I recently traveled to Puerto Rico for Thanksgiving and I had a rather eye-opening experience regarding Google and data gathering. My girlfriend and I were at Starbucks one morning planning our day and deciding whether to rent a car or hire a driver to explore other parts of the island. We opted for renting a car from Enterprise, therefore I Googled "Enterprise car rental Puerto Rico" on my Mobile Phone. Google immediately showed a list of links so I clicked on the FIRST link to dial Enterprise and an agent picked right up so I gave her my rental details and I asked where to pick-up the car. She said "99 Ashford Ave" and I wrote down the address as we left Starbucks to go locate the car. Walking away from Starbucks we looked at Google Maps to locate "99 Ashford Ave" and we realized that the Enterprise car rental pick-up was literally right next door to Starbucks! We looked at each other and laughed, but deep down I got a rather uneasy feeling in my gut.
I started thinking of all the Enterprise car rental locations (in the dozens) that I had seen in Puerto Rico since my arrival and I calculated the odds for Google to choose the EXACT one that was literally 10 feet away from my current location? I wondered why, for example didn't Google give me the Airport Enterprise Car Rental location as my first search result (a logical thing to do for 'most' people visiting PR)? I came to the simple conclusion that Google knew the exact location of my mobile phone when I searched for the car rental AND it knew there was an Enterprise location right next door to me. Before picking up the car, we decided we would rather hang out at our local beach spot and rent the car later in the week to explore. Therefore, I opened my rental confirmation email from Enterprise and I cancelled our car rental for the day. Ironically, shortly after we got to our local beach spot, a pickup truck slowly drove down the beach past us with "Enterprise Car Rental" printed on the side of it... we both looked and each other and laughingly said "Wow, Google/Enterprise is NOW following us and they REALLY want us to rent a car!".
All jokes aside, it just goes to show how much Google knows about me/everyone at every moment of every day (even when you are on vacation, far away from home). Google knows what I search for, when I search for it, where I am located, what I'm watching/reading, and even where I'm going. Through Artificial Intelligence, Google can also extrapolate to what I'm most likely going to do next (or what I'm probably thinking). As a software developer, I understand exactly how Google is doing this and I cannot help but applaud them for their ingenuity/tenacity, while at the same time fear them for their power. Google data gathering has been a hot topic for years and many people feel that this is an invasion of their privacy (which they opt into every time they use a Google product). The amount of data that Google has on me, you, and pretty much everyone with a connected device is mind-boggling to say the least. All of this data is stored, filtered, sold, and capitalized upon, giving Google Billions upon Billions of dollars per year at the expense of your privacy.
Then there's Facebook... oohhhhh Facebook, the mind-fuck of all mind-fucks. The application that knows more about you than your partner and takes "Behavioral Prediction" to a whole new level. Facebook boasts that they can actually impact individuals real-world behavior. By adjusting your feeds, they can make you feel happy or sad, excited, or annoyed, and they can do all of this without your awareness. I can go on and on and on about how fucked up Facebook is, but the fact that this is the ONE application that I REFUSE to use pretty much sums up how I feel about Facebook.
Then there's Alexa (or Google Home)... the silent partner in the background that is listening in on your life and waiting for your commands. Alexa not only listens for your commands, but it analyzes your voice to predict behavior by setting baselines and then analyzing when you move away from these baselines. Is your voice loud and angry? Or quiet and somber? Are you manic? Drunk? Sick? Depressed? ALEXA KNOWS! All of this micro-behavioral targeting is directed towards individuals to manipulate them, pure and simple. The scariest part is that ANYONE can buy this data to commandeer the public and manipulate the masses.
This is not just a Western World issue, China is the largest test lab for a Digital Surveillance State running on Artificial Intelligence. Not only are they listening in on your phone calls or monitoring your texts and social media feeds, but they have millions of local cameras watching your every move to ensure that you abide by THEIR RULES, 24/7! I recently heard about an instance where a Westerner was visiting China and J-walked across the street in a busy area of Beijing. Three minutes later, his Facebook account sent a message that he had been billed $50 and cited for J-walking. WOW, this is our future?
These dystopian deployments of new surveillance technology are demonstration projects for authoritarian governments around the world. China's grand scheme is to deploy their AI Surveillance Systems around the globe. They already have 58 countries eagerly lined up to use their technology to monitor their citizens every move. For somebody who loves to travel (and who rarely "follows the rules"), this is extremely disturbing news to me. The scary thing is that these technologies are still in their infancy and Artificial Intelligence is just getting started on manipulating our lives. Within 5-10 years I can only imagine the power that these systems will hold over various populations and I can't help but wonder if/when the masses will wake up to the fact that they are NO LONGER IN CONTROL...