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Oops! … I Did it Again

Lee Schneider
4 min readJun 12, 2024

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Welcome to 500 Words. This newsletter was written by a human.

TOP OF MIND

We are living inside history, and it feels pretty strange. There’s nothing special about living inside history; everyone has done it before us. But the experience of seeing the future change so quickly into the present–-that’s what’s unusual.

We live life, we post about life online, tech corporations vacuum up our posts, they learn a lot about us, and profit by the knowledge. We’re all assigned a number that travels with us across websites, all of our machines, and time itself.

It sounds like a science fiction novel, already, doesn’t it? Thinking about corporate surveillance got me writing my novel Surrender, and in those pages, I thought I was pumping that idea into a wild fantasy that, today, has come true. The future changes quickly into the present, faster than before.

Then came AI, and the corporations decided we need to have AI in everything. If you use Facebook or Instagram, Meta is launching a smart AI assistant which learns from online text, like books and articles, and your social media posts. You have no choice in the matter. From The New York Times:

For Meta users in the U.S., there isn’t a way to stop Meta A.I. from learning from your public social media posts, as there are no privacy laws specific to this.

If you’re in Europe, you can opt out. It’s not just the bread that is better there. Even jurisprudence has more crunch on the outside.

TOTAL RECALL

Say your company recommends that you use Microsoft’s AI, called Copilot, and your company decides to turn on a feature Microsoft calls Recall. It remembers everything you did on your computer. It takes screenshots as you work. Your employer can access the screenshots. Just suppose you got sued about something you did at work. Opposing counsel will ask for the Recall data from your computer as part of discovery proceedings. Or say you wrote a sensitive email, and you decide to get rid of it. You just delete it. Problem solved? Sorry. If Recall was running, there’s a pesky screenshot to also find and delete. Recall never sleeps.

The backlash against Recall was so bad, Microsoft had to roll it back and make it opt in.

Let’s say, when you’re not working on sensitive documents, you like using Facebook. It’s how you keep in touch with your high school cohort. Who cares if Meta is sucking up data from your posts! They’re just personal posts, right?

Consider a recent Nebraska case involving a mother and daughter. They used Facebook messages to discuss getting an abortion pill to terminate the daughter’s pregnancy. Their Facebook communications became part of a case against them. When prosecutors asked, Facebook handed over the mother-daughter messages. Both mother and daughter pleaded guilty to felony charges. The daughter was sentenced to 90 days in jail, and the mother faces sentencing in September.

We’re so used to our private lives being public now; our children are the most photographed people in history. But we do have a choice about where we post. We don’t have to use Facebook. We can choose other platforms that don’t use our life story to train an AI or won’t hand off our communications to prosecutors. Posting everything online is not the naïve default “yes” that it once was. It’s time to cast a critical eye on new tech that looks attractive because it is new.

Apple has announced that AI is coming to Siri and says most processing will happen on your device. Nobody knows yet if you’ll be able to opt out of “Apple Intelligence,” as Apple calls its AI. I am not an automatic “yes.” Apple has a good reputation for preserving user privacy, but has also released information to prosecutors.

RUNAWAY TECH IDEALISM

I was once a runaway tech idealist. I believed that technology held the answer to most human problems. In my small corner of the production world, I saw how nonlinear editing made working with media a joy, and we even got to go home before midnight, because our edits went so much faster. There’s no doubt that tech, combined with capitalism, has been the most powerful engine of prosperity the world has ever known. But most human problems are created by humans. We haven’t done a great job of cooperating with other species. Now is the time to question tech. It’s time to resist.

IT’S ALL HAPPENING NOW

No need to wonder why I titled my second novel Resist! (On Amazon for pre-order now; feel free to click here.) For Surrender, the first novel in the series, I wrote about how tech corporations seek access to our thoughts to use for their own profit. In Resist, I make the argument for questioning tech companies. It’s time to question the motives of Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and OpenAI. The age of runaway tech idealism is over.

I may be writing what some call dystopian novels, but I’m an optimist, actually, and in the third novel of the series, Liberation, I am writing with a utopian vision where humans coexist with nature and tech.

As the writer and producer Rose Eveleth wrote,

Please do not keep your hands inside the vehicle. The future is yours, reach out and grab it.

DISCLAIMER

Spelling errors, typos, grammar disasters sometimes occur. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Find a dystopian wrapper around a utopian storyline here.

REVIEWS

“Resist is a captivating novel with groundbreaking truths, shocking betrayals, and a small but mighty group of rebels.”

— J.V. Hilliard, author of The Warminster Series

Sources

Meta AI Scraping Policy

Microsoft Bows to Public Pressure, Disables Controversial Windows Recall by Default Could Facebook Messages Be Used in Abortion-Related Prosecution?

What Apple surrenders to law enforcement when issued a subpoena

Apple’s Commitment to Data Privacy Could Pay Off Big With Its AI

Rose Eveleth Website

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Lee Schneider

Writer-producer. Founder of Red Cup Agency. Publisher of 500 Words. Co-founder of FutureX Studio. Co-founder of 3 children. Married to a goddess.