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Motoring With Big Brother

In The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff writes about how auto insurance companies are working to get cars kitted out with all kinds of sensors (“telematics”) that provide information to them about how individual drivers behave. In other words, your insurance company would be surveilling you every time you got behind the wheel. Health insurers want the same kind of thing to monitor whether or not clients are complying with their exercise regimens, dieting as prescribed, and so forth. Consulting firms are encouraging this. Zuboff writes:

Deloitte acknowledges that according to its own survey data, most consumers reject telematics on the basis of privacy concerns and mistrust companies that want to monitor their behavior. This reluctance can be overcome, the consultants advise, by offering cost savings “significant enough” that people are willing “to make the [privacy] trade-off,” in spite of “lingering concerns… .” If price inducements don’t work, insurers are counseled to present behavioral monitoring as “fun,” “interactive,” “competitive,” and “gratifying,” rewarding drivers for improvements on their past record and “relative to the broader policy holder pool.” In this approach, known as “gamification,” drivers can be engaged to participate in “performance based contests” and “incentive based challenges.”

If all else fails, insurers are advised to induce a sense of inevitability and helplessness in their customers. Deloitte counsels companies to emphasize “the multitude of other technologies already in play to monitor driving” and that “enhanced surveillance and/or geo-location capabilities are part of the world we live in now, for better or worse.”

The data generated by these sensors in cars will also allow corporate customers to “lure you into real places for the sake of others’ profit” in ways that go beyond advertising. That would be straightforward. The surplus data would be sellable to third parties who will find ways to direct drivers. Plus, the data on driver behavior would be used in “behavioral futures markets in which third parties lay bets on what drivers will do now, soon, and later. … These bets translate into pricing, incentive structures, and monitoring and compliance regimes.” More:

In both operations, surplus drawn from the driver’s experience is repurposed as the means to shape and compel the driver’s experience for the sake of guaranteed outcomes. Most of this, as MacKay advised, outside the driver’s awareness while she still thinks that she is free. [Emphasis the author’s. — RD]

Zuboff wonders why we are not outraged by this, why we sit back and accept this control as inevitable. Good question. I think she answers it in the passages above. People are induced to think that it’s either morally good, or fun. And if that doesn’t work, they accept it as inevitable. That’s how I roll — and if you’re honest, it’s how you roll too. What choice do we have?

This section in Zuboff’s book makes me think about the coercive behavioral control behind corporate “diversity and inclusion” programs. I wrote about the program in one major global corporation (which I could not name) yesterday — this, after seeing documents leaked to me by an insider.  Looking at the language used to sell this program internally, it’s striking to see the language it deploys to convince workers that this coercive social engineering is good for them. The language talks about virtue and happiness, as well as business success. You don’t like it, or have suspicion? What, you hate diversity? You hate inclusion? You don’t want the company to succeed, is that it? You must be a bad person.

It’s quite Orwellian, attempting to convince employees that spying on each other and monitoring each other for compliance with the ideological regime is an opportunity to help your fellow employee improve. You are not forced to comply, but the company makes it clear that not joining the program will be noted, and non-joiners will miss out on salary bonuses.

If you want to escape these coercive woke programs, well, good luck, non-conformist. They’re everywhere. You want to work in a major industry, then you have to sign on for it. Enhanced corporate thought and behavior modification capabilities are part of the world we live in now, for better or worse. People who have been brought up with this ideology, and who don’t remember a world without it, will think you’re a madman, and someone to be watched carefully.

Let me leave you with this lede from a recent Wired story about Big Tech merging with Big Brother:

A friend of mine, who runs a large television production company in the car-mad city of Los Angeles, recently noticed that his intern, an aspiring filmmaker from the People’s Republic of China, was walking to work.

When he offered to arrange a swifter mode of transportation, she declined. When he asked why, she explained that she “needed the steps” on her Fitbit to sign in to her social media accounts. If she fell below the right number of steps, it would lower her health and fitness rating, which is part of her social rating, which is monitored by the government. A low social rating could prevent her from working or traveling abroad.

Ha! Stupid commies! Look at those Chinese sheeple, just accepting that invasion of privacy and manipulation at the hands of their one-party state! Good thing we would never agree to anything like that in the Land of the Free, eh?

Sarcasm off. In China, they do it by government fiat. Here, we do it through corporations and consumer convenience. And by the time we think, “Hey, that’s going too far,” it’s too late to turn back.

 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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