Is Orwell’s Big Brother Here? Bezos & Amazon Team up With Defense, CIA & ICE

Yves here. In case you hadn’t noticed, more and more pervasive personal data collection is a wet dream for police. This Real News Network interview describes how it is being used in “predictive policing” or what Philip K. Dick called “pre-crime”. And if you haven’t stopped or greatly reduced your use of Amazon, this piece makes clear why that would be in your best interest.

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you with us.

Amazon CEO chief Jeff Bezos has been in the news for quite a while now for many reasons: becoming the world’s richest man, giving a $2 billion gift to build schools and help the homeless, buying the Washington Post. Most recently we saw the result of his being hounded by Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Ro Khanna over working conditions and salaries of Amazon employees, which prompted Bezos to give his workers a raise to $15 an hour.

Most these stories are important and vital, but there’s one story that seems to have fallen through the cracks and has not been given the same kind of media attention. And that’s the close working relationship between Amazon, the Department of Defense, CIA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or as we know it, ICE, local law enforcement, and the secretive datamining firm Palantir. It appears that the intertwined relationship ominously involves the intersection of mass surveillance and military contracts. At Wired’s 25th anniversary celebration last week, Jeff Bezos defended Amazon’s contracting with the Department of Defense, being very clear that he won’t be intimidated like other Silicon Valley tech companies whose employees are protesting their company’s involvement in the advancement of war and their role in increased mass surveillance.

My guest today is Robert Scheer, who wrote the book They Know Everything About You: How Data Collection Operations and Snooping Government Agencies are Destroying Democracy. He’s also the host of the podcast Scheer Intelligence, hosted by the local NPR station KCRW in LA, and is the editor of Truthdig.com. And once again, great to have you with us. Thank you for joining us, Bob.

So let’s just begin here. Your book seems a little prescient, almost, really prescient, about discussing the relationship we’re talking about today. So let’s start- let’s go back. Let’s talk about Palantir. Who are they? What do we know about them? I mean, it seems like it was founded with the help of the CIA, and Amazon’s $600 million contract several years back, with the CIA’s cloud-based computing system, and more. But just who are they? And why are they so important in this equation?

BOB SCHEER: Well, first of all, understand that the key, as George Orwel pointed out, and others have, that our own Constitution points out, if you don’t have private space, if you can’t be alone with your thoughts, your associations, your books and so forth, you can’t have freedom. That’s the bottom line. The American Revolution was fought over that. And the Internet represents, yes, the best and the worst of worlds. We are connected. We offer a lot of ourselves. We learn a lot from it. But it’s also the worst in terms of individual space and privacy. This has come to be recognized particularly after Edward Snowden revealed the extent of cooperation between companies like Facebook and Google and Apple, and others, and the intelligence agencies and government. The Defense Department, the CIA, the NSA, and so forth.

So before Snowden’s revelations, it was possible to minimize all of that. And these companies would say, hey, we’re private enterprises. You’re voluntarily giving over your data. And this is no threat to your freedom, we’re just helping you be better shoppers. Well, what Snowden revealed is this data was given or stolen by- when Apple and Google didn’t cooperate, the NSA and CIA just cut into their cables, went through backdoor access to their computers, and gathered up the most intimate details of your life. In the case of Amazon, for example, not only what books you bought, but how far you read in that book. What you wrote to friends about what you thought about that, or the movie you saw, or what have you. Your most private thoughts.

So then you have the 1984 world, where a government anywhere- and by the way, they service governments all over the world. Other governments can do it, can get information about what you are thinking, who you are associating with. And you end up in, basically, an unfree, untenable situation from a point of view of freedom.

Now, the key to all this is that these businesses primarily- certainly in the case of Google and Facebook, but very much so with Amazon- are making their money not from servicing the clients as the customers. Amazon really didn’t make, in terms of its sales, most of his profit does not come from supplying you with detergent, or books, or music, or videos, or anything else. It comes from being able to mine that data, to advertise you. That’s why in Google you don’t even pay for the service. Facebook you don’t pay. The key thing here is your data. The most detailed, personal, intimate data is the thing really being sought and marketed. It’s being mined, OK.

Now, as long as that stays in the private sector, you can argue that’s not the business of our Constitution. But when the government gets access to that information, and when the government and the private sector are commingled, as they are very intimately with Amazon, for example, then you have a situation that fundamentally threatens a free society. And when I say intimately connected- and I think that’s why Jeff Bezos made that outrageous statement that, you know, I’m just being a patriotic person, and Amazon is going to help the government be strong. Well, that’s hogwash. Because really what he is is a major defense contractor. The very kind of person that General Eisenhower warned against when he talked about the military-industrial complex. You now have to add intelligence agencies.

And Amazon, one of their sources of profit, main sources, is building the cloud and doing Amazon Web Services. If you look at the profit picture, just today they’re announcing yet another billion-plus quarter; four times greater than it was last year. That’s not coming from selling you products on Amazon. What they’re gathering is your data. That’s coming from their building this whole web infrastructure of data seeking. And Amazon has been building the main cloud for the intelligence agencies. All right? They are collecting it. All this data that the government gets access to and so forth, most of that is going through Amazon-run enterprises. So no wonder Jeff Bezos is nervous about people focusing on that, because he’s in fact primarily, at this point, a military contractor.

MARC STEINER: So let me ask you a question, Bob. How does this group Palantir, founded by Peter Thiel, a close ally of Trump’s, fit into all of this? I mean, this is a man who named his company after the all-seeing eye in the Lord of the Rings that was being done by the evil wizard Saruman. I mean, so who is he, and how does he fit into this? How does his company fit into this? What’s their role in all this?

BOB SCHEER: First of all, it’s very interesting this connection between the private and the public, OK. They all claim to be public companies with just brilliant Silicon Valley software engineers, and we develop these great products. But you know, we know that Google itself, the whole Internet itself, came out of a DARPA, Defense Advanced Research Project. You know, the Defense Department was developing communication in the event of a nuclear war. That’s where we got the web from, as a side product of defense spending. The association with many of these companies, most of them in the defense industry, the intelligence community, is long-standing.

But in the case of Palantir, that’s a company that during its first three years, started by venture capitalists and others in Silicon Valley, including Peter Thiel from PayPal and so forth, using the technology of PayPal, learning so much about how we manage our data and our finances. Their only client- first of all, one of their investors was the CIA, through a dummy CIA corporation called In-Q-Tel. And In-Q-Tel was created by the CIA in order to get the brains of Silicon Valley to help them figure out the Internet and everything, and how to use it for their purposes.

Now, the CIA is still under congressional restriction not to be spying on American citizens, Americans. They’re supposed to be doing this internationally. It’s the FBI that’s supposed to be monitoring us. But not the CIA. Nonetheless, the CIA developed a company called In-Q-Tel and invested in a plethora of Silicon Valley companies. One of the companies they invested in was Palantir, a really mysterious, still-private organization. A huge company, incredibly profitable. And Palantir, like Amazon, has been involved in advising the government and working with the government during their first three years of existence. The CIA was their only client. Now Palantir is tied into all of the intelligence agencies. And Palantir is even more blatant than what Amazon is involved with. Palantir is actively involved in police activity, domestic police activity, throughout the country in about 70 different police outfits.

And here in Los Angeles, for example, we have a very active coalition, community coalition, Stop Police Spying. And what they’ve been able to discover is that there is this ominous predictive policing program that is nationwide, which came out of 9/11. It came out of supposedly finding terrorists. But the terrorists they’re finding are ordinary people who live in our community. And they’re finding, predicting that they’re going to be criminal even if they haven’t. Even a past record of being criminal. They find them.

Palantir is working within these police stations. They’re not alone developing these models of predictive policing, which is a way of defining who among us are likely to commit crimes, and based on the data they’ve collected about us. That data and the algorithms are not made public to us. They are not subject to discussion. The city council, people who control their activities, are really not privy to how they do this. And yet the police target certain neighborhoods, certain individuals, based on those algorithms. Based on the data that Palantir supplies to them.

So what Palantir is an example of, and the same thing at Amazon, is the wedding of a domestic police agency, domestic police force, with a notion of international power and our defense contractors, our CIA, our NSA, and so forth. So we have the brave new world that Huxley and the 1984 world that Huxley and Orwell warned us about. We have this constant observation of our people, and we have some who are part of big corporations making this enormous amount of money. As you know, Jeff Bezos of Amazon is now the richest man in the world. And they are making money by being in bed with with our intelligence agencies.

MARC STEINER: Describe for us what’s happening now. What is this latest news coming out that we’re not covering very much in the media about Bezos, Amazon, the Department of Defense? I mean, his employees himself have been trying to get him to to not put Palantir in that cloud. He won’t listen to them. He’s going to do what he wants to do. But what is this latest revelation about?

BOB SCHEER: Well, one of the big revelations is about facial recognition technology and their use of it. And again, it goes back to the basic point. A company like Amazon has much more information on us, our face, the pupils of our eyes, everything about us. Our most intimate habits, our travel, everything. And all this information that no secret police agency in the world could ever fantasize about; ever fantasize. When our own FBI went out to destroy Martin Luther King, something they don’t teach about much in the schools, when they went out to destroy Martin Luther King they had to use crude, old-fashioned measures. They had to actually follow him, or get a hotel room next to his hotel, and then tap into his old-fashioned phone line, or so forth.

None of that is necessary now. Anywhere in the world, any dictator, any government in the world can now use our marketing services, our commercial- Facebook, Google, and Amazon to gather an incredible amount of detail about everything you do in your life. When that information is made available to the government, and when they are partners- mind you, Amazon is a partner with NSA, CIA, the FBI. All of these organizations are developing their data storage area. OK? And when they’re partners with them, and they themselves, these groups like Amazon have all this information, you have a violation basically of the constitutional protection and our Fourth Amendment to our privacy. Our right to not have our effects, our books, everything, our papers surveilled. They can’t come through your door. They must have a specific warrant. All thrown out by this new technology.

And that is really a fundamental violation of our Constitution. And there’s almost no examination of it. And what Bezos is saying is trust us, give us a pass. We’re always going to go after the bad guys, we’re never going to go after the good guys. And that is the basis of a totalitarian society.

MARC STEINER: So as we conclude here, Amazon’s developed this recognition, which we can talk about here, what it does. You’ve covered this on your podcast. And given what is really at foot here and moving, which is the relationship between Silicon Valley, Amazon, Palantir and the rest, with a deal with the Department of Defense, the CIA, ICE, the FBI, all this surveillance, I’m curious. In all your years as a political activist and journalist, what should be the- how do you respond to that? I mean, it’s one thing for us to talk about this, which we need to do to give people an awareness of what’s going on. But there also has to be a response, and not just throw up our hands and, oh, we’re done.

BOB SCHEER: Well, the response that I could- you can take the leadership from the European Union, because there’s a lot more pushback in Europe than there’s been here. And all of these high tech people- Tim Cook went there from Apple and pledged just this week that he would be concerned more about privacy, and that Apple cares, Google, and so forth. And the only reason these companies might do the right thing at times is when they’re worried that their business model will be hurt. If consumers don’t trust them, if they think they’re being spied on, if they’re aware. That could hurt, you know. Facebook could be less popular. After all, Facebook has been accused of having given 50 million accounts to a questionable group that was gaming the last election- without any Russian interference, I might point out.

So then people stop using, are wary of these services. So that has happened more. And we’re much more gullible in this country. I know, I teach in a university. And my students think, well, this is just for their convenience. Oh, I was looking at shoes. I talked to a friend and suddenly shoe ads appear all around me. OK, well, the same people who can target you for you are shoe ads can also target you for your politics, your reading habits, what movies you like, what political organization you belong to, your free speech. They could put you on a predictive policing list, to say watch that person, OK. Let’s check them out even more closely. And then you have a surveillance society.

Now, the defense some of my students will say, and the defense given by Silicon Valley before Mark Zuckerberg and others don’t do anything, Eric Schmidt from Google, don’t do anything that will give government reason to go after you. But most people in the world know that governments cannot be trusted. After all, the assumption of the American Constitution is that the government is potentially your most dangerous enemy. That’s what George Washington, Madison, Jefferson, all of them warned us against. You know, George Washington warned about the impostures of pretended patriotism. He was a general, just like Eisenhower. So the whole construction of the American Constitution is to protect us against our own government.

Now we have a situation where private corporations, ostensibly, gather your most intimate data that no secret police would have ever been able to get- everything about you. Your eye scan, your facial recognition, where you’ve been, where you shop. You know, you give your location all the time, right. And so they can spot you be there, be there. What do you read, what did you write to your friends, what are you thinking, and so forth. And they develop a profile of you, and then you become a target of the surveillance society. And it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So maybe you’re a critic of Amazon, as I’m being right now. Or you’re a critic of Palantir. Do I end up here- I’m in Los Angeles. Palantir is advising my local police department. Do they then say, hey, watch this guy Bob Scheer? You know, put a special check on him?

MARC STEINER: They might.

BOB SCHEER: That’s what’s built into this. That’s what’s predictive policing is about. And you know, first they go after people that have a little bit different idea, a little bit critical. And then you suddenly find everyone in the society that’s concerned. You know, it’s it’s a fundamental issue.

Now, I’ll tell you the great contradiction. As the great singer-poet Leonard Cohen said, there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets through. If you want to be optimistic, and you talked about organizing, the big problem for these multinational corporations is they have to have customers all over the world. If they’re in bed with their own local government, their own government- the U.S. government- believe it or not, most people in the world recognize that’s a separate government. It’s not a world government. It’s not universally trusted. So you have, you know, should people in China be demanding that Google, which has been blocked in China, come in now? Well, they’ve got four huge Internet-related companies of their own. And people might say, hey, better the devil we know than the devil we don’t.

And so the whole problem is if you want to be a multinational corporation, you have to protect the interest of your customers, or your people you’re dealing with all over the world. And when this stuff gets known, is exposed- that’s why Bezos is pushing back. Because other people might say, hey, if Amazon is locked in with the American defense industry, do we want Amazon in Europe? Do we want Amazon in China? Do we want Amazon elsewhere? They’ll push back. And maybe people in the United States say, wait a minute. I’m buying, you know, 50 Shades of Grey, this movie. Do I really want people and the government and everywhere else to know that I bought that book, and how far I read in that book, and what I wrote to my friend?

Suddenly privacy is what it is. This becomes very personal. And why is this guy Jeff Bezos, who’s making this enormous amount of money, so sanguine about selling and giving my privacy away? Which is why he’s in the business of doing, with targeted advertising, and then this intense cooperation with government. It’s very suspicious that he should now say, you know, get over it. If my employees or anybody else wants to raise questions about my relation with the government, they’re out of here. Well, that’s not what the Constitution is about. Our Constitution says we’re supposed to be suspicious of our government. We’re supposed to be worrying about power corrupting, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We’re supposed to be- that’s why we have a First Amendment, OK. We’re supposed to be guarding against government overreach, government excess, government surveillance. That’s what the American Revolution was fought about against the Brits; you know, breaking into your homes.

And here’s Jeff Bezos saying, hey, get over it. I sell you products, they deliver every day. And the other issue is he doesn’t want people in the community raising questions, as Bernie Sanders did very effectively, about who’s delivering these goods. You know, what’s replaced brick and mortar stores? What are the working conditions? Well then, do you get branded as a suspicious person if you are organizing against Amazon? Are you, then, the enemy? Do they then tell their friends in the NSA, FBI and everything, watch those folks over there, they fit our predictive policing profile of a terrorist or a criminal? That’s the danger.

MARC STEINER: Well, Bob Scheer, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you, and getting your insightful analysis on the air here with us. I deeply appreciate your time. Thank you so much. Bob Scheer has been our guest, and I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thanks for being with us. Take care.

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58 comments

  1. Seamus Padraig

    I very much want to stop using Amazon, but where’s the alternative? Does anybody here know of a good work-around? I already avoid Google by using DuckDuckGo, and I am in the process of shifting my Fakebook stuff to VK. But what alternative to Amazon exists?

    Reply
    1. Louis Fyne

      there are alternatives, brick/mortars, ebay, jet.com, a brand’s own website, etc. you could even go to alibaba and import all the stuff you need by the pallet.

      The issue is alternatives that don’t cost more. Acting on one’s principles has a price.

      Amazon’s $25 free shipping (for non-Prime customers, free 2-day for Prime) on everything it sells/fulfills is really tough to be beat. Impossible on heavy and/or bulky items.

      That’s Amazon’s secret weapon (anti-competitive monopolistic behavior).

      Using its profits from its AWS cloud services arm to subsidize its retail arm.

      Who would’ve predicted in 1999 that a bookseller would be one of the biggest players in internet infrastructure?

      Reply
    2. cnchal

      > I very much want to stop using Amazon, . . . But what alternative to Amazon exists?

      So helpless in the face of a totalitarian nightmare? Go to a store and use cash that you have never used a credit card at.

      I see a facial recognition arms race in the making, where it starts off with the peasants wearing funny hats with dangly frills hanging down from the brim, with the end point being total face masks with sun glasses and putting a pebble into alternate shoes when in public.

      Unless Bezos and the police decide doing that is illegal.

      Reply
      1. Huey

        >Go to a store and use cash

        Thanks, this is great advice for those of us only using Amazon because we lack physical access to goods we want.

        Personally, I do go to manufacturer websites whenever I can, usually for musical instruments/paraphenelia. But several other things I’ve been forced to get from Ama just because I don’t know where else online would have them, generally after a week’s worth of checking all the nearby stores.

        Evil as Amazon is, it’s also really annoying having multiple accounts on various specialized websites, which is why another ‘reputable’ site with varied goods would be a boon, certainly for those of us trying to avoid Bezos.

        Reply
    3. Quanka

      You have to go cold turkey. It will force you to find better retailers, but they exist and can be found. I dropped AMZ cold a couple years ago – I think its the only way. The way I think about it is that post-Amazon, I buy less, and I buy better. Most of the items I purchased on Amazon previously are gone now. The stuff I buy from other retailers directly is higher quality and lasts.

      I live in a urban environment, so easier for me than someone in a rural area.

      Reply
      1. Scott1

        You are right about that, that it is easier to not be using Amazon in an urban place. In the small town I live in places have been disappearing. Well I particularly miss Radio Shack.

        Then I’m a hypocrite in that I self published using Amazon’s KDP & Createspace. Createspace people on the phone were simply awesome. It is just gone now. I knew it was too good to last. My stuff is apparently still for sale, but I can’t find in the system where everything was “migrated” the list of what I did and what may or may not have sold. I can’t buy my own books in fact.

        Amazon has become such a monopoly that they really can be lazy.
        At various times in my life I have fit every damned profile, the “Shed Man” profile, yeah, I fit that one. But you know that laziness doesn’t mean you are protected from them. Some political group becomes outraged at your group and BlamO, you and everyone else is rounded up and shot at the lip of a ditch. They know enough.

        It is books from which the ideas come and collect evidence of your being so it is less the wonder that Amazon became so powerful. Sure you may know how to make arrows and be a great hunter for the tribe, but you are the ideas from being raised on the stories of the tribe more than just an arrow maker. If you read all the books in my reading list you’d think about things from the same viewpoint aye?

        Old hippie? Well the thing is you discover who you are and want to declare it, for some reason, probably so you won’t feel alone. I was truly shocked to discover I was a Beat, for instance.

        Reply
        1. rwood

          Beatiful
          and this:
          you are the ideas from being raised on the stories of the tribe more than just an arrow maker

          there used to be a poetry production on EDTV

          Ferlinghetti, reading about Ike and San Francisco
          and looking out
          with blue binoculars

          Reply
          1. rwood

            THE SITUATION IN THE WEST FOLLOWED BY A HOLY PROPOSAL / LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI
            Kyrie Eleison Kerista
            Dreaming of utopias
            where everyone’s a lover
            I see San Francisco from my window thru some old navy beerbottles The glass is dark
            What’s it all about
            I move the ships about in my binoculars like some mad admiral Dark Dark Dark we are all shunted into it a concrete Crete freeway pinball labyrinth cars into tunnels dancers long gone under the hills kiss kiss in stone boudoirs the earth a turbine storing sexual energy turning and turning into the dark under the skyscrapers with their time on top tickertape time tick tick civilization and its crickets The dark thread draws us all in into the wind-up labyrinth undischarged sexual energy
            not mine the city’s

            There’s the Fairmont
            phallus
            There’s the Mark masturbation

            There’s the Park there’s the cement works

            There’s the Steam Beer Brewing Plant

            There’s the Actor’s Workshop
            Nothing brewing there these days
            There’s the Bay there’s that Bridge

            There’s that treasured Island the Navy doesn’t need

            We need it but we don’t need the Navy
            Sail Away forever
            somewhere why don’t you

            Ah there’s the sun again

            There’s the Hall of Justice blockhouse
            personifying itself Mussolini Modern
            There’s the sky there’s the skywriting

            [scribd trailer]

            Reply
    4. Merf

      We go to actual stores – remember them? Like people did for a couple of hundred plus years. Not chains or big box either. Many deliver even if they do not advertise it. An aquaintance is wheelchair bound and she asked our local natural foods store if they deliver and they said not rountinely but for people who cannot get out we certainly will. You must ask. If I cannot get it at a local store we generally do without. It’s not that hard. If you are too busy you need to eliminate something you are doing. No one is forcing you online.

      Reply
    5. oh

      If you do a search for any item you want to buy you will get many hits on other sellers, not just amazon. In many cases the prices at other sites are cheaper than amazon, Yes, there are so many alternatives but you just have to look for them.

      One more thing, Amazon hangs on to your credit card details!

      Reply
      1. ChiGal in Carolina

        All online retailers do if you let them. Always check out as a guest, NEVER let them (or your browser, which will ask in a pop up) keep your payment info. I think you can’t prevent them from knowing your unique device identifier but don’t let them retain anything else.

        Like not using Amazon, it’s a little more inconvenient to have to enter your data every time, but remember, it’s YOUR data and that’s the only way to hang onto it.

        Since Amazon dominates search results even on DDG, I may look at products on their site but then I go to the actual manufacturer or any other store but Walmart–also on my do not touch list for probably over a decade.

        I don’t have a lot of money and I do tend to buy “quality”, but as someone above said, I just get less stuff!

        We are not yet COMPLETELY helpless in the face of the surveillance state and once they freeze our accounts and declare cash worthless, we are all Handmaids, but until then the choice to value freedom or convenience lies entirely within our control.

        Reply
      2. Antagonist Muscles

        I really ought to get in the habit of reading these articles earlier so I am not last to comment.

        I am a total Luddite and wholly opposed the marriage of Big Data and the surveillance state. I refuse to use Facebook, Google (except YouTube), Apple, Microsoft, and Twitter. I am also a non-materialistic minimalist, yet kicking the Amazon habit is indeed difficult.

        One of my hobbies is DIY cleaners and cosmetics. My hair is healthier than ever since I gave up commercial shampoo several years ago and began making my own shampoo. Thus, I have to purchase the constituent ingredients, usually online because I can’t easily find the ingredients locally. Unfortunately, this means I have to buy from Amazon sometimes when I can’t find a good online retailer.

        When shopping on Amazon, I usually take a look at the “Other Sellers” and purchase directly from that seller, assuming that seller has a independent website where I can purchase merchandise. For my homemade shampoo, I recently purchased some rosemary essential oil from VitaminMom, whose website I found after looking at Amazon’s product page for the same rosemary essential oil. I’m hoping that my money goes to some small and independent retailer and not the Amazon behemoth. Let me know if this is a good practice.

        Some other commenters have suggested that we shop at more brick and mortars. This has a fair amount of costs for me. I have to drive at least twenty minutes to get to where the retailers tend to be, and this pollutes. By driving, I am indirectly supporting Big Oil, Big Pharma (for all the diseases caused by pollution), and the auto insurance industry, which has its own oligopoly worthy of an NC article. Moreover, traffic and parking tends to increase my stress and presumably my risk of a car accident. And the aforementioned rosemary essential oil? I might have purchased it at the nearby Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon. I can’t win.

        Reply
    6. lyman alpha blob

      If you are actually serious with this question, and it’s kind of hard to believe that you are, then I will reiterate what others have said – they have these things called stores now.

      Reply
      1. lambert strether

        Four hour round trip to the mall, three hour round trip to the hardware store.

        Of course, I don’t own a car…

        Reply
        1. Amfortas the hippie

          Same situation, but we use my mom’s car for such excursions.
          need a box fan or a new window unit? it’s walmart—or a drive to austin(100 miles one way)it all comes from China any way, I guess.
          The corporate war on the small and personal is all but won.
          especially if you live out in the sticks.
          we try to do for ourselves, or do without…but it’s getting harder.
          as far as online privacy…the adage from pre-internet days holds: assume the phone is bugged…
          I say nothing on here…even in my most fiery ire…that i wouldn’t say to a Feeb’s face.

          Reply
        2. lyman alpha blob

          Order from a catalog? Mail order is nothing new and all Amazon has done is consolidate all the catalogs into one spot and speed up delivery, but you can still go to the original source.

          I realize not ordering from Amazon isn’t going to solve all the world’s problems, but as long as we’re in a capitalist system, money still talks. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all. That, and I really despise that company despite being an early adopter. I was naive enough at one point to think Bezos just wanted to sell books, which would have been fine, and wasn’t out to conquer the planet.

          Reply
          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            Every dollar is a bullet on the field of economic combat.

            Lead the money around by the nose. If you have any money.

            I am not my keeper’s brother.

            Reply
        3. tegnost

          …of course nothing stops you from ordering a 100 lb. bag of potatoes and a bushel of cabbage and then getting free shipping

          Reply
  2. thoughtful person

    It’s more work, but you can find the same items from different vendors, in most cases at the same price. That’s not counting the value to you of making the predictive data base on your future behavior a bit less accurate.

    I’ve stopped using a kindle and never would take notes with one.

    Used bookstores are highly recommended imo.

    Reply
  3. Linda Amick

    I never use Amazon. When buying items online I google the item or description and perform comparison shopping. Over the years I have found that Amazon does NOT offer the best price AND many times the competitor also offers free shipping.

    Reply
  4. Annieb

    Well, there are those weird old things, you know, stores. Sometimes not so convenient to be sure. Sometimes items are difficult to source, but Internet can be useful there! Also, second hand stores. And,libraries! I guess I’m lucky to live near a good one. In the broader picture, one can just stop buying it. Literally. I often look around my home and ask myself, how did I end up with all this stuff?

    Reply
  5. Hepativore

    I have found a work-around for Google Play for downloading apps to my device. It is called the Yalp Store. It works by tricking Google that you are “signed in” and so it lets you download apps that are free on the Google store through a generic account through a backdoor without handing Google any information whatsoever. You can get it on the F-Droid app repository for android devices.

    I have tried to minimize my contact with Google, Amazon, and Facebook as possible. I have never had a Facebook account, and I buy several-year-old smartphones for cheap on eBay and then instal LineageOS on them to get rid of Google and its bloatware.

    The trouble is, many apps that are useful are only available through Google play or Amazon. There is also the fact that buying things that are rare or foreign are not always easy to find in local brick and mortar stores, so you often have no choice. There is eBay, but I would rather buy the them outright rather than be forced to bid on it and wait for days only to be beaten by “snipers” who sneak in and place bids at the last minute.

    Reply
    1. ChiGal in Carolina

      Thanks for sharing!

      One question: Where does the app send the data it gathers from you once it is on your device? You can use a generic login but still don’t they recognize your unique device identifier?

      Reply
      1. Hepativore

        It works by logging in to a “generic” Google account complete with a mock device ID. Since everybody who is on Yalp uses the same one, Google would have a tough time making heads or tails of it since they would somehow have to determine who’s device is on that account and when.

        You can only download free apps on the Yalp Store, though as Google requires further verification for card numbers and so on.

        Reply
  6. William Hunter Duncan

    I remember during the Obama era, wailing to my liberal friends about his facilitation of a total surveillance state, to the inevitable yawn or justification by way of His Elegance, he would never do anything to hurt us. Of course, my conservative friends were all assured Obama was going to enter their homes and take away their guns.

    Then Trump was elected, and I stopped asking my liberal friends how they feel about such a total surveillance state now, they would get so worked up about….Russia? My conservative friends seemingly happy to have a total surveillance state to keep a check on the liberal mob.

    Sometimes I think most Americans are totalitarian, insofar as we have forgotten the meaning of “Republic” and “Democracy”, conflating capitalism and freedom, following the powerful unquestioning, excusing atrocity, as long as it appears partisan.

    Well, i have maybe a million words online….but for awhile now, my only online footprint of opinion is here among the Naked Capitalism commentariat. But I don’t worry about it too much, because the powerful don’t care what I say unless a lot of people are listening.

    Reply
  7. griffen

    Is it evil to be kinda glad that Amzn has traded lower this month ( equities can be volatile ?? )…

    The future may not be here but it’s on the way. Skynet or the Weyland Corp may be fictional in name only it’s appearing to me.

    Reply
  8. Jeremy Grimm

    Suppose government surveillance is more ubiquitous than your most paranoid imaginings — in other words you’re not being paranoid at all and you’re simply not paranoid enough. It might be wise to avoid having no presence or limited presence in the surveillance data. The lack of data could also be detected and used as a measure for pre-crime inclinations. Perhaps it were better to maintain a carefully manicured and tended web and media persona. Maybe run a spider built to create that presence. Enough chaff in a false presence might confound even the best surveillance algorithms.

    Reply
    1. Hepativore

      There is an add-on you can download for Firefox and a few other web browsers called Adnauseum. It is based on uBlock. What it does is opens any ads it finds on web pages while blocking them at the same time to simulate a “click” on the ad. This way, it can potentially give headaches to data collectors because of all of the intentional data pollution it causes. Adnauseum angered Google so much that they blocked it from their Chrome store.

      Then there is another idea I had for the tech companies intent on pushing spying devices like Echo and Alexa into people’s homes. What if you got a bunch of them together or had a group of people buy them. Put said devices next to a radio on “scan” or some other broadcast to play random media. If enough people did this, I wonder if that would generate enough gobbledygook to throw off Amazon and Google from all of the worthless data it would generate.

      It is just a thought. However, I would not put it past Silicone Valley to develop and start promoting GPS tracking microchips that companies could implant into their employees. I know that some places are trying to push RFID chips for people, so I fear that GPS tracking implants are not that far off.

      Reply
      1. ambrit

        RFID chips can function as tracking devices. Like cell phones ‘shaking hands’ with nearby cell towers. The unspoken eventuality is how these RFID chips will be activated; when, where and by who.
        The Ur tracking chip reference. “The President’s Analyst.”
        The ‘Future’ is Now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUa3np4CKC4

        Reply
        1. tegnost

          yeah clive mentioned this awhile back and it made me think of all those times in the store where you have to lean over to get something or theres tightly spaced aisles so your hips/pockets are within the 10cm (per clive) range of a counter or shelf that houses the rfid reader

          Reply
          1. The Rev Kev

            There are aluminium sleeves that you can buy than severely limits the range of an rfid reader to a very short distance of inches. It’s a start.

            Reply
      1. Octopii

        Yes. TIA didn’t play well with the public when first announced, so the public was told TIA would not be implemented. The reality is that the name was changed, hidden, and it all carried on as before including the facial recognition part that had people so alarmed.

        Reply
  9. Doug Hillman

    The CIA is not supposed to . . .

    — spy on Americans
    — propagandize Americans
    — kill US citizens (only the prez can)
    — stage coups
    — bribe foreign leaders
    — conduct cyber wars
    — torture people
    — traffic narcotics

    . . . but they do all those things with impunity and much more we don’t yet know about.

    Reply
  10. Mark Ó Dochartaigh

    One thing about authoritarianism is the arbitrary and disproportionate use of power. Authoritarian leaders view laws as tools to control the masses and authoritarian followers love to see the “others” in the 99% smacked down. The authoritarian government of our future will choose their victims often not by what they have done, but by who they are. Since the authoritarian corporate/government power “knows everything” people will believe the tRümped up charges against the enemies/victims of the corporate/government power structure. Kkkangaroo kkkourts will be kept hopping in a media cirkkkus for the entertainment of the tRümpenproletariat and the terrorization and infuriation of the rest of the 99%.

    Reply
  11. Octopii

    I’ve had a Sonos stereo system for many years, almost since they came out. Recently all my boxes downloaded an update, and after that the system refused to work until I created an account on Sonos’ website and “registered” my components to my new account. Essentially they broke my stereo. This is the kind of BS that anything connected to a cloud service can do, even if you don’t actually realize that the thing is actually connected to a cloud service or that it didn’t used to be but now is after an automatic update.

    Reply
    1. Amfortas the hippie

      Yeah. wife’s colonised the living room couch, and the ancient Wii that made the TV do netflix discovered it’s obsolescence…so I got a Roku.
      Not only did it require me to log in with a computer, to “finish the startup process”, it required a bunch of data that is irrelevant to watching TV….and “needed” a credit/debit card number, to boot…
      I’m old enough to remember acquiring a black and white tv(I’ve never in my life purchased a television), plugging it into the wall and obtaining free, unencumbered programming, including news and weather, with noone scrutinising when it was on nor what it was tuned to.
      and my 8 year old laptop bricked…so i got a new one…preloaded with Win10, and spent a month rooting around in the underbrush trying to turn off all the myriad do-dads that continually report to the mothership…I have no clue if I’ve found them all.
      amazingly,seems Mr Gates thinks this $300 machine is his property, because I am apparently forbidden from removing Bing, etc…that keeps on reloading itself as defaults,lol.
      I put a bit of electrical tape over the camera, per the habit of the last 18 years, and “my” machine informs me that the camera isn’t working, which is a Very Serious Problem, I guess.
      What have we done to ourselves?
      I remember reading Mike Ruppert’s “crossing the rubicon”, and thinking that the parts of it laying out the panopticon software used to model and predict individual and collective behaviour was crazy talk.(I think he called it “Promis”)
      Doesn’t seem so out there, today.

      Reply
      1. blennylips

        > i got a new one…preloaded with Win10, and spent a month rooting around in the underbrush trying to turn off all the myriad do-dads that continually report to the mothership…I have no clue if I’ve found them all.

        Spoiler: You did not, I’ll opine.

        You can View the Telemetry Data that Microsoft collects on Windows 10

        You need Windows 10 build 17083 or newer to access the new data viewer. You can access the tool with a tap on Windows-I to open the Settings application, and the selection of Privacy > Diagnostics & feedback in the window that opens.

        and, This Windows 10 Setup Script turns off a bunch of unnecessary Windows 10 telemetery, bloatware, & privacy things. Not guaranteed to catch everything.

        After M$ started disruptive permissionless install of win10 on lesser versions, I disabled Windows Installer and rely solely on Microsoft Security Essentials (realtime protection OFF) and good hygiene for protection on win7.

        A few months ago, whilst exiting a google chrome browser, It asked permission to update (from Version 67.0.3396.99). Asking at this point meant it had downloaded the update and was ready to go. I recall being asked to download before…

        For nearly six months now, I have the pleasure of clicking “No” to google at least twice a day (Palemoon is my main browser)

        Aarg, It’s a pirate’s life for me! And Ye cannot even shut down my bay since 2003, ye scum!

        Reply
        1. Hepativore

          To be fair, software piracy is something that all of these companies are pushing us to.

          I admit that I have a certain fondness for a certain Nintendo DS game called SaGa III, otherwise known as Final Fantasy Legend III on the original Gameboy. The Nintendo DS version greatly improved on the original. The problem is that it was never officially translated for the US. The only way to play it in English is through the use of a Nintendo DS emulator on a PC or smartphone and applying a fanmade translation patch to the game.

          As my cellular device is the only way I can access the internet at the moment, that means I would have to download an emulator called Drastic specifically made for Android. It runs really well, but Google has its dirty fingerprints all over it. It will not run without being able to constantly validate the existence of Google Play and since the app is exclusively available through Google, you cannot get it without having a Google account even though I would gladly pay the few bucks it costs if I had other means to purchase it.

          I got rid of Google and its associated programs on my Android device by rooting it and replacing its OS with the cool LineageOS. It makes your Android device Google-free and it also runs faster and it allows you more options as to what you can do with it.

          Reply
          1. blennylips

            Richard Stallman Calls Open Source Movement ‘Amoral’, Criticizes Apple And Microsoft For ‘Censoring’ App Installation

            “[P]hones and tablets, designed from the ground up to be non-free. The apps, which tend now to be non-free malware. And the Intel management engine, and more generally the low-level software, which we can’t replace, because things just won’t allow us to do so….

            After watching the following, back in 2012, I enlisted in the war by taking a cryptography mooc, etc, etc, as basic training.


            Cory Doctorow: The Coming War on General Computing

            Reply
        2. Amfortas the hippie

          lol Thanks for the links. way above my paygrade.
          That it takes so much gobbletygook to say “stop phoning home” says a lot.
          I was sophisticated enough(in a hold yer breath sort of way) to prevent win10 from downloading itself into my now/then bricked laptop(which I’ve since “fixed”, somehow. airgapped in the library for writing the damned book)
          but win10 seems a lot less jiggerable, unless you happen to speak whatever language your second link is written in.
          walled gardens and proprietary or else are anathema for what this tech was supposed to be about.
          I’m particularly angry about that giant swiss company that bought up all the journals.
          and all of this insidious channeling into various surprise funding streams makes me think about my mom’s new spaceship/suburban…all the bells and whistles and telling you where to turn and even hitting the breaks…like a john deere, they can brick the thing from space, prolly.

          Reply
          1. Hepativore

            Yes, and then of course auto insurance companies will push auto makers to incorporate realtime updates on your driving habits and report them wirelessly to your insurer and traffic law enforcement the moment you go one mile above the speed limit. Insurers will automatically raise your rates and law enforcement will automatically ticket you. There will probably be some token procedure to contest these processes, but it will probably be a forgone conclusion for most incidents.

            Reply
            1. Amfortas the hippie

              it’s getting much more difficult to be either an outlaw or a hermit, or just not to get plugged in so damned much.
              In Texas,at least, you can’t get a hotel room any more without a credit card…and I’m the only person I know who’s never had one. Luckily(I guess) they take debit cards.
              Same with reserving a tent spot at a state park.
              I remember, coming up in the late 70’s early 80’s and hearing about how bad the Ruskies were…internal passports, mass surveillance,the need to watch what you say, and how one couldn’t think for oneself….all manner of dysfunction that the patriotic adults of my youth went on and on about.
              the meaning of all this was to show how much better we were…how free and brave and all.
              Now I can’t drive on most of the newer highways around the big Texas cities(EZ Tag only, no cash option), cameras everywhere…even in podunk hovels like Brady, Texas.
              and those same patriotic adults were instrumental, as at least followers, in making it all happen.
              and they still go on and on about Liberty,lol.
              I couldn’t get away with a fraction of what I did as a kid today.

              Reply
              1. Hepativore

                How do you live without having a credit card? The reason I ask is not to be flippant, but your credit rating is used to determine everything from applying for an auto loan, auto insurance rates, leasing an apartment, or even getting a job. Having no credit is the same as having bad credit in the eyes of many institutions, so it often severely limits the services and necessities available to a person. I applied for a crappy credit card and force myself to use it just for the sake of building my credit rating as I would rather use my debit card but it does not build your credit score.

                Reply
                1. Amfortas the hippie

                  aversion to debt, and a profound distrust of institutions that have their own language, mores and folkways.
                  this derived from experiences early on.
                  Wife got a Beall’s card 2 years ago, for the same reason you did.
                  She has a much better credit score than I.
                  we’ve had the debit card for 8 or 10 years, obtained specifically for netflix. all but one of the other bills we pay in cash, in person, to people we know.
                  I understand that this is anomalous.
                  Wife gets numerous pre-approved offers in the mail(I don’t)
                  They don’t burn readily.

                  Reply

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