Come Over To The Dark Side, We Have Loyalty Cards.

How many loyalty cards, club cards, or rewards cards, do you have in your wallet? There are 4 in mine, and on average Australians carry 2 in theirs. But do theses cards sit idly by in your wallet when you’re not using them? Does scanning them at the register, simply add more points to your account? Or is there something deeper going on here?

 

Last week, TV show, ‘The Checkout’ on ABC did a segment in their episode, about loyalty cards and how they are used by huge corporations to create shopper profiles of us, tell things about our personal life depending on what we buy and through this, target us with specified advertising through mobile apps, emails, google advertisements and much more. They can also sell the deidentified version of this information, to third party companies (one’s you don’t have a loyalty card with, and may not even shop at), so that they can bombard you with specific advertising as well.

 

 The episode is here: http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/view/32372  and the specific segment on this runs from about minute 18 onwards for about 5 minutes.

I strongly urge everyone to watch it.

 

But after seeing this, I got to thinking about it all, and did some extra research. Monash University published a paper 4 years ago, in 2009, about all of this and the information that companies are receiving and compiling against us, and whether or not people care more about their rewards than their privacy.

 

http://www.buseco.monash.edu.au/centres/acrs/research/whitepapers/hidden-side-of-loyalty.pdf

That’s the link to the paper. Give it a read, or a skim is equally as good, but there is some scary information there.

 

Last year, a man in the US came very close to filing a law suit against the company Target, for sending his daughter customer specific advertising for baby products. In an outrage, the man contacted the company and complained about how inappropriate it was etc etc. He then returned home, to discover that his 16 year old daughter was in fact, actually pregnant.

What the company had done, was conducted a series of studies into what pregnant women buy more of or are more likely to buy than other women, and at what point in the pregnancy they are buying which products. With the information that came from those studies, the company can incredibly accurately tell if a customer is pregnant, how far along she is, and when the baby is due. And all of this is done, simply so that they can target said women with pregnancy and baby related products in their advertisements.

 

So if Coles or Woolworths can tell if you’re pregnant, then what else do they know about you?

Already, Australia has seen a flybuys rewards system initated by Coles in recent years, that allows you to receive discounts on the things you buy regularly – and you don’t get to pick what they are, they tell you. Yes, they have records of every single grocery shop you’ve done using your rewards card, and they can tell you at what time of the year you’re more likely to buy certain products, what products you buy most frequently, how often you shop – they could probably tell you when there’s a birthday in the family based on when you buy cream to have with cakes.

 

“Jane is 53 years old and lives with her cat in a northern suburb of Melbourne. She works full time on the other side of town, so she prefers to drive rather than catch public transport.

On the weekend Jane likes to do some gardening, and she is also fond of red wine. In fact, she drinks so much that it makes financial sense for her to buy her wine by the carton.

Jane’s daughter lives a few kilometers away and has an 18-month-old girl. Jane likes to buy clothes and toys for her granddaughter, even though she has more than enough already.

How do we know all these things? Because some time ago Jane applied for a loyalty card at her local supermarket so that she could earn frequent flyer points every time she goes shopping. She now hands over her card whenever she is at the checkout.

Although her identity is kept confidential by the supermarket chain, Jane would probably recognise herself from the ‘profile’ that it has built from its database. The supermarket knows that she is a pet owner, because she buys cat food. It knows that she drives to work, because she buys fuel at a petrol station owned by the same corporation. From her regular purchases it also knows that she is a gardener and a wine drinker. From her occasional purchases of baby products, it has even deduced that there is a baby in the family, but that it isn’t hers. Given her age, it has assumed that Jane is a new grandmother.” – Monash University, ‘The Hidden Side of Loyalty Card Programs’.

 

Now let’s consider living in 2013. It is estimated that in 2 years time there will be 1 trillion personal hand held electronic devices in the world. Imagine the amount of information that companies, in fact anyone, is able to compile about you when you take into account laptop and internet usage tracking and history, and the location services on mobile phones, as well as apps like ‘Find My iPhone’, and ‘checking in’ to places on Facebook.

I can type a person’s name into Facebook right now, and provided their security is not top-notch, can find out a lot of information about them which I can then use to my advantage: I can see pages they’ve ‘liked’ telling me their interests and potentially products that they may be interested in buying; I can scroll through their friends and create a social profile through their online interactions with these people; I can see when they were born, where they live, where they work, where they went to school, who they’re in a relationship with, what languages they speak, what their political and religious views are and any other information that they chose to put in the general about section.

 

General Motors have recently released a proposal for electronic billboards that will connect to the wifi on the GPS in your car, and send you personalized advertising on this billboard, depending on the destination you have put into your GPS, and the history of destinations stored on there. There is also talk of using the voice activation software in GPS devices to predict the approximate age and gender of the person driving the car.

Google and other internet services, use information about things that you have recently searched the internet for, or things you have looked at on Youtube, to advertise specifically to you. If you search Google for plane flights to Europe, every day for a week, then the automatic advertising on Google when it registers that it is your computer in use, will be specified around that, even if that’s not actually what you’re searching for a week later.

 

Right now, looking at the advertising on the side of my Facebook news feed, I can see advertising specified at me because I am a girl – shoes and dresses – and advertising specified at me because of pages that my friends have ‘liked’ – Coles and Vodafone – but also advertising specified at me because of status posts that I have made using song lyrics – hip hop music tickets.

The information that these companies have on us, and can gather in not much more than 10 minutes of searching the internet, is incredibly scary. They target you with the advertising when they can tell that you are at your most vulnerable, and they are getting better and better at it as time goes on. That’s not even to mention the fact that as long as it is unidentifiable by a company (but you could probably pick your own profile looking at it out of a bunch), then they can sell the information they have on you to 3rd party companies. Which may be ones that you don’t have a loyalty card with, or may be ones that you don’t even shop at but want to advertise to you anyway.

It’s only going to get worse – they’re going to know more about you, more easily, and be more and more willing to exploit that.

Read the paper and watch the episode. The facts are frightening. And they are real.

How do we fight it? Don’t get loyalty cards, don’t sign up for customer feedback, don’t fill out surveys. Pay with cash, not by card. Don’t ‘check in’ to places on Facebook, keep your social media security settings as tight as possible, don’t put personal information on the internet. Install anti-tracking software on your laptop, get a map instead of a GPS and turn off the Bluetooth and location services on your mobile phones.

 

It’s hard to be invisible from all this advertising and data collection, but there are things we can do to prevent major national companies knowing so much about us, that they know we’re pregnant before we do. 

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Obama isn’t a virgin, and neither are his drones.

For those of us that are somewhat worried, or perturbed by the advancement of technology, and the things that it allows us to do in today’s society – and the things that we are told it is used for – drone warfare can be a very unsettling thought.

But the fact of the matter is that it is no longer simply a thought, a concept to be put on the table, a matter up for discussion. No for a long time now, drone warfare has been a normal everyday part of how we fight our wars – especially for America and especially those wars being fought in the Middle East.

 

In February this year, the White House defended a memo from the Justice Department, declaring that Obama had the power to order drone attacks on American citizens known to be working with Al-Qaeda, even if there is no proof that they have helped to plot an attack.

“These strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise.” – Jay Carney, White House Spokesperson.

 

But are they ethical? Are they wise? America was the country, not too long ago, in the heat of the Cold War, that began to push for a total denuclearization for all countries. And they are still calling for that, any one can look at what is currently happening between America and North Korea and see that the US does not want a war, especially not a nuclear war.

So why then, are they so happy and willing to use machines to kill people?

 

Is there really that much difference, between a computerized machine, and a nuclear bomb? Both were essentially created in order to have more power over the field of war, and for the people involved, to be able to distance themselves further from the death and destruction that ensues. So then how can one country, one man, be so against one form of this, and so actively for another?

 

“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo says.

Instead, an “informed, high-level” official could decide that the targeted individual posed “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States” if he had “recently” engaged in such activities, and there was no evidence he had renounced or abandoned them.

The 16-page memo is entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qaeda or An Associated Force.” – Sydney Morning Herald, February 6 2013.

 

On March 7th this year, Republic Senator Rand Paul launched a filibuster against Obama’s drone policy, which was resoundingly felt by those on both sides of the political divide of American politics. For those of you unfamiliar with the system, a filibuster is basically when you either call for votes you need, or in this case, you stand up and talk – for a very, very long time (in this case 13 hours) – to prevent people from voting in a way that you oppose. A clever tactic. The general consensus of worry among the Senators, is that drone warfare will begin to be used to kill American citizens, on American soil. While it might be able to be pushed under the rug that many American citizens killed by drone strikes in the Middle East, have not actually ever been charged with a criminal offence; it would not be as easy to do so if they were to be killed on American soil. And Rand Paul raised a good point, doesn’t every person living under a democracy, and in fact those that aren’t as well, are they not entitled to a trial by jury and to be treated as innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law? So doesn’t that illustrate the fundamental problem with drone strikes, that there is no trial, there is no conviction – and quite often, there isn’t even a crime.

 

But no need to fear, the Attorney General is here! Later that week, the Senator received a letter from the Attorney General of the United States, declaring that no, the President does not have the power to order a drone strike on an American citizen on American soil who is not involved in combat. And that was pretty much, the end of that debate.

But I still want an answer to the question in terms of the rest of the population of the world. Who made Barack Obama the judge, jury and executioner? Why is it up to him, to look at a list of names every Tuesday morning and some sketchy evidence provided alongside, and decide which of these people – these fathers, sons, brothers, mothers, daughters, cousins, friends, lovers – is a threat to America and therefore deserves to die?

Why is it that just because one person could possibly, at some point in the future (probably if the US pisses them off enough first), be a threat, does that mean that they deserve to die – without actually having committed any crime at that point? They’re killed on the premise that they have the capacity.

 

So if Obama can kill people in the Middle East with his drones, because they have the capacity to be bad, what happens if he decides that there are some people in Europe, or Asia, or Australia, that could pose a threat to America’s national security? Doesn’t every person in the world, have the capacity to commit a crime, have the capacity to do these things maybe – does that mean that we all deserve to die, just incase?

 

The Sydney Morning Herald published an article on the 6th of March, two days ago – ‘A Weapon Failing to keep Peace on Any Side’ – give it a read: http://www.smh.com.au/world/a-weapon-failing-to-keep-peace-on-any-side-20130405-2hc6z.html

The article discusses how drone strikes in Pakistan have been the best recruitment aid for the Taliban in years, and that one week there are 10 to 15 volunteers, but after a drone strike, there are 150 volunteers. 150 more people ready to take up arms and fight, willing to risk their lives, because of a machine sent to kill them. General James Cartwright, former vice-chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff under Obama, has said that they are seeing a blowback that more than convincingly suggests that drones are creating more terrorists than they are killing. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that they are killing more civilians than ‘terrorists’ in increasing numbers.

 

New US tactics such as ‘signature strikes’ and ‘double-taps’ where men are targeted due to the way they act in the former, and where a site is targeted twice in quick succession in the later; are giving drones a bad reputation as surgical killing machines. And there is no disputing that drone warfare really is Obama’s ‘baby’ – from 04 to 09 America ordered 54 drone strikes, 3 days after taking office Obama ordered his first strike, and since then has overseen 344 of them, the latest occurring on March 21st.

 

“A lot of the feelings surrounding drone strikes, comes from the complete lack of transparency that the American government offers its people on the issue. Part of the discrepancy lies in how those killed are counted. The US presumes any male of fighting age a militant unless posthumously proved otherwise. Other agencies say this is a dangerous oversimplification.

The London-based Bureau for Investigative Journalism puts the death toll from drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004 at between 2537 and 3581. Between 411 and 884 of those have been civilians, between 168 and 197 children. Pakistan estimates more than 2200 people have died over nearly a decade, including ”at least 400 civilians”.” – Sydney Morning Herald, April 6 2013.

And it’s not just Americans that think that the drones are breeding more hate than peace, there are many people within Pakistan that say that hatred of America has grown since drone attacks began, and that without this reason, the Taliban would have no support. There are polls that suggest that only 17% of Pakistan’s population believe that drone strikes are necessary to defend them from extremists.

 

For America, a country so rich in political history, so thought of as the biggest and most powerful country in the world (even now still), it seems a very large leap to be taking with such a small run-up. It seems that a country, so entrenched in their constitution, their bill of rights, their declaration of independence – all the things that the fathers of that country fought for – that for them to be acting in such a manner, is nothing short of disgraceful.

If drones are creating hate, creating terrorists, then obviously they’re not working and another tactic should be employed. If the soldiers are there, to protect innocent people and to establish a fair and democratic government, then stop killing their people, stop giving them reason to turn away from you, and show them how to create a country as rich in rights and freedoms as the United States of America.

 

Bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity. And Obama looks like he’s already lost his.