In 2018, I was offered the opportunity to share important information regarding surveillance and data-mining business practices employed by Facebook and Google with the Senate and House Judiciary committees.
I was able to participate in several conference calls with staffers, plus provide the staffers with important information pertaining to the congressional hearings involving Facebook Chairman/CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Senate Judiciary hearing held on April 10, 2018) and Google CEO Sundar Pichai (House Judiciary hearing held on Dec. 11, 2018).
The staffers included individuals who work for Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), plus the House Judiciary Committee.
After watching the Facebook and Google hearings, I was appalled that they were more about politics than protecting citizens, teens, children, and business professionals from companies that employ harmful surveillance and data-mining business practices.
Both hearings left numerous unanswered questions regarding the harmful business practices employed by both companies, which need to be addressed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), state attorneys general, and lawmakers.
Additionally, the hearings ended with what amounted to empty apologies by both executives, while both companies continue to do business as usual.
At the Facebook congressional hearing, what was laughable was that on several occasions, lawmakers actually suggested that Facebook help write future privacy-centric legislation meant to protect consumers of smartphones and connected technology.
I have news for those lawmakers: Companies such as Google have their lobbyists write legislation, according to Eric Schmidt, the former chairman/CEO of Google and former chairman of Alphabet Inc. (Google’s now-parent company):
“’The average American doesn’t realize how much of the laws are written by lobbyists’ to protect the incumbent interests, Schmidt told then-Atlantic editor James Bennet at the Washington Ideas Forum in 2010, while Schmidt was CEO at Google. ‘It’s shocking how the system actually works.”
“‘Washington is an incumbent protection machine,’ Schmidt said. ‘Technology is fundamentally disruptive.'”
I was to sadly learn that hardly any of the information pertaining to the violation of consumer laws and threats that I provided to the staffers was actually addressed by lawmakers during the hearings.
During the congressional hearings that took place in 2018, Zuckerberg and Pichai implied that tech giants such as Facebook and Google don’t sell their product users’ identifiable personal information to third-parties such as advertisers.
Don’t take my word for it. See for yourself:
“We may share non-personally identifiable information publicly and with our partners—like publishers, advertisers, developers, or rights holders. For example, we share information publicly to show trends about the general use of our services. We also allow specific partners to collect information from your browser or device for advertising and measurement purposes using their own cookies or similar technologies.”
Android application legalese on a Samsung Galaxy Note smartphone supported by the Android OS:
“Your Personal Information” app permission: “Allows apps to read personal-profile information stored on your device, such as your name and contact information. This means apps can identify you and may send your profile information to others.”
I submitted that to members of the House Judiciary Committee, prior to the Google congressional hearing on Dec. 11, 2018.
During the hearing, which centered on Google’s data collection methods, not a single lawmaker challenged Pichai when it came to the knowledge that Google, and its content developers such as Facebook, can, in fact, identify telecom and tech-product users by way of uncontrollable pre-installed Android content such as smartphone apps.
Not only do intrusive Android apps enable Google and Android content developers to identify a smartphone user, but they also enable the identification of the user’s contacts, which include family, friends, business colleagues, plus other people who are listed in the user’s electronic address book.
Here’s another example of the legalese associated with the “contacts” (electronic address book) app on a Samsung Galaxy Note smartphone:
Contacts app permission and application product warning: “Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals. This permission allows apps to save your contact data, and malicious apps may share contact data without your knowledge.”
So, Google and Facebook can also track the way the smartphone user connects with his or her contacts, whether it be by phone, email, or other forms of communication.
This is beyond creepy, especially considering the number of developers worldwide who develop Android content for Google, other than Facebook.
Did you notice the Android “contacts” application legalese contains an application product warning regarding the fact that “malicious apps” may share your contact data without your knowledge?
Selling Access to Product Users
Zuckerberg and Pichai also implied that Facebook and Google product users have full control over their personal information and data, which is another half-truth or possible lie, because Facebook and Google sell access to their product users.
In 2018 alone, Facebook, Google, and telecom providers have all been caught enabling data brokers and multinational companies, including nation-state companies from China, with the ability to indiscriminately surveil their product users while collecting surveillance data (e.g. location data) and sensitive user data (“digital DNA”) from smartphone, social media, and tech-product users.
Smartphone and tech-product users are viewed by telecom and tech providers as “uncompensated information producers” who are to be exploited for financial gain by the companies that the user patronizes with their loyalty, trust, and hard-earned money.
The Facebook–Cambridge Analytica scandal brought to light that tech giants such as Facebook sell access to their product users to bad actors, including data brokers such as Aleksandr Kogan, who created surveillance and data-mining technology in the form of a personality quiz app. He later sold the data of tens of millions of unsuspecting Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm.
At the discretion of companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, any individual or company seems to be able to buy access to their product users by way of addictive, intrusive, and harmful technology in the form of a web browser, app, widget, or emoji.
Apple isn’t innocent, either. Apple CEO Tim Cook likes to present Apple over and above companies such as Google and Facebook when it comes to harmful surveillance and data-mining business practices, yet Apple sold out Apple product users to Google in a multi-billion dollar deal.
This means that Google is enabled by Apple to monitor, track, and data-mine Apple product users for financial gain by way of Google apps.
Many Apple product users bought Apple products years ago to get away from Google’s predatory surveillance and data-mining business practices, only to find themselves on the Apple auctioning block to be sold to Google and exploited for financial gain.
Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook product users are commodities to be sold to the highest bidder, whether or not the company that pays for access to the product user will misuse the personal and professional digital DNA acquired.
Furthermore, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint also sold their telecom subscribers’ (paying customers) personal information to data brokers such as LocationSmart and Zumigo, as reported in numerous news reports in 2018.
Content Developers or Hackers?
Smartphone, social media, and tech-product users have no control over who is gaining access to their personal and professional digital DNA by way of surveillance and data-mining technology disguised as apps.
Intrusive content developers such as Google and Facebook are nothing more than hackers who use harmful technology to exploit their product users for financial gain, even at the expense of the user’s safety, whether the user is an adult or a child.
Don’t take my word for it. Sean Parker, one of Facebook’s co-founders, explains this clearly in an interview with Axios in November 2017:
“It’s a social-validation feedback loop; it’s exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. The inventors, creators—it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people—understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.
“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Former Google product designer Tristan Harris also validated that Google uses addictive technology in order to exploit the Google product user for financial gain.
“The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Why do we do this? Are we making 150 conscious choices? One major reason why is the No. 1 psychological ingredient in slot machines: intermittent variable rewards. … Addictiveness is maximized when the rate of reward is most variable,” he wrote in an essay on Medium.
“By shaping the menus we pick from, technology hijacks the way we perceive our choices and replaces them with new ones. But the closer we pay attention to the options we’re given, the more we’ll notice when they don’t actually align with our true needs.”
I pointed out the Facebook and Google admissions to the FTC, FCC, state attorneys general, and lawmakers, who to this day don’t seem to care that Silicon Valley tech giants are using harmful technology to exploit their product users for financial gain, even at the expense of the users’ privacy and safety.
News networks are still advertising smartphones, tablet PCs, and connected products that are supported by addictive, intrusive, and harmful content.
Government Fails at All Levels to Protect Citizens
The FTC, FCC, state attorneys general and lawmakers are failing to enforce existing consumer laws meant to protect citizens, teens, children, and business professionals from companies that employ harmful business practices supported by deceptive trade practices.
Kogan, Zuckerberg, and other senior executives from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica should be indicted for putting Facebook users in harm’s way, rather than allowing senior executives such as Zuckerberg to make yet another empty apology to lawmakers, Facebook users, and the American public.
Telecom providers also need to be held accountable for exposing paying customers to companies that employ harmful business practices.
The public needs to ask why tech and telecom senior executives continue to get away with negligent, harmful, and deceptive trade practices that put citizens in harm’s way.
Only after data brokers and other entities such as Cambridge Analytica are caught misusing personal and professional digital DNA do companies such as Facebook, Google, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint make phony apologies, while continuing to do business as usual with no consequences or government oversight.
If you do file formal customer complaints with your telecom or tech providers such as I’ve done, they simply respond with meaningless and nebulous information without addressing questions and concerns with detailed answers or resolve.
As I’ve stated before, it is bad enough to lose privacy but to be exploited for financial gain at the expense of your civil liberties, privacy, cybersecurity, and safety should be unacceptable and illegal. For every company that gets caught misusing digital DNA acquired from telecom and tech-product users, many other data brokers and other entities get away with misusing a person’s personal digital DNA.
The FCC, FTC, government officials, lawmakers, plus the public don’t understand surveillance and data-mining business practices regarding tech giants selling access to their users rather than directly selling the user’s identifiable personal and professional information.
According to existing consumer laws enforced at the state and federal level, it’s illegal to employ business practices supported by deceptive trade practices that can result in harm to the consumer. However, officials continue to turn a blind eye when it comes to harmful business practices employed by companies such as Facebook and Google.
At this point, senior executives for the tobacco industry look innocent compared to telecom providers and tech companies that develop addictive, intrusive, and harmful content to exploit their paying customer for financial gain at the expense of the customer’s privacy and safety.
At least tobacco products are sold to adults and not to teens and children.
The Greatest Data Theft in the History of the World
While apps provide convenience for the user, the app developer is robbing the user blind by collecting the user’s digital DNA to exploit for financial gain, at the expense of the product user’s civil liberties, privacy, cybersecurity, and safety.
People who don’t care about personal privacy should care about being used and exploited for financial gain, at the expense of their civil liberties, privacy, cybersecurity, and safety, by the very telecom and tech providers they patronize with their loyalty, trust, and hard-earned money.
After all, who wants to pay money to companies that exploit their customers like that?
The public at large needs to ask why officials are allowing these companies to get away with what amounts to theft regarding personal and professional information.
We need to demand accountability from all parties concerned regarding harmful business practices employed by tech and telecom providers.
Rex M. Lee is a privacy and data security consultant and Blackops Partners senior analyst and researcher. His website is MySmartPrivacy.com
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.