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Deccan International School

Opinion: The ‘1984’ reality — where is surveillance technology heading?

“1984” is another one of Orwell’s allegorical classics, a perceptive piece of prophetic art. The novel tells the story of an utterly totalitarian regime through the eyes of Winston Smith, the protagonist. On the surface, it seems as though the world of Winston Smith is a hyperbole, a worst-case scenario, an exaggerated version of your reality. However, upon closer examination and analysis, you notice the uncanny and surprising similarities between the reality that Orwell paints in the book and the one you live in. The book alludes to several themes that are relevant in the 21st century, the two major ones being privacy and freedom.

“Big Brother is watching,” is a statement that is pervasive throughout the novel, and it makes you think about the Big Brother in your reality, a significant segment of which may be comprised of social media — Facebook friends, Instagram likes, WhatsApp instant messages.

These big tech companies send out assured proclamations of security and data privacy, but in reality, every millisecond of our activity on these apps is being fed into the machinery of profit-generation. This is the central theme of the New York Times article, “Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night and They’re Not Keeping It Secret.”

The article talks about how companies are using the location data of users to glean insights about consumer behavior and use this to their advantage. When you grant an app access to your location under the impression that the information will stay anonymous…you might want to think again. The author writes, “An app may tell users that granting access to their location will help them get traffic information, but not mention that the data will be shared and sold.”

This is an era of unimaginable technology and you never know when you are being watched. Considering this fact, a question arises: what should we do about it? Are we willing to pay the price for instant gratification and the rush of dopamine in the form of privacy?

Knowledge is power, and the virtually infinite access to data these companies have given them infinite power. The data can be used against it; it can be used to manipulate you. It is very well possible that this voluntary or involuntary surrender of privacy is carving out the path to the kind of totalitarianism described in the pages of 1984.

Maybe we are being lured into a totalitarian trap, not realizing that the decisions we are making are subtly being influenced by these companies who probably know more about us than we do ourselves. When it first came out, the book was described as a warning. It seems that we hadn’t taken Orwell’s warning seriously enough.