The Need for an Electronic Bill of Rights: Part 1

February 20, 2019 Updated: March 3, 2019

Commentary

This article is part of a series on corporate surveillance highlighting civil liberty, privacy, cybersecurity, safety, and tech-product user exploitation threats associated with connected products that are supported by the Android (Google) OS, Apple iOS, and Microsoft Windows OS.

And so we come to the final installment in this series on surveillance capitalism. Before I outline what might be in an Electronic Bill of Rights that’s designed to protect citizens from predatory surveillance and data-mining business practices, I will briefly summarize the issues discussed thus far.

Surveillance capitalism is a business model centered on predatory surveillance and data-mining business practices that exploit smartphones, tablet PCs, voice-automated assistants, connected products, and PCs that are supported by the Android (Google), Apple, and Microsoft Windows operating systems. This simply means that tech and telecom giants, such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Facebook, AT&T, and Verizon, have monetized their product users.

These companies are no longer in the customer-service business due to a conflict of interest that centers on making profits off their customers’ personal and professional information known as digital DNA. This includes sensitive information such as location data, and private conversations and contacts.

Digital DNA is the most valuable commodity in the world. All tech and telecom giants will stop at nothing to be able to exploit a person’s personal and professional digital DNA for profit, even at the expense of the person’s privacy and safety.

Once a person purchases a product supported by the Android, Apple, or Microsoft Windows operating systems, that smartphone user becomes a commodity that is auctioned off to the highest bidder.

These companies tell the public that they don’t directly sell their product users’ personal and professional identifiable information to third parties, which is a half-truth—or a lie, depending on how you look at the process of collection and use of digital DNA.

They don’t reveal that they sell access to their product users by way of intrusive pre-installed (“rooted”) and third-party content such as apps that are developed by data-driven technology providers such as Amazon, Facebook, and Baidu, a nation-state Chinese company and Android content developer.

Both T-Mobile and Verizon admitted to me that smartphones and other connected products are virtually no longer private, secure, or safe forms of communication because of these apps.

This contradicts the assertion of Apple CEO Tim Cook that Apple products are private, secure, and safe. Apple products, just like Android or Windows products, are also supported by addictive, intrusive, exploitative, and harmful technology developed by Google and Facebook.

Nearly all apps that support smartphones, tablet PCs, and connected technology, in general, can be described as a legal form of malware, programmed to enable the app developer with the ability to indiscriminately monitor, track, and data-mine the app user.

Most device users unknowingly agree to the potentially illegal exploitative terms of use that govern the use of such apps and devices, which could be called “cyber-enslavement agreements.” Consumers are virtually turned into “uncompensated information producers” who are exploited for financial gain at the expense of their civil liberties, privacy, cybersecurity, and safety by the very tech and telecom giants they patronize with their hard-earned money.

Former and existing senior technology executives and product designers at Google and Facebook have publicly admitted that their companies intentionally design their products to be addictive, intrusive, and harmful, in order to exploit their product users for financial gain, even at the expense of the users’ privacy and safety.

Yet, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Communication Commission (FCC), state attorneys general, lawmakers, and telecom providers turn a blind eye, seemingly not enforcing existing consumer laws. This might partly be related to the lobbying power of the tech companies.

Tech and telecom providers have convinced their product users that privacy is dead or not important versus the convenience that apps provide. However, consumers are paying a heavy price in the form of digital authoritarianism and cyber oppression for that convenience.

This loss of our civil liberties, privacy, cybersecurity, and safety rests on the shoulders of the operating system (OS) developers and telecom providers, who control who has access to their users.

Tech and telecom giants may rely on their terms of use to establish the legality of their addictive, intrusive, exploitative, and harmful technology, but my research on the collective terms of use suggests they are likely illegal, according to existing consumer laws.

Illegal Terms of Use

The exploitative terms of use are, I believe, illegal. That’s due to the sheer size of the legalese that supports the operating system, pre-installed content, hardware, and cloud storage services that, in turn, support smartphones and connected technology in general.

In 2014 and 2017, I did an analysis of the terms of use for several Samsung Galaxy Note smartphones. The collective published (online) and unpublished (hidden in device) legalese associated with each device exceeded 3,000 pages of complicated legal wording that is impossible for the product owner to read and understand. This, according to the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (TX DTPA) and the FTC, makes the collective published and unpublished terms of use illegal.

The collective published and unpublished terms of use is written in a predatory manner that enables as many as 15 or more multinational companies, including a company from China (Baidu), to simultaneously surveil and data-mine Galaxy Note owners and/or users for financial gain.

To put this in perspective, that meant that when I activated a Galaxy Note purchased from a T-Mobile corporate store in Selma, Texas, as many as 15 or more multinational companies, including a company from China, were enabled to simultaneously monitor, track, and data-mine all of my personal and professional telecom-related information as a result of the uncontrollable pre-installed surveillance and data-mining technology on the phone.

This would be like AT&T selling access to your home and office phone and personal computer to 15 or more multinational companies, enabling each company to surveil and data-mine all of your activity, including confidential and protected content.

It is all the more concerning, given that most people carry their phones with them all day, and that smartphones are fitted with GPS and other tracking technology.

The other factor that makes the collective terms of use illegal is that they are split into online published terms of use and unpublished application legalese, which includes application product warnings that are hidden within the Android OS.

Below is an example of unpublished (hidden in device) Android application legalese and application product warnings that support the Samsung Galaxy Note (Note 2 and 8).

(Rex M Lee)

Reading Interaction Info: “Allows the app to access and sync social updates from you and your friends. Be careful when sharing information—this allows the app to read communications between you and your friends on social networks, regardless of confidentiality.”

This is just one example of hundreds of application permission statements and product warnings that support nearly every single app that is pre-installed into a smartphone or other connected product.

According to the TX DTPA and FTC, it’s illegal to hide application legalese and application product warnings from consumers, especially since the application legalese explains to the Samsung Galaxy Note owner the level of surveillance and data mining granted to the app developers, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Baidu, and others.

These issues are systemic to the collective terms of use that govern all smartphones, tablet PCs, voice-automated assistants, connected products, and PCs that are supported by the Android OS, Apple iOS, and Microsoft Windows OS.

Violation of Antitrust, Unfair Competition Laws

Aside from violations of consumer laws, there are violations regarding antitrust and unfair competition associated with business relationships between tech and telecom providers.

For example, Google can cut exclusive deals involving pre-installed smartphone apps that the product user can’t uninstall, enabling companies such as Facebook, Amazon, and Baidu to limit their competition’s access to smartphone users.

OS and content developers (apps, etc.) such as Google have a huge advantage over their competition because they can indiscriminately monitor, track, and data-mine virtually anyone who owns a smartphone, including business professionals who work for companies that are in competition with Google and their affiliates.

Enabling companies that compete in multiple industries worldwide to monitor, track, and data-mine telecom subscribers (individuals/businesses) and authorized device users (executives, employees, etc.) should be illegal for obvious reasons.

Tyrannical Surveillance Age

We are now living in a “Tyrannical Surveillance Age” that has given rise to corporate authoritarianism and cyber oppression, due to the predatory surveillance and data-mining business practices that dominate telecom, tech, and electronic products of necessity.

Rather than being oppressed by way of politics (though one could argue that politics plays a part), corporate authoritarianism is a form of digital oppression associated with smartphones, tablet PCs, and connected technology that’s rooted in surveillance capitalism.

As my research indicates, and as reported by CNBC, data-driven technology providers such as Google and Amazon are going to be able to monitor, track, and data-mine nearly every aspect of your life by way of telecom, tech, and electronic products of necessity, whether you like it or not, because our government isn’t enforcing existing consumer and antitrust laws.

Companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and others are cutting exclusive deals with PC manufacturers, smartphone manufacturers, original equipment manufacturers, auto manufacturers, and electronics manufacturers to ensure that all products are supported by predatory surveillance and data-mining technology developed by the technology providers concerned.

Today, it isn’t uncommon to be surrounded by multiple tech and telecom products that are supported by intrusive apps programmed to enable the developer with the ability to control the products’ sensors and hardware.

This means that the app developer can take full control of the sensors and hardware, such as the camera, microphone, and tracking technology (GPS, etc.) that the device has, in order to surveil and data-mine the product user at all times via multiple products.

The Department of Homeland Security in 2017 released a report into mobile device security. A graphic in the report depicts the ability of app developers to control all of the sensors that support a smartphone, tablet PC, or PC without the product owner or user’s consent or knowledge.

(From DHS Study on Mobile Device Security Report, 2017 / modified by Rex M Lee)

This means that, at any given time, a person is surrounded by multiple cameras and microphones found in products such as connected automobiles, smart TVs, smartphones, tablet PCs, and PCs, enabling multiple companies to simultaneously take pictures and record audio and video of the product owner’s personal and professional activities at all times without the product user’s knowledge or consent.

To see for yourself, simply read the unpublished application legalese that supports all tech and telecom products you own, such as the Android application legalese below found in numerous smartphones and other connected products.

(Rex M Lee)

Camera: “Allows the app to take pictures and video with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.”

(Rex M Lee)

Location Data, Auto Telematics, Health Info, and Physical Activity: “Allows the app to get your precise location using the Global Positioning System (GPS) or network location sources such as cell towers and Wi-Fi. … Access your car’s speed. … Allows the app to access data from sensors that monitor your physical condition such as heart rate. … Allows an app to receive periodic updates from your activity level from Google, for example, if you are walking, driving, cycling, or stationary.”

As you can see, the Galaxy Note user is being monitored, tracked, and data mined by Google and Google content (app) developers 24/7, 365 days a year, regardless if the user is sitting, walking, cycling, or driving.

People won’t be able to take refuge from being exploited for financial gain at the expense of their civil liberties, privacy, cybersecurity, and safety because nearly all tech and telecom products on the market are supported by surveillance and data-mining technology.

Smartphones, tablet PCs, and connected technology in general are also being supported by highly intrusive voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Google’s Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana.

These intrusive voice-automated products enable Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft to use live cameras and microphones that are programmed to surveil and data-mine the product owner, plus family members, including teens and children.

Among the Super Bowl ads this year were those by Amazon that showed Alexa will be integrated into many electronics and appliances, such as a microwave, which means that cameras and microphones are being installed into nearly every connected product of necessity being manufactured today.

Paying for the Pleasure

The fact that people are paying for intrusive tech and telecom products while being exploited for financial gain is an example of corporate authoritarianism and cyber oppression.

As an analogy, think of it like a person going to work for a diamond mining company that requires the person to buy their own mining tools. Once the diamond miner finds the valuable diamonds, the mining company acquires the diamonds by way of an illegal contract and then sells the diamonds for profit, without compensating the miner for mining the diamonds using the tools he paid for.

Tech and telecom product users aren’t just being exploited but are also being oppressed, because the user pays for the telecom and tech product that contains uncontrollable pre-installed surveillance and data-mining technology, which, in turn, is supported by an exploitative and predatory contract (terms of use) that the product owner can’t understand—or refuse to agree to if he wants to use the product he or she just purchased.

The product owner and/or user is forced to participate within a highly exploitative surveillance and data-mining business model.

In Part 2, I will present the solution in the form of an Electronic Bill of Rights that is designed to protect tech and telecom product users from predatory surveillance and data-mining business practices.

Rex M. Lee is a privacy and data security consultant and Blackops Partners 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.

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