Tick-tick-tick… each sweep of Big Tech’s clock enhances corporate power — but its hands also sweep away more of our civil rights.
At first, each new surge of artificial intelligence and robotic technologies can seem perfectly benign … even playful. Take “Spot,” the robotic, four-legged “doggie” that actually has no spots, no enduring puppy eyes, can’t bark, has no tail to wag, and is very undoggy. In fact, this electronic critter is rather creepily nightmarish, but it’s marketed by cute videos, including one of Spot mixing margaritas (admit it, that beats training your real dog to bring your slippers to you).
But you can’t just adopt a Spot at your local animal shelter. Each artificial canine — manufactured by Boston Dynamics, which is owned by Korean auto giant Hyundai Motor Company, sells for about $75,000. So, who’s buying them? Mainly, such big corporate outfits as oil refineries, mining operations, and electric utilities that want an unblinking eye to monitor and record workers, visitors, protestors, and all others who approach their facilities. Just one more layer of our cycloptic surveillance society.
But the point at which Spot loses all cuteness and turns into a menacing beast of authoritarianism is when it’s turned into a police dog. There’s been quite a public backlash, for example, against the Honolulu Police Department for deploying one of the robotic canines in a tent city for homeless people. In addition to outrage at the obvious class bias in siccing Spot on the homeless, the public outcry grew hotter when it was revealed that the police had used federal pandemic relief funds to buy their Spot!
As usual, corporate and government officials assure us that this latest tech marvel won’t be used to spy on innocent people, be weaponized, or otherwise bite us on the butt. Trust us, they say.
And speaking of creepy tech...
If you’re a corporate employee, you know that something unpleasant is afoot when top executives are suddenly issuing statements about how committed they are to their employees, making sure that all of them are treated with dignity and respect.
For example, the PR chief of a global outfit named Teleperformance, one of the world’s largest call centers, was recently going on and on about how “We value our people and their well-being, safety, and happiness.” Why did the corporation feel such a desperate need to proclaim its virtue? Because it’s been caught in a nasty scheme to spy on its own workers.
Teleperformance — a $6.7 billion global behemoth that handles customer service calls for Amazon, Apple, Uber, etc. — saves money on overhead by making most of its 380,000 employees around the world work from their own homes. That can be a convenience for many workers, but a new corporate policy first imposed in March on thousands of its workers in Colombia, is an Orwellian nightmare. Teleperformance is pressuring them to sign an eight-page addendum to their employee contracts, allowing corporate-controlled video cameras, electronic audio devices, and data collection tools to be put in their homes to monitor their actions. “I work in my bedroom,” one employee noted. “I don’t want to have a camera in my bedroom.”
Neither would I, and I doubt that Teleperformance’s $20 million-a-year CEO would allow one in his mansion. Uglier yet, the privacy-obliterating contract requires that even the children of employees can be spied on at home. Nonetheless, the Colombian worker signed, because her supervisor said she could lose her job if she refused.
Of course, Teleperformance Inc. assures us that the data it collects on children is not shared elsewhere. But how do we know that? Trust us, they say.
This is Hightower, saying: Do you?