From Permanent Record by Edward Snowden pgs. 191-193
"Our mission was pretty much appliance-based on this one afternoon I'm recalling - we were in Best Buy. Having settled on a new microwave, we were checking out, on Lindsay'a healthful insistence, a display of blenders. She had her phone out and was in the midst of researching which of the ten or so devices had the best reviews, when I found myself wandering over to the computer department at the far end of the store.
But along the way I stopped. There, at the edge of the kitchenware section, ensconced atop a brightly decorated and lit elevated platform, was a shiny new refrigerator. Rather, it was a 'Smart-fridge' which was being advertised as 'Internet-equipped.'
This, plain and simple, blew my mind.
A salesperson approached, interpreting my stupefaction as interest - "It's amazing, isn't it?" - and proceeded to demonstrate a few of the features. A screen was embedded in the door of the fridge, and next to the door was a tiny stylus, which allowed you to scribble messages. If you didn't want to scribble, you could record audio and video memos. You could also use the screen as your regular computer, because the refrigerator had Wi-Fi. You could check your email, or check your calendar. You could watch YouTube clips, or listen to MP3s. You could even make phone calls. I had to restrain myself from keying in Lindsay's number and saying from across the floor, "I'm calling you from a fridge."
Beyond that, the salesperson continued, the fridge's computer kept track of internal temperature, and, through scanning barcodes, the freshness of your food. It provided nutritional information and suggested recipes. I think the price was over $9,ooo. "Delivery included," the salesperson said.
I remember driving home in a confused silence. This wasn't quite the stunning moonshot tech-future we'd been promised. I was convinced the only reason the thing was Internet- equipped was so that it could report back to its manufacturer about its owner's usage and about any other household data that was obtainable. The manufacturer, in turn, would monetize that data by selling it. And we were supposed to pay for the privilege.
I wondered what the point was of my getting so worked up over government surveillance if my friends, neighbours, and fellow citizens were more than happy to invite corporate surveillance into their homes, allowing themselves to be tracked while browsing in their pantries as efficiently as if they were browsing the Web. It would be another half decade before the domotics revolution, before 'virtual assistants' like Amazon Echo and Google Home were welcomed into bedroom and placed proudly on nightstands to record and transmit all activity within range, to log all habits and preferences (not to mention fetishes and kinks), which would then be developed into advertising algorithms and converted into cash. The data we generate just by living - or just by letting ourselves be surveilled while living - would enrich private enterprise and impoverish our private existence in equal measure. If government surveillance was having the effect of turning the citizen into a subject, at the mercy of state power, then corporate surveillance was turning the consumer into a product, which corporations sold to other corporations, data brokers and advertisers.
Meanwhile, it felt as if every major tech company, including Dell, was rolling out new civilian versions of what I was working on for the CIA: a cloud. (In fact, Dell had even tried four years previously to trademark the term 'cloud-computing' but was denied). I was amazed at how willingly people were signing up, so excited at the prospect of their photos and videos and music and e-books being universally backed up and available that they never gave much thought as to why such uber-sophisticated and convenient storage solution was being offered to them for 'free' or for 'cheap' in the first place.
I don't think I'd ever seen such a concept be so uniformly bought into on every side. 'The cloud' was as effective a sales term for Dell to sell to the CIA as it was for Amazon and Apple and Google to sell to their users. I can still close my eyes and hear Cliff some CIA suit about how "with the cloud, you'll be able to push security updates across agency computers world-wide," or "when the cloud's up and running, the agency will be able to track who has read what file world-wide." The cloud was white and fluffy and peaceful, floating high above the fray. Though many clouds make a stormy sky, a single cloud provided a benevolent bit of shade. It was protective. I think it made everyone think of heaven. "
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