This is a bit out of our usual subject matter, around here, but it’s nearly a civic duty to pass the word around:
Yesterday, news broke that Google has been stealth downloading audio listeners onto every computer that runs Chrome, and transmits audio data back to Google. Effectively, this means that Google had taken itself the right to listen to every conversation in every room that runs Chrome somewhere, without any kind of consent from the people eavesdropped on. In official statements, Google shrugged off the practice with what amounts to “we can do that”. …
Early last decade, privacy activists practically yelled and screamed that the NSA’s taps of various points of the Internet and telecom networks had the technical potential for enormous abuse against privacy. Everybody else dismissed those points as basically tinfoilhattery – until the Snowden files came out, and it was revealed that precisely everybody involved had abused their technical capability for invasion of privacy as far as was possible.
Perhaps it would be wise to not repeat that exact mistake. Nobody, and I really mean nobody, is to be trusted with a technical capability to listen to every room in the world, with listening profiles customizable at the identified-individual level, on the mere basis of “trust us”.
I keep a piece of paper over the camera on my laptop, but sound waves are a bit more cumbersome to block than light waves. All computers, cell phones, tablets, and other such devices should have a mechanical switch that breaks the electrical connection allowing the collection of video and audio. Short of that, we’re essentially ensuring that we will soon live in a world that’s totally bugged, if we don’t already.
Despite his imaginative powers, George Orwell didn’t come up with this turn of events, and the U.S.S.R. didn’t have the technology.