Upon arriving at an open-air public car park last week, the attendant informed me that purchasing a ticket to stick on the dashboard was old hat; the system as it now stood required no such exchange. Once returning to one’s vehicle, a machine on site required the typing-in of one’s registration number and said machine would then calculate how much money was needed based on the length of time one was parked. The information provided to the machine enabled it to know precisely how long each visitor had used the facilities, which seemed uncomfortably reminiscent of HAL from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Mind you, what doesn’t these days? The increasing reality of one’s every move being at the whim of a sentient being that is generated by computerised technology in public spaces has happened with such stealth that few even stop and think about it.
CCTV cameras often seem to be in place simply to make the job of the police detective easier than it would have been when genuine detection and intelligence were prerequisites for the post; and they’ve been absorbed into the urban landscape with seamless nonchalance. Those who froth at the mouth and hoist their placards over trivial issues that have no direct impact on their own lives are quite content to do so under the all-seeing eye of the State, apparently incapable of looking upwards and seeing the real outrage. How many cases have been closed on the shaky strength of a fuzzy image captured on CCTV? Similarly, the insidious presence of Speed Cameras, punitive robotic Jobsworths collecting fines to fund the lavish expenses of local councillors, is another odious innovation implemented under false pretences. And nobody seems especially concerned.
The recent announcement of ‘Smart Generation’ household appliances such as kettles that will anticipate the householder’s coffee or tea needs and act accordingly has been greeted as a great leap forward by a populace incapable of looking beyond the corporate PR. The astonishing gullibility of people whose faith in technology blinds them to ulterior motives is remarkable, especially when one considers the thriving online conspiracy theory industry, which proposes the most implausible fantasies imaginable, yet has a willing audience of twilight-hours disciples.
It almost feels as though each conspiracy theory has to be on the grandest of scales to be believed. Devotees will unquestionably accept that the Moon Landings were faked or that Kennedy was assassinated by aliens or that 70s Tories raped and murdered children on an industrial scale, but will willingly hand over their personal details to any chic gadget without thinking it remotely sinister.
The news that some Santander accounts have been infiltrated by hackers, hot on the heels of revelations involving Tesco last week, again highlights the acute vulnerability of systems that virtually every institution has embraced without a second thought. During the US Presidential Election, Donald Trump’s pre-victory insistence that the contest was rigged in favour of his opponent appeared to be based on the method of voting, which in many cases was done using touch-screen technology. The traditional pencil-on-paper system in the polling booth, whereupon full ballot boxes are then escorted to the counting centres under the strictest official supervision, was virtually foolproof. Whenever this has been altered, whether via postal voting or the ‘chad’ farce that caused so much trouble in 2000, problems and accusations of tampering arise. The thought that future voting could be solely an online exercise opens the floodgates for all manner of abuse.
It is amazing how converting so many transactions to exclusively online exchanges has been undertaken free from doubt over the last decade. It’s as if nobody has ever heard of the existence of hackers at all. Official correspondence or financial dealings that were once done on the phone or in person are now more or less all the province of the computer, the laptop and the Smartphone. Even the most insignificant exchange today requires the amount of personal information that would once have been reserved for Checkpoint Charlie, though passwords are not the impregnable fortresses we are led to believe. So many people construct them with personal details such as dates of birth, mother’s maiden name or the name of first pets, yet this has already been openly provided to the likes of Facebook, which is accessible without much in the way of effort. Hackers have the technology that can feed all this info into a blender that will then calculate the numerous permutations of a password before eventually coming up with the correct one. They don’t even break sweat.
The unthinking transference of intimate facts to a database that is hardly the Fort Knox of Cyberspace is entered into with headshaking naivety in many cases. I have a friend whose Facebook wall is crammed with gifts for the unscrupulous. Every time she goes on holiday, she announces the fact beforehand and then floods her wall with images of said vacation while her home stands empty and available for any techno-savvy burglar. Even if she has a house-sitter during her absence, she will also announce this fact, thus alerting the burglar to the news that the house-sitter’s home is empty.
It beggars belief that intelligent individuals can be so stupid when it comes to their online identities, yet it’s so commonplace today that China’s State suppression of Google seems almost quaint, an archaic throwback to Soviet-style surveillance of its citizens that is unnecessary when the citizens themselves are quite happy to surrender their secrets to Google as it is.
It doesn’t matter which system is the user’s preferred choice – Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, eBay, YouTube, Instragram or any of the endless new kids on the techno block – one only has to show a moderate interest in anything and the bombardment begins. If you like that, you might like this etc. We know you better than you know yourself. We know what your preferences are in music, films, TV, books, clothes, food. We are your friends. You will like what we suggest. You will do as you’re told. You will buy that gun and you will assassinate President Trump.
© The Editor