By : Grace Raih
4 min read
In the era of surveillance capitalism, data is like diamonds, mineable assets easily exploited for profit by those in positions of power. Who stands to benefit from unfettered access to our digital footprint? The lucrative flow of information between law enforcement and tech companies has further criminalized personal bodily autonomy, facilitated racist surveillance, quelled protest, emboldened civilian vigilantism, and targeted immigrants. According to media scholar and cultural theorist John Fiske, the Orwellian image of the “overseeing eye” is a white one. In a discussion on racialized surveillance Fiske writes that, “although surveillance is penetrating deeply throughout our society, its penetration is differential.” The mutually beneficial cooperation between cops and big tech companies is not simply a violation of privacy rights, but a stream lining of goals of the carceral state.
Facing criticism that their site has allowed hate speech to flourish, Facebook promised to combat this issue in 2020. Yet, according to a study done by a non-profit watchdog called the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) this year, not only has Facebook failed to remove white supremacist content and groups, they have monetized searches for extremism. In their study, TTP found that searches for some white supremacist groups showed advertisments for Black churches. This clearly has raised concerns that Facebook is highlighting potential targets for white supremacist extremists. Facebook served ads in more than 40% of 91 searches for white supremacist groups. The ‘Unite the Right’” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was organized using a Facebook event page.
In August, Meta announced it would be testing end-to-end encryption as the default option on its Facebook Messenger platform. End-to-end encryption (E2EE) is a method of secure digital communication that prohibits third parties from accessing data while in transit from one device to another. E2EE is vital to protecting user privacy rights and freedom of expression in the digital sphere. Before the Dobbs decision, Meta complied with a court order from police to overturn private FB messages between a mother and daughter who had discussed an alleged illegal abortion. Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the criminalization of pregnant people will continue to be carried out at the hands of the police, and tech companies may very well lay down and comply.
Silicon Valley owes their profits to the personal information they collect and retain on us. Their retention of our private data and reliance on algorithms that “predict human behavior” cannot be considered innocuous in a surveillance state because the law does not equal justice. E2EE should be the default setting for online communications. Tech companies allegiance with law enforcement should be considered a warning to those who may seek abortion care in states that do not legally protect their right to choose, should they engage in any sensitive communications digitally. The overturning of Roe v. Wade is more proof that progress is not linear and what is protected today may be criminalized tomorrow.
Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #150 September 2022
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