My Fridge is Spying on Me

On my last trip out of the ghetto, I rented a car at Logan Airport. It was a nondescript sedan as you would expect from a rental car company. It may have been a Hyundai or possibly a Toyota. All of our cars look the same nowadays so I suppose it does not matter. At some point I stopped to fiddle with the radio, hoping that maybe the satellite radio was working. I don’t have a Sirius subscription, but I would if I spent a lot of time in the car. It’s a great service. Fiddling around, I noted that the car was Bluetooth enabled meaning I could (maybe) play music from my phone, but I had things to do so I went on my way, leaving it for later.

At some point as I was tooling around Cambridge, a friend called and suddenly the radio stopped. Then the phone ringer was coming through the car speakers. When I answered the phone I was hearing the call through the car’s speakers and speaking through a hidden microphone somewhere. It was a little disorienting at first as I was not expecting it. Later in the day I had time to fiddle with the radio again and I noticed my phone had synced with the car automatically. I left the Bluetooth enabled on my phone by mistake. Thus, my phone and this strange car were able to conspire without my knowing.

I noticed that a lot of phone data from previous renters had been loaded into the car’s radio. Who knows if they knew it. I deleted my phone from the list and shutoff my Bluetooth. I keep nothing on phone of any value, but my phone is willing to partner with just about anyone, it seems, so who knows what mischief it could drag me into. My phone has now become another sentient thing I have to look after or beware of, as the case may be.

It’s going to get much worse as our rulers insist on wiring up more of our stuff so they can keep better track of us. The Internet of Things trend promises to let all sorts of people keep tabs on us in our homes. The same people who are always getting hacked and losing our credit card data will now be in charge of making sure the fridge does not tell tales out of school about us. I’m sure that will work out just fine. What could possible go wrong?

Of course, these services will be offered “free” but you will consent to having the electric company turn off your lights at night, the gas company monitoring your heat usage, the diet police watching your beer consumption. At first it will just be friendly e-mails and texts about your wastefulness. I get these now from the power company telling me I use more electric than my neighbors. They include a little graph, I’m always in red, and “hints” about how I can be a better steward of the environment. What comes after the “hints” is probably a knock on the door.

Increasingly, the private space of life is contracting. The government gets to read your private correspondence without notice. They can listen to your mobile phone chatter. They analyze your financial data looking for trouble. Now they have our health care data and will surely be using that in ways that only paranoids from a prior era imagined. If you complain about it at home, within earshot of the television, that could be a problem. Your TV is no longer a trusted member of the home.

All of it is for your own good and mostly welcome by the public. The thing about the custodial state is the inmates quickly get used to the walls, the gates, the guards, the instructions. Even the worst police states on earth have a cooperative and docile population. North Korea is arguably the worst place on earth. They regularly make the uncooperative hold a mortar shell until it goes off. The people have been on the edge of starvation for decades, yet they peacefully submit. Most Americans will have no trouble submitting to Big Google as long as the flow of goodies does not stop.

A world without privacy or volition is not entirely alien to the human animal. Early man surely lived in close proximity with his clan, sharing all of the intimate details of life with the clan. Well into settlement, privacy was a rarity. Heck, well into the 20th century, outhouses for two were common in rural America. If you can share a two-holer with another member of the family, there’s not much you are going to think is private. I suspect communal living amongst the Vikings is why some Scandinavians are so shameless.

In the “hodgepodge” society our rulers are planning for us, privacy will not exist. Everything you do will be monitored by someone and therefore made public at some point. In such a world, there’s no need to for any sense of shame. There would be no point. In prisons and basic training, the near total lack of privacy fundamentally alters human relations. Our rulers with their dreams of trench socialism, are sure the hodgepodge will be like boot camp or an army base. History says it will be more like San Quentin or North Korea.

In a world where even your fridge is spying on you, there can be no trust. We have plenty of experience with low trust societies like those in sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East. North Korea or Albania back in the Soviet says were examples of extremely low trust surveillance societies, but they were homogeneous. A heterogeneous, zero trust society sounds a lot like Angola State Prison, but our rulers are convinced otherwise. I’ll be dead before reach that point, but that’s where we are heading.

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5 years ago

Here is a private investigator talking about the state of privacy at the 2014 “Hackers on Planet Earth” conference:

Very interesting, directly from the horses mouth as they say…
The message is essentially privacy is dead, get over it.

5 years ago

That’s the same conference where William Binney, a former intelligence official, also spoke. Here is how he puts it, paraphrased excerpt from: “We were coming into conflict with what I refer to as ‘feasting’ by the corporations that were leeches on the side of NSA and other agencies of the government, the ‘military industrial happiness management complex’. They were keeping each other happy: officials would retire from government, go to work for those corporations, the corporations would send people in to manage the programs, they’d get the contracts back and they’d feed some more. It’s a circle, it just… Read more »

Teri Pittman
Teri Pittman
5 years ago

I had the same thing happen with a rental car. I had to turn bluetooth on to try it. It syncs with my iTunes and also the contacts on my phone. So, when I wanted to call my boyfriend, I could pick his name off the list. It was an interesting experience. And I cleared my phone (and all the others) off the car before I turned it in. If you owned the car, it would be handy, especially if you are on the road a lot. And it makes it less likely that people will get distracted by their… Read more »