Current privacy laws don’t shield people from the pervasive surveillance of Big Tech. Guerrilla tactics are all we’ve got.
We’ve all been there by now: surfing the web and bumping into ads with an uncanny flavor. How did they know I was thinking about joining a gym? Or changing careers? Or that I need a loan? You might wonder if Google can read your mind. Google even boasts that it knows you better than you know yourself.
Google can’t read your mind, of course. But it can read your search history. It tracks a lot of your web browsing, too. Google has an enormous amount of data about its users, and it uses that data to make an unimaginable amount of money from advertising: over $120 billion a year. The company runs a vast profiling machine, fitting people into categories that say who they are, what they’re worth, and how they’re expected to act. Google isn’t just organizing the world’s information; it’s sorting the world’s populations.
Many of the digital devices and platforms people use every day are built to make users transparent to the companies who want to predict, influence, and evaluate user behavior. This surveillance advertising has major social costs. Just for starters: it erodes privacy, perpetuates forms of discrimination, and siphons money away from the public-interest journalism that democracies need to survive. Lawmakers have not acted decisively to mitigate these costs