Digital Bodhisattva Reflections: China’s Expanding Surveillence State

This New York times article is an eye-opener. The author utilizes an innovative approach in reviewing the sensitive nature of these documents while analyzing both the requirements and strategic thinking that generated them. These short reflections are intended to demonstrate why there is a need for Digital Bodhisattva to keep a view of these developments.

  1. The revelations of this article do not principly come as a surprise; large volumes of data is required to train AI systems. In the case of a government, the more data they collect (especially persons related), the more the machine will know about the individual. 
  2. The biggest challenge of collecting these data from different sources and centralizing them. This article shares the efforts to develop technologies to collect personal data from various sources and where collection is not possible, new systems are being developed. This data includes audio, visual and textual data generated by individual users.
  3. The questions we need to ask would be toward China, the country embarking on these initiatives. Given that the technological principle is the same, are the US, UK and even smaller nations doing the same thing? We need to also question if such collection is done within legal frameworks and if these legal frameworks are enforceable. 
  4. Should we just be concerned about large governments collecting our data? What about smaller agencies, local communities, tech companies – big or small? 
  5. Google, Apple and (especially) Facebook probably know more about you than you know about yourself. Each time we use a mobile app we are generating copious amounts of data. Such data leveraged and monetized by these applications/platforms to push products and services into your newsfeed/digital mindstream, this influx of targeted advertising changes us. Is this situation akin to the days where large agricultural corporations took seeds from rural India to develop GMO materials and then sold those same seeds back to rural residents for a profit?
  6. Then there are the users themselves, are we educated enough to make appropriate decisions on personal data? What is the value of sharing a photo instead of a video online? Does it matter which platform we decide to share our lives through? While education is key, we also need to ask ourselves if we are able to to make truly informed decisions about these topics without just defaulting to the ‘standard’. A standard that Big Tech companies have spent billions on marketing to solidify in our minds. Recognizing that the interoperability of digital infrastructure is so tightly integrated that it is difficult not to not share any data, a set of guiding personal principles for data would be useful to develop. 

Data privacy, governance and the ethical aspects are important things that Digital Bodhisattva hopes to bring forth into this evolving dialogue through the eyes of our Practice.

Written by KV Soon (Vidyananda) 07/07/22

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