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Fast Surveillance

By now almost everyone has heard of TicTok, Meta, X, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and the other big names who collect our data. No one likes being watched without their knowledge. Those ‘opt-out’ pop-ups on websites about their tracking cookies give us a sense of assurance that we still have some control over our own data.

In fact, our data is still very much exposed.

Increasingly, companies are creating digital fingerprints for every online interaction, that records details about the device being used, including it’s mac address (hardware ID), operating system, memory size, display resolution, CPU, and other details. In combination, these data bits uniquely identify the device’s owner. This is then combined with a vast and growing database of public information that includes names and addresses, email, phone, and in some cases, even our passwords.

The purpose of all this ‘identifying’ is to sell things. Once a unique identity is known then each one of our google searches, online purchases, facebook posts, and TicTok views can be used to build a psychographic and demographic profile. These profiles are then analyzed for behavioral patterns to see how they respond to specific ads or messages and provide the gold standard for sales targeting.

“Well, that does it!” some of you may be saying. “I’m swearing-off the internet for good!”

Not so fast. Today, our modern lives leave digital fingerprints everywhere – in credit card transactions, EZPass charges, utility bills, bank records, TV viewing patterns – on and on.

That ‘everywhere’ is about to grow even larger. The magazine, FastCompany, just published an article on the expansion of consumer surveillance in fast food and vending machines. You read that right – even our food will soon be tracking us.

To quote the article: “Whether we like it or not, the technology-creep in restaurants has crossed the social chasm, and it’s affecting service and our privacy. While we eat these vending machines’ and restaurants’ food, they eat our data. Simultaneously, as they adopt more flexible AI, to successfully interact with them, we’re being forced to simplify how we communicate. It’s almost as if food has nothing to do with it, and the technology is enabling increasingly alarming detachment.”

The article describes field tests conducted by Invenda, a Swiss-based company. Students at the University of Waterloo in Canada discovered that their on-campus vending machines were using facial recognition to track the age and gender of customers, and even passers-by. It was discovered by accident when a computer glitch revealed code that showed it was happening.

The Invenda machines captured session duration, taps and interaction, heat maps, payment usage, conversion sales, basket status, eWallet usage at the machines, demographic information, and a host of other metrics including audio and video. The machines also collected data when people were not using them.

Vending machines are ubiquitous in office buildings, apartments, sports arenas, hospitals, police stations, tech companies, military installations and government facilities. It’s not hard to see how ‘vending spy-cams’ could become a threat.

Fast food restaurants are also turning to this technology to ‘improve customer experiences’ and protect increasingly threatened profit margins. Systems for automated order taking and food preparation rely on vast collections of data and have begun to use AI to hold human-like conversations with customers. These systems serve a reasonable, maybe even noble, purpose, but will also collect video, audio and 3D images of non-customers, along with facial and voice recognition.

Of course, the phones we all carry in our pockets are also tracking our habits, schedules and whereabouts, with built-in facial recognition. The Apple website describes the amazing technology used: “The TrueDepth camera captures accurate face data by projecting and analyzing thousands of invisible dots to create a depth map of your face and also captures an infrared image of your face.” This basically means that it doesn’t need to use the phone’s actual camera to build a 3D image of you, instead using sensors located on the phone's screen.

If all of this seems Orwellian to you (a la George Orwell) then you’re not wrong. The rapid spread of surveillance technology is quickly changing everything about our modern world.

There are already calls for the government to get involved in supervising its use. What could possibly go wrong with that?

For Christians this harkens to Bible prophecy about conditions in the world at the time of Christ’s return. For an excellent look at the ways in which technology could affect those events, give a listen to the podcasts below on Chronicles of the End Times:

It doesn't hurt to also keep in mind that there is someone else who sees all of our actions. His is the watchful gaze of a loving Father -- the One to whom we must ultimately give an account.

"And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do." Hebrews 4:13 (ASV) 


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