everything from speeding tickets to social media posts that are critical of the government. Then, everyone will be given a special “sincerity score”; a high score will be necessary for anyone hoping to obtain the best housing, set up the fastest Internet speeds, enroll their children in the most prestigious institutions, and obtain the most lucrative employment opportunities.
The system was originally designed to undertake financial and social assessments for corporations, government institutions, people, and non-governmental groups while standardizing the credit rating function. It can, however quickly evolve into a precisely effective method of digital totalitarianism when it becomes equally as restrictive as it is handy.
Such a system doesn’t even need to be directly enforced to be an effective social control tool, as friends and family members would govern each other’s behaviors in fear of the repercussions spilling over onto them, shaming and shunning their fellow citizens for speaking against government entities for fear of catching the algorithm’s ire.
Control over Information Highways
The internet runs on vast and interconnected infrastructural networks that are managed by tech and telecoms companies under strict government supervision and
This infrastructure underpins the highway on which all our information travels. Increasingly, it goes beyond just Facebook messages and emails. Payment gateways, access to news and information, education, and a rising number of jobs and careers depend completely on the maintenance of communication infrastructure.
The digital repression taking place in Myanmar is one example of how authoritarian states can leverage their control over such communication highways to stifle resistance. Some may see it as a great tool for maintaining order and ensuring security, while others may see it as an unacceptable and oppressive method or digital totalitarianism that will not be used against the people until it is.
In addition to regular internet outages, the junta, a military or political force that seized forceful control of a nation, and blocked access to social media sites. On February 4, Facebook, which has more than 22 million users in Myanmar, or roughly 40% of the population, was blocked. Before Facebook was banned, anti-coup activists frequently used it to plan large-scale acts of civil disobedience, such as doctors refusing to work in military hospitals and staging fake car accidents and sit-ins on trains to cause traffic.
After Facebook was banned in the country, protesters moved to Twitter to organize their acts, which was also blocked the next day. Later, on February 9, the junta proposed a cybersecurity law that, in accordance with Human Rights Watch, would “give it sweeping powers to access user data, block websites, order internet shutdowns, and imprison critics and officials at non-complying companies.”
Predictive AI as a Tool for Digital Totalitarianism
In the U.S, a “predictive policing” initiative conducted by the New Orleans Police Department creates a hot list of probable criminal offenders using Big Data. Quiet Skies, a TSA-run comprehensive technology initiative, analyzes and flags travelers based on “suspect” behavioral patterns. The last person to board their aircraft, change clothes in the toilet, or simply look at their reflection in a terminal glass might have a traveler on the Quiet Skies list.
Using such technology, A city’s location and crime rate may now be predicted with up to 90% accuracy by artificial intelligence one week in advance. The researchers that developed this AI assert that it can also be used to uncover those prejudices. Similar systems have been seen to reinforce racist bias in police, and the same may be true in this instance, especially since this data can be used to specify individuals with the most likelihood of committing a crime.
This would undoubtedly sound like good news for a head of a city police department as the allocation of scarce resources and manpower would be better used if the police knew preemptively where their forces would be needed. However, it can also be quite concerning in the hands of malicious actors, at the beck and call of a state hell-bent on the use of digital totalitarianism to meet their ends by any means necessary.
In all the aforementioned cases, it is not the technology itself that is destructive or evil in any way, but the debate arises when we ask the question: Can any person or entity, public or private, be trusted with such power? If yes, then who and what mechanisms are there in place to mitigate damages should they go rogue.
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Distorting Reality of Sexual Abuse in the Metaverse
As a virtual world, the Metaverse is bound to witness such inappropriate occurrences. Again, I need to highlight this one more time; the issue is not really the Metaverse here; it is more the people using it and the companies developing it and their inability to protect their users. Sexual abuse in the Metaverse cannot be fully attributed to the company creating it as much as the people using it. The blame for such condemned and inappropriately conducted conduct falls on the company developing the virtual world alongside its failure to create a safe ecosystem that shields women from the improper and vulgar behavior they were exposed to in the virtual space. It is not a secret that technology has facilitated sexual violence, as digital technology is now considered one the leading facilitators of not only virtual sexual harassment and abuse but also it is leading to face-to-face sexuality-based harm.
Technology has brought endless possibilities of the utmost freedom to act as they please, and digital technologies are the leading facilitators of such conduct. At the moment, and since its emergence, the tech industry and its unlimited offerings to the world have seen almost no supervision from the right parties. This lack of privacy laws, self-regulation, and transparency has led to disturbing cases of ethically intolerable and improper occurrences within the industry. From there, we can establish that while the problem is occurring in the industry itself, the issue is not from the industry but from how people use and manipulate the offering of technological innovations.
Technology-Facilitated Sexual Harassment
Digital technologies have facilitated a wide range of sexual harassment behaviors such as online sexual harassment, gender, and sexuality-based harassment, cyberstalking, exploitation from shared photos, and more – and we’re not covering the Metaverse sexual abuse. I am still merely generalizing the improper conduct resulting from the industry itself.
Mainly facilitated through social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok. Messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, as well as dating applications such as Tinder and Bumble, sexual abuse in the Metaverse has been a growing problem that is heavily affecting the internet and bringing fundamental technological and social challenges.
We Need to Talk About Sexual Harassment in the Metaverse
It seems that Meta’s virtual reality platform Horizon World has been the hub for sexual harassment, exposing women to various provocations of sexual abuse in the Metaverse. Women are reporting cases of sexual abuse and even assault in the parallel universe. Numerous users have expressed discontent with the company’s lack of attentiveness in safeguarding their experience in Horizon World.
In 2021, numerous reports of sexual abuse in the Metaverse emerged, adding another layer of discomfort for women on the internet. “Not only was I groped last night, but there were people there who supported this behavior which made me feel isolated in the Plaza,” one woman expressed to one news outlet.
Women’s presence on the internet has constantly been exposed to such behavior and encounters, and virtual reality is just adding another layer of unpleasantness to its female users. While companies are maintaining their focus on the design model of the universe, one thing is not being taken into consideration on this account: the psychological effect of being exposed to such behavior.
Online watchdogs are increasing their reports of Metaverse sexual abuse. The numbers are on an exponential rise, with some reporting being virtually raped on the platform after one hour of entering the universe while another avatar was watching.
The problem here can be divided into two segments, the behavioral analysis of the users and the model design of Meta’s Horizon World. Given that it is quite impossible to have any control over the users’ use of the platform and their ethical conduct in the world, Meta, on the other hand, has not succeeded in delivering a secure and protected space for its female users before releasing the VR platform to the public.
When a woman gets assaulted in the Metaverse, this leaves a deeply rooted psychological effect on the person exposed to it. When a user initiates unsolicited sexual conduct on a female user in the virtual world, the person’s brain cannot differentiate between what is real and virtual as virtual reality connects the subconscious brain to the physical world. This creates a vivid association between what is happening in the virtual world and the real world.
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How Digital Marketing Pushes the Consumer to Buy Low-Quality Products
Online consumption is constantly mounting with the continuous availability and deliverance of the internet. The margin of individuals going online to satisfy their shopping itch is increasing daily, and digital marketing has a massive role to play here. By promoting a particular brand, digital marketing creates a familiar ground between the consumer and the brand by creating promotional messaging and measure that affects the consumers’ choice when buying – no matter the quality of the product. How digital marketing pushes the consumer to buy low-quality products is strictly associated with how the idea and the concept of the product are being delivered to the consumer through marketing campaigns appearing on any smart device that can display ads.
How Does Digital Marketing Affect Consumers?
The effect of digital marketing on consumers can be solemnly affected by various factors, with the most bountiful one being the reviews. Digital marketing is significantly linked to the consumers’ assessments of a specific product, be it positive or negative. By doing so, digital marketing provides the consumers with the power of choice, delivering a personalized approach between the customer and the brand, which helps the companies providing the product to create a robust foundation with the customers. This plays a vital role in creating a solid base of loyal customers to the brand.
By implementing the right digital marketing strategy, brands can advantage the human psyche to their benefit by manipulating the users’ reaction to their products, whether high or low-quality products.
Creating the right balance in ad frequency is one of the key pillars for constructing the right digital marketing strategy in any campaign. While rarely at the forefront of the marketing process, ad frequency sets the first stone in any marketing campaign.
Advertising frequency is responsible for the intensity of targeted ads for users, strategically directing consumers to specific products through the deliverance of a solid brand recall, driving higher conversion rates. Ads frequency specifies the margin of ads a consumer is exposed to during a certain period of time and the intensity of ads served for one user.
After the COVID-19 pandemic took over the world, marketing approaches drastically changed to accommodate the hasty adoption of digital transformation on a global scale. The marketing landscape rode the wave of digitalization to sustain its evolvement and effectiveness. Nowadays, more advertisers are directing their attention toward developing a more organized and structured campaign that promotes high engagement with the brand instead of focusing on increasing impressions or clicks on their products.
This approach helps marketing campaigns identify the intensity of users and how many times they were reached. By creating a suitable base of impressions by increasing the number of unique users, only then will advertisers be able to increase the frequency of visits to a particular product for the brand.
While the strategy is deemed as one of the most optimal adopted strategies, from the users’ perspective, it does not differentiate in the quality of the product. The party in complete control of the situation is the brand and the advertising expert, while the consumer can fall victim to directed advertising. Advertising frequency does not provide the consumer with enough information about the products being promoted in the ads.
Using the psyche of human behavior to direct users’ attention to certain ads will only push the consumer to intensity their engagement with the product on a daily basis, with no guarantee of the nature and quality of the product. The consumer sees what the brand and advertisers want them to see. This means that most of the time, they hold the winning card, and the consumer can easily fall for marketing manipulation through ad frequency and buy a product that does not meet the standards.
What is the Biggest Problem in Digital Marketing?
Today’s world is experiencing drastic and fundamental shifts in dynamics between the traditional and digital approaches to managing, promoting, and advertising businesses. In comparison, some might think that digital marketing is hitting its highest success points today. The fact is that developing the right digital marketing strategy does not come without challenges, as there is always room to improve to fulfill its goals.
One of the most prominent problems is finding the right volume intensity when reaching out to consumers. The digital world’s flourishing in almost every aspect drives brands to expand their horizons when marketing their products, which requires finding and directing their strategies to the right volume of consumers. With the increasing importance of brands adopting the digital marketing approach to reach the masses, advertisers are now bedeviled with the challenges of making their brand distinctively catch the eye of the correct mass of potential customers.
Once identifying the correct mass for the brand is established comes the part of driving relevant traffic to the brand’s website. Setting the right volume of consumers is not enough, as the step that follows is what truly institutes a loyal volume of consumers for the brand. Most advertisers fall into the trap of attracting the right volume of consumers and forget to develop a complementary strategy to drive relevant traffic to the website by spreading awareness to the right target market.
Steering the digital marketing campaigns to focus on facing these two challenges will place advertisers in a position of strength when they direct the right users’ attention towards their product by comprehending which channel is the right one to drive the relevant audience to their website to turn them into loyal consumers, no matter the quality of the product.
The impact of how digital marketing pushes the consumer to buy low-quality products heavily relies on consumers’ behavior. It’s affecting how interested buyers deal with the brand and their product. The effect of digital marketing on users’ behavior is fashioning how the tech industry is driving businesses worldwide to alter their approaches to meet the new norms of digital advertising. With users spending more time on social media and other applications, it has become harder to differentiate between good and bad quality products from just looking at a post or its sell-through statement. Digital marketing is enabling a drastic shift in power between the consumer and the brand’s advertisers. Now, the brand has more control over the users’ perception of the product’s quality, and from there, indirectly shifting the consumers’ awareness of the quality of the product they are presenting.
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The Knock-on Effect of Police Use of Facial Recognition
For the police, the use of facial technology in a technologically accelerated world is nothing but a means to optimize their internal operations to deliver a more safeguarded environment, conduct faster investigations, and catch criminals. But for the public, the police use of facial recognition is a cause of concern in terms of a potential threat of misguided arrests, surveillance, and a prominent human rights breach and violation. Yet, the fact remains that using facial recognition in law enforcement is a slippery slope. It can be deemed an added value to law enforcement – when properly adopted and used – and simultaneously increases the risks of identity theft, stalking, and harassment from the public’s perspective.
When Did the Police Start Using Facial Recognition?
In the early 2000s, the first adoption of facial recognition technology for law enforcement emerged in the U.S. The aforementioned was bound to happen in a world where technology is implemented in our daily lives. The technology-accelerated endorsement of facial recognition for state and local police was notably unreliable as the technology’s implementation lacked sophistication in terms of camera systems and algorithmic behavior of its Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Now, these systems can capture features and people in the streets and identify their identity in real life. Some law enforcement offices and departments have been tooled with devices with facial recognition systems embedded into them, which can be used to run individuals against law enforcement databases.
Since then, the identification process has been as simple as a button click, with various police departments weaponized with the needed technological means to detect any person committing a crime through the intelligent systems – as long as the crime is being caught on any camera in the street.
Ever since the governments worldwide equipped their federal and state police with the facial recognition systems, governmental facial biometrics markets’ budgets have skyrocketed, and their value is set to reach a colossal $8.5 billion by 2025 from 2018’s $13.9 million. Commanded by intelligent technology such as AI, these systems enable law enforcement officers to analyze photos of individuals – either taken in the field or extracted from saved images and videos – and conduct comparisons with governmental databases such as mugshots and driver’s licenses, and more.
Facial Recognition in Criminal Investigation
Integrating law enforcement and facial recognition is accelerating the adoption of digital security approaches. In the past years, facial recognition proved to be one of the few biometric techniques that deliver intensively accurate and intrusive results. By comparing various photos of people’s faces in a computer program, the technology can help law enforcement officers identify the person in question from digital images or simply a video frame extracted from a particular source.
Officers can authenticate the individual by comparing facial features from a face in law enforcement databases. In criminal investigations, these AI-based systems have been adopted by some of the most prominent federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and even some of the Big Tech giants like Facebook – now Meta, Apple, and even Taiwanese manufacturer, ASUS.
By inspecting the input image and pre-processing the image, face recognition in criminal investigations will deliver an accurate response when analyzing the image of a person in question from within the system. Once the image is examined in the system, it will catalog and arrange based on specific points of identification features such as the distance between the eyes, the length of the jaw, the form of the nose and mouth, and others. And the facial recognition system strictly focuses on executing its process for criminal identification purposes.
Is Facial Recognition a Violation of Privacy?
As the AI-driven facial recognition market proliferates in terms of accessibility for federal and state police offices, as well as popularity in these governmental establishments, it is of immense vitality to tackle the rising privacy concerns of such implementation. Three core controversies accompany this accelerated adoption.
- Misuse of biometrics and recognition data is associated with privacy. Ever since the news broke out of the police use of facial recognition, the public has been worried about the excessive discharge of mass surveillance, and validly so. The public is vocalizing against the exploitation of their data for investigative purposes.
- Increase in security breaches is aggregating concerns due to the mounting use of facial recognition and its effect on jeopardizing citizens’ privacy and security. The digital revolution and its excessive use on all fronts have migrated data storage into the cloud, which in return, critically outstripped on-site network systems from their role. Data stored in the cloud is usually secured with end-to-end encryptions, magnifying data security.
- Inadequate data storage and sharing and the police use of facial recognition are highly linked to improper data storage. This exposes facial ID credentials to high-security risks as various establishments currently host their recognitional data on local servers instead of privately secured ones.
There is no denying the significance of using facial recognition technologies. To prevent any violation of data breach, storing people’s data in the cloud is the most secure and reliable approach. If the data gathered for facial recognition is not secure and appropriately encrypted, then any cloud-based system will not be different. To ensure the highest level of protection and to refrain from jeopardizing data to a violation of privacy, encryption is the key.
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