Shhhh, they’re listening
And let’s get ready to ruuuummmmbllllleeeee.
In the blue corner, we have the government.
You can see the glint in their eyes. The light, side-to-side foot jig tells you they are nimble.
Watch that left jab; it’s got more power then you expect.
Over in the in red corner, we have publicly-traded tech companies.
Their heads are down, but make no mistake – they haven’t taken their eyes off the guys in the blue corner. Watching every move. Looking for a weakness. They’ll counter that left jab alright, with a block and mean right hook.
Welcome to the fight of the 21st century.
Here we have the heavyweights of the world – fighting it out for control over you.
All week, you’ve heard from my soon to be ex co-editor Callum Newman.
And good riddance, I say.
It’s time to bring the Daily Reckoning Australia back to its roots.
A libertarian, pro-small government, macro-focussed newsletter that pulls apart the mainstream noise and shows you the underlying trends of global markets.
Look, don’t get me wrong, Callum’s a top bloke. We’ve enjoyed working side-by-side for six months. He’s quick to laugh, and his market insight is remarkable.
But the thing is, his constant optimism and bull market hunt needs its own newsletter.
Of course, feel free to follow his journey over at Profit Watch. It’s for free, after all. If you can shake off the market gloom, his investing ideas are part of ‘big’ future trends.
Don’t worry, I won’t be going anywhere.
The Daily Reckoning Australia and I are like that worn out spot on the couch. This is my groove, and where I belong.
And today, I want draw attention to the battle for your personal information.
Giving it away for free
There was a time when your private business was just that.
Aside from a grumble when census night came, and you were asked to reveal your income, and how many houses you owned, most of the information about us stayed with us.
Locked up in filing cabinets. Ones that were probably only opened once a year to shove more paper into them.
The digital age changed all that.
Early social media sites like Myspace gave people a platform to divulge all their secrets. At its peak in 2008, 75.9 million visited the site each month. Turning personal stories into digital memories for free.
Two years later, social media exploded in popularity.
Facebook and Twitter became a household staple. Snapchat was loaded onto teens phones. Sharing pictures and no words over at Instagram was for those in the know. And Pinterest became the way to plan things without doing things.
Suddenly, everyone wanted to put their lives on the internet.
Privacy no longer mattered. The internet was here, and we were giving ourselves to it.
Something the US turned to their advantage.
The National Security Agency (NSA) set up the PRISM program acting on new legislation resulting from the Protect America Act of 2007. The legal change was called the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Of course, the people didn’t know about it. Just those in power.
PRISM was the tool used to target key words. It enabled the US government to use the entire internet to spy on the world’s population. All legal in the US. All using a law no one had ever heard of.
Thanks to Edward Snowden in 2013, we found out that major tech giants, including Yahoo, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Skype, Apple and Microsoft were – or had been – participants in the PRISM program.
The very private companies we entrusted our private data to.
Spying on you is big business
The mass worldwide surveillance bombshell has come and gone.
And social media is more popular than ever.
Facebook is worth US$500 billion. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is an enormous US$820 billion business.
All are companies that make their bread and butter trading on your personal information.
Yet, we trust these companies to do the right thing with our data.
Turns out, they act in their own interests.
Earlier this year, we discovered Facebook doesn’t sell your data; rather they ‘allow’ advertisers to specifically target you through ads.
That seems harmless enough.
But it’s a small step as part of a larger plan.
It’s one thing to trust your information to a social media site to use for targeted advertising.
However, it’s a whole other issue when private social media companies work with governments to share your data.
For example, Facebook is getting an increasing number of requests to share personal information with the US government.
The last six months of 2016, there were 26,014 ‘Government Request Reports’ for information on private Facebook accounts. Then it jumped 25% for the first 6 months of 2017, to 32,716.
Apple is regularly hit up for private access to users’ data too.
Again, the first six months of 2017, Apple received 4,450 requests to access 15,168 Apple products in the US alone. Globally, that figure ballooned to 29,718 requests for access to some 309,362 Apple devices.
Here’s what’s scary.
Roughly 80% of the Apple approved these requests for information.
Does Apple have to tell you about it? Nope.
While Apple makes a big deal publically about not allowing ‘back door’ encryption into their devices for law enforcement, they consistently work with governments to provide information.
The most recent example of this is Apple agreeing to China’s demand to store Chinese users’ iCloud data in China’s data servers.
Until recently, the ‘keys’ needed to access users’ iCloud data stayed in the US. Under the (laughable) protection of US law.
But Middle Kingdom has insisted that if Apple wants to retain Chinese market share, it must keep this information in Chinese data centres.
Meaning Chinese authorities can completely bypass the US court system when it comes to requesting information on its citizens.
Oh, by saving the iCloud data in China, the Middle Kingdom doesn’t even have to ask Apple for access to the data either.
Giving a powerful, anti-independent-thinking government unrestricted access to its people’s thoughts and behaviour.
But hey, profits before people, right?
And Google? The company that started out its life with the motto ‘do no evil’? Well, they dropped that tag earlier in the year.
Just in time for them to do business with China.
In August, Google announced that in order to grow their business in China, they have agreed to completely alter their search results to fit in with China’s ‘view’ of the world.
Code named ‘Dragonfly’, Google will ‘blacklist sensitive queries’ and block any websites the Chinese government don’t like.
Google has morphed from ‘do no evil’ to ‘do whatever it takes for market share’.
Big Brother is watching Australia
This sinister trend of tech giants colluding with governments isn’t restricted to dictatorships like China.
It’s happening right here, in our increasingly small back yard.
Not happy enough with giving visas to pretty young things entering Australia, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is pushing for legislation to pass through parliament.
This is real big brother stuff. Dutton wants the sort of draconian laws that would make China look like a democratic country.
Dutton wants Australian telcos to install ‘spying’ software on all new phones.
And he doesn’t want you to know about it, either.
The legislation insists the software is to run silently in the background of your smart phone.
That way, the Aussie government can see what you are doing, and they don’t have to get a search warrant to do it.
Like every good politician, Dutton relies on the threat of terrorism as a way to shock us into submission.
Telling Parliament last week ‘Criminal syndicates and terrorists are increasingly misusing and, indeed, exploiting these technologies. This bill provides law enforcement agencies with additional powers for overt and covert computer access. Computer access involves the use of software to collect information directly from devices.’
Here’s a titbit Dutton is choosing to ignore.
We already have suitable legalisation in place to tackle ‘terrorists and organised crime’.
Let’s call this bull dust piece of proposed legalisation what is it.
It’s a power grab.
A disgusting abuse of government power. One that is nothing more than chance to monitor people.
Dutton is exploiting our fears of organised crime in a desperate attempt to enable the government to gain access to everything about us.
This type of software – one that would work in the back ground without you knowing – is a terrifying over-step of the government.
And one that we stand vehemently against at the Daily Reckoning Australia.