The Cambridge Analytica scandal has caused governments and individuals to wonder whether tech giants such as Facebook and Google are undermining democracy. One man did an experiment to find out how much information Google had on him—the result would make George Orwell blanch. Click here to read more.
What is your reaction to these revelations, and what, if anything, do you think governments and individuals should do in response?

Full Citation for this Article: Editorial Board, SquareTwo Journal (2018) "Reader's Puzzle Spring 2018," SquareTwo, Vol. 11 No. 1 (Spring 2018), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleReadersPuzzleSpring2018.html, accessed <give access date>.

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COMMENTS: 7 Comments

I. Valerie M. Hudson

While the Cambridge Analytica scandal ensnared Facebook, the other article about Google that was linked in the Readers’ Puzzle was even creepier—Google tracks your movements down to the minute, and it can tell where you were at a given time a decade ago. It can tell what you read and view, and what you buy, and what you search for on the internet. Even files you deleted from Google’s cloud servers are not deleted, but fully accessible by Google. Ostensibly, this is all for the purpose of a finer-grained targeting of advertisements. But clearly, as one politician quoted suggests, “I am shocked and horrified that the personal intrusion into our lives is so deep – if this was a communist state we would not be tracked so closely.”

I am very worried, not only for the potential for a new kind of authoritarianism that makes conventional authoritarianism looks like kindergarten, but I also worry that our very minds—our very ability to reason and to gather information—is being undermined. I often have my students sit next to each other and Google a controversial issue, such as gun control. Google’s search results are different for each person; Google tailors the results according to your browsing history. Google is also capable of burying certain viewpoints so deep within its search results that you would never find them. So Google can keep you in a little bubble of its own creation. Google controls what information you can find.

No one should have this type of power. What really scares me is that it may now be impossible to fight this arrogation of power. It may already be too late. The EU is fighting for privacy, but even their new regulations only insist on greater transparency concerning the harvesting of data. The larger issue of the control of the information flow to our minds has not even been addressed. Big Brother is already a reality, but so well camouflaged we don’t even know it. May God have mercy on us . . .


II. B. Kent Harrison

The Reader's Puzzle raises alarm about the intrusion of our privacy by large computer giants like Google. The referenced article indicates that Google knows such things as where we went on a certain day--all kinds of details about our activities, just like Big Brother.

So I investigated. I found that I do have a Google account. The website seems to be concerned with my privacy. But I could not find how to access the information Google has on me. That is indeed troubling.

So what I suggest is: 1) Educate us on how to obtain that information. We learn, from the scriptures and just good sense, that to combat evil we need to expose it. I am not sure I want to call Google and computer giants like it evil--after all, they do a lot of good--but hiding things like how much data they have on us is evil. So education is critical. 2) Alert our Congressional representatives about the problem and ask them to do something about it. Republican Congressional reps are chary about imposing regulations, so that may not help much. But it might. At least we can ask them to insure that the needed information be made public. And alert them to anything that seems to be gathering data on us. Concern has been shown, for example, about the large data gathering facility in southern Salt Lake valley that is presumably for national defense. 3) Individually, just be careful about what information we leak out. We know, e.g., that our Social Security numbers are to be kept private. Also, while I have a written list of passwords I use, I do not store that list on my computer. People may find them anyway, but at least I have not made it easy for them. 4) Live lives such that we do not care what people know about us. It is said that everyone has something to hide. True--there are some things I have done that I would prefer people not to know. But I am not leaving a paper trail for others to find.


III. Neylan McBaine

When the scriptures talk in 2 Timothy 3 about "in the last days, perilous times shall come," they usually mention natural disasters that portend the Second Coming, or perverse actions of people who seem they would be easy to identify. Mining and using personal information about people to increase their consumeristic appetites doesn't appear anywhere in the scriptures as a spiritual danger. But as someone who spent her early career in digital marketing and, now two decades later, is on the other end, being marketed to and upsold at every turn, I see the barrage of messages telling us we need more and new things to be a pervasive danger of our age. This ability of marketers to know what I'm interested in and tell me I need the new, better version of it is more frightening to me than some other aspects of the privacy discussion because it can truly affect our spiritual health. Specifically, it erodes our ability to have gratitude, to feel fulfilled with our lives the way they are, and to focus on things beyond this world.

Things of every price range and purpose are available at every turn and we are in a constant state of saying, "No, I don't need that." The discipline required to navigate that is a hard lesson to teach our children, especially when they are seeing messages that are tailored to things they've already exhibited an interest in. And it's a hard discipline to maintain as adults, too, especially for those of us who profess to look not at the outward appearance, but, like the Lord, at the heart.

Additionally, intelligent marketing results in a narrowing of the creative discovery process, that process by which we stumble upon an album or a book that we might not have otherwise considered. When our consumer habits are so well known, the algorithms are more likely to recommend things already in our wheelhouse of preferences. Thus, the rap fan doesn't discover Rossini, and the biography reader doesn't discover Nora Roberts.

But resisting or looking beyond the intelligent marketing that results from companies knowing so much about us goes to the very heart of what defines the latter-days: it is a matter of exercising agency. We are constantly being pushed and pulled one way or the other - towards a new handbag or a car gadget or the latest novel - and within that swirl of activity we must know ourselves and make choices. Is that not our spirit's ultimate challenge? The pressures around us are not going away through legislation or natural business forces. It is only we ourselves who can make personal choices that always prioritize the other world rather than this one, the intangible rather than the things we can buy.


IV. Elizabeth Barton

My thoughts are simple, but may seem a bit extreme to some. Over the past few years, I've decided to gradually eliminate social media from my life (at least, as much as possible). As of right now, I only have an activated LinkedIn account. I made this decision before the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and did so mostly because I felt like social media was making me increasingly cynical and paranoid. Sometimes I feel a bit "irrelevant" now, especially given that everyone of my generation is completely immersed in social media, but I'm starting to be okay with my seeming irrelevance. At this point, I don't have faith in the government to do much about the problem, but I'm hoping that the tech companies themselves take the initiative and make necessary changes. If people start to disconnect from social media, it forces the issue, right?


V. Carl Brinton

While my training in economics would suggest that the market will solve this sort of issue, among platform businesses where scale and stickiness are self-feeding cycles, markets tend more toward natural monopolies, which reduces the efficacy of competitive market forces that would solve these actual or potential abuses. That fact combined with each of these businesses generally lacking the same lobbying clout of more mature and politically active industries, it seems that government regulation is likely a good step toward mitigating the risks of data abuse. That said, as was seen in Mark Zuckerberg's testimony before Congress, the government needs serious professional help to successfully regulate the tech industry. In order to do so, government will need to draw upon unconventional talent, much like it has with the formation and growth of US Digital Service, which could provide the initial human capital to bring in more expertise not just into tech solutions for government, but also for government solutions for tech.


VI. Janille Stearmer

I work in the industry of intelligence and information sharing and none of these revelations shock me at all. If anyone puts their information out there in the digital world, ever, it is always there. Amazon isn't building all these data centers so they can transport your package to you faster - they are collecting data, and lots of it, to make money. There is a very good reason why people who work in an intelligence sharing environment ban people from wearing or carrying any transmitting devices, including some medical equipment, into secure rooms. I do understand, however, that most people don't live or work in those kind of secure environments and wouldn't want to live under those kinds of restrictions anyway. We like the convenience of our digitally connected devices (the Internet of Things), we are fascinated by technical innovations, and many people don't place a great deal of value on data gathered about their habits or interests, unless the use of that information causes them personal harm.

As far as what individuals should do in response, each person has to make choices about how much connectivity they need or want with the rest of the world. Ask yourself why it's necessary or important, and how would your life change if you put digital limits on it. Those are questions and decisions each person has to make for themselves and accept the consequences (good or bad) of that choice.

From a government perspective, I think taxation is the answer. They are making money off of the data without monetary compensation to any individual (the information property owner), thus the individual receives no direct benefit from the data collection. Revenue from taxation can provide benefit for all of society to support our critical infrastructures such as education, energy, and transportation, as well as fund cyber security efforts to protect individuals as well as public and private sector organizations.


VII. Stephen Cranny

I think like all new technologies we're going through a Wild West phase, and just like we eventually realized that we had to regulate slaughterhouses and drugs, so too are we beginning to realize that we need to regulate data miners, but what specifically that entails I don't really have the technical know-how to know for sure. As long as their use of my data is limited to targeted marketing or advertising derived from black box algorithms that are beyond the ability of their marketers to comprehend, and there isn't some guy in a room looking over my stuff in particular, then I don't feel particularly threatened.