In an era shrouded by the all-consuming tendrils of digital sorcery, the right to privacy emerges as an eldritch cornerstone of human existence. As the world unwittingly dances with the forbidden powers of connectivity, a maddening whisper of trepidation echoes through the collective consciousness, for the boundary between self and the collective data lake grows perilously thin. The ceaseless gaze of omnipresent surveillance, the insatiable hunger for personal data, and the harrowing breaches of the digital realm converge, conjuring an existential dread. It is within this accursed tapestry that the primal truth manifests: privacy, a sanctum of unknowable importance, serves as the very lifeblood that sustains a fragile, labyrinthine democracy.

The importance of privacy as a human right is underscored by its role as a prerequisite for the exercise and enjoyment of other rights. The interdependence of human rights makes privacy crucial to freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial, freedom of thought and conscience, and freedom of association.

Privacy, Freedom of Thought and Conscience

Privacy allows individuals to explore and develop their identity, beliefs, and ideas without external pressure or influence. In a surveillance-intensive environment, individuals may engage in self-censorship, curtailing their intellectual and spiritual growth. Hence, privacy is key to nurturing freedom of thought and conscience.

Privacy and Freedom of Association

Freedom of association relies heavily on the ability to communicate and associate privately. This right is vital for the creation and functioning of social groups, political parties, and organizations that form the lifeblood of society and civilization.

Privacy and Freedom of Speech

An individual’s freedom of speech hinges significantly on their ability to communicate privately without fear of reprisal. Privacy guarantees that your speech is not eavesdropped on, and guarantees that two individuals can freely discuss ideas and ideals without fear of repercussion. This becomes especially vital in the cases of journalists, whistleblowers and political activists. By safeguarding confidential communication, the right to privacy creates a safe space for these individuals to speak truth.

Privacy and the Right to a Fair Trial

In the context of legal systems, privacy plays a paramount role in ensuring a fair trial. The right to confer with legal counsel privately is a bedrock principle of due process, reinforcing the balance between the individual and the state. The protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, another facet of privacy, helps guarantee that evidence is collected fairly and lawfully.

Privacy is under threat - An Ominous Assault on Seclusion

As we delve deeper into the digital age, the specter of omnipresent surveillance looms ominously over us, casting a chilling shadow on our right to privacy. It is a silent, unseen entity that has infiltrated our lives, lurking in the corners of our homes, hidden within the devices we use daily. This insidious invasion is not marked by the clatter of boots or the flash of weapons, but by the silent hum of technology, the soft glow of screens, and the unblinking eyes of cameras.

In this age of information, our lives have become an open book, with each page filled with data that is constantly being written, read, and rewritten. Our actions, our words, even our thoughts, are being monitored, recorded, and analyzed. The sanctity of our homes, once our refuge from the world, is under threat. The walls that were meant to protect us now bear silent witness to our lives, as the devices within them watch and listen, their unblinking eyes and all-hearing ears capturing every moment.

This is not a dystopian future, but a stark reality of our present. The advent of smart technologies, while bringing unprecedented convenience and connectivity, has also ushered in an era of pervasive surveillance. Our devices, our apps, our social networks, all serve as conduits for this constant flow of information, feeding into a vast, insatiable data beast.

A grim revelation of this unfolding epoch is the initiation of Telly, a technological enterprise governed by a co-founder of Pluto TV. The offering of half a million units of their novel dual-screen smart TVs, free of charge, makes for an alluring proposition. Yet, an unsettling condition that has induced a stir of trepidation and skepticism exists: viewers are mandated to endure ceaseless advertisements whilst indulging in content, and the apparatus is endowed with an ever-watchful camera and microphone, which dutifully record everything within its vicinity and bear no switch to silence them.

The rise of Telly’s smart TVs, with their ever-watchful cameras, is a stark embodiment of this reality. These devices, while promising a revolution in home entertainment, also herald a disturbing erosion of personal boundaries. The ceaseless advertisements, the constant monitoring, the relentless recording - all these elements coalesce into a formidable assault on our privacy.

The threat posed by these devices extends beyond the invasion of our personal spaces. The data they collect, the information they amass, is a treasure trove for those with malicious intent. The security of this data is a concern of paramount importance, as breaches can lead to devastating consequences. The prospect of cybercriminals gaining access to intimate footage from our homes is a chilling one, opening the door to a host of cybercrimes. The insecurity of our information, thus, is a pressing issue that we must confront as we navigate this era of omnipresent surveillance.

Dissecting Telly’s Menacing Proposition

From the first cursory examination, Telly’s smart TV projects an image of a revolutionary invention in domestic leisure. The contraption boasts a 55-inch 4K HDR screen, an integrated five-driver soundbar, and a supplementary nine-inch screen for showcasing commercials and other particulars like meteorological updates, music reproduction, and sporting outcomes. The allure of a premium, costless smart TV is undeniably enticing. Yet, the stipulation of ceaseless advertising and the embedded camera and microphone evoke grave apprehensions about privacy infringement.

An Unseen Penetration into Sanctity

The intelligence of Telly’s smart TV, nurtured through machine learning, scrutinizes viewers’ responses to the advertisements, enhancing the commercial content exhibited over time. Alas, this technological feat is achieved at an enormous sacrifice to user privacy. The incessantly alert camera and microphone on Telly’s smart TVs bear the potential to capture intimate conversations, observe patterns of behavior and movements, and possibly craft an unnervingly accurate portrayal of viewers’ existences. This is tantamount to a disturbing violation of personal sanctity, transforming residences from a personal sanctuary into a chilling theatre of perpetual surveillance.

I must reluctantly wear the mantle of the oft-criticized alarmist, the sentinel ever-citing Orwell’s 1984 as a clarion call for caution. I promise, I’m not an habitual prophet of doom, nor do I take pleasure in conjuring dystopian parallels on a whim. It’s just that our current predicament, the unveiling of a device so eerily akin to the Telescreen, necessitates such comparisons.

The birth of this new technology is a striking testament to our reality mirroring the disturbing fiction of Orwell’s universe. With its ceaseless surveillance, its unwavering eye and tireless ear, this device sits, embedded in our living rooms, as the personification of Orwell’s warning against unrestrained surveillance.

Believe me when I say, I detest the necessity of assuming this role, becoming the voice of disconcerted caution. I would rather revel in the marvels of technological progress than lament its potentially invasive repercussions. Yet, in the face of this glaring resemblance to Orwell’s Telescreen, I find myself compelled to raise the flag of concern, and not just about Telly, but the current state of the technological landscape as a whole.

This is a glaringly significant case of blatant invasion of privacy, a time when our very living spaces are under constant scrutiny, watched and listened to with a voracious, insatiable curiosity. The echoes of 1984 seem to resonate with an unsettling clarity in the form of this invention.

Omnipresent Surveillance and the Insecurity of Information

Beyond the invasion of personal space by relentless observation, Telly’s smart TVs pose another ominous threat: the security of data. Even if the amassed information is solely deployed for enhancing ad content, the looming potential of data breach is a legitimate fear. The horrifying scenario of cybercriminals obtaining access to footage from the confines of viewers’ living and sleeping quarters is a dire prospect, presenting opportunities for extortion, cyber-stalking, and other heinous cyber-crimes.

A Deal with the Devil?

The proposition of obtaining a smart TV gratis, free of charge, may appear to be an excellent deal for some. However, the authentic cost of this transaction merits a deeper probe. Let’s pause and unravel the underlying economics of this daring enterprise. Telly intends to distribute 500,000 TVs. Even assuming a conservative price tag of $500 per unit, the total investment of $250 million in hardware is a staggering figure. A question that springs forth naturally is: what sort of an enterprise would willingly relinquish a quarter of a billion dollars without anticipating a substantial return?

Upon closer scrutiny of this strategy, it is evident that Telly’s move is far removed from altruism. This proposition hinges on a paradigm shift in perceiving the contemporary digital economy: data has emerged as a valuable commodity, aptly christened as the “new oil”. Enterprises are no longer solely engaged in the commerce of goods or services; they are also playing a part in a grand, global data accumulation endeavour, where consumer data assumes colossal worth.

With the launch of these smart TVs, Telly has cast a broad, insidious net with the aim of reaping the rich reserves of data their users will unknowingly yield. Their choice to incorporate an unrelenting camera and microphone into their devices is a stark indicator of this intention. The actual product here is not the television but the constant flux of data, painstakingly indexed and analysed to deliver customised content, and most importantly, advertisements.

Within the twisted genius of Telly’s business model lies a dark revelation. The nascent company recognises that the data harvested from their patrons is immeasurably more precious than the $250 million initial venture they seem to be generously dispensing. Leveraging this data, Telly can construct exceedingly accurate consumer profiles, monitor viewing tendencies, preferences, and even reactions to different stimuli. All these facets coalesce to create a dataset that is a veritable treasure trove for advertisers and marketers.

The weight of this data attains a magnitude far beyond mere commercial interests. The machinery of machine learning and artificial intelligence, silently grinding in the vast factories of information, consumes this data to influence consumer behavior. The sprawling reach of such data collection may spawn an immense wealth of control, dwarfing the petty expenditure on the televisions that act as its unsuspecting informants.

It may appear on the surface that there exists a noteworthy parallelism between our smartphones, personal computers, and the array of additional devices with which we engage. However, an understated yet monumental divergence exists; that is the essence of the product itself. In the case of Telly, the product is not the television per se, in fact, the firm does not reap a single fraction of profit by generously supplying you with a gratis TV. Rather, their wealth accumulation strategy lies in ensnaring themselves within every facet of your life, enacted within the theater of your television viewing. The distinction between an iPhone and a Telly TV, for instance, hinges on a matter of trust. Despite the fact that certain standalone applications might amass unsavory volumes of personal data, there remains a degree of inherent trust bequeathed to Apple, premised on the understanding that you, the user, are not the commodity. It is true that Apple may occasionally find themselves mired in questionable practices, and such transgressions ought to be exposed and challenged as they transpire. Apple may engage in some unethical practices at times, and those should be called out when they happen, but we should at least praise their efforts to keep user’s privacy secure, with a level of protection that frequently outpaces that of many competing organizations.

The acquisition of data is not just a complex task—it’s an influential tool at the disposal of today’s tech conglomerates. What they procure are not just arbitrary sequences of digits; they are intricate maps of our preferences, behaviors, and our most confidential concerns and secrets. It’s not just mere data; rather, it’s a master key to the sealed vaults of our thoughts and experiences. As Michael Hayden, the former director of both the NSA and CIA, once gravely admitted, “We kill people based on metadata.”

This isn’t a criticism aimed at those agencies responsible for our national security. Their task is formidable, and their role is crucial. However, Hayden’s admission underscores the weight of the data that these companies gather. If the sheer magnitude and potential misuse of this information don’t send a chill down your spine in this technologically advanced era we’re living in, it’s hard to imagine what will.

What should I do?

In the face of such a grim proposition, should you still perceive this as a palatable deal, then by all means, proceed. Surrender to the siren call of a ‘free’ high-tech device, willingly relinquish your sovereignty over your personal space, let the stream of your intimate moments become an open book for a corporation to scrutinize. Become a product, if that be your choice.

Yet, for those of us who still cradle a respect for our personal boundaries, for the sanctity of our private lives, this harrowing situation casts a long, daunting shadow. It tolls a dreadful bell, echoing through the vast caverns of our collective consciousness, signaling a descent into a reality that bears the twisted, grotesque countenance of both Orwell and Lovecraft - a monstrous fusion of dystopian surveillance and cosmic horror.

Imagine, if you will, the chilling landscape of Orwell’s “1984”. A place where privacy is obliterated under the unrelenting gaze of omnipresent surveillance. Where the slightest hint of dissent is smothered by the iron hand of an omnipotent power, and the manipulation of truth is so pervasive that it corrodes the very fabric of individuality. The advent of Telly’s smart TVs, with their ever-watchful cameras and perpetually attentive microphones, pulls us towards this dystopian brink. Their insidious encroachment into our private lives, their relentless pursuit of our deepest secrets, the way they seek to mold our behavior, bear an unsettling resemblance to Orwell’s nightmare.

Simultaneously, we find ourselves ensnared in the throes of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror. We find ourselves insignificant, a mere speck in the face of ancient, inscrutable cosmic entities, powerless against the unending tides of chaos and despair. The gargantuan scale of data extraction, the titanic volumes of information that these TVs are programmed to consume, the sprawling network they establish - these all resonate with echoes of Lovecraft’s terror. The concept of our most personal moments being swallowed by this boundless, incomprehensible sea of data, where they become indistinguishable dots in a universe of information, underlines our insignificance in a stark, Lovecraftian sense.

In this disquieting moment, we teeter on the edge of an abyss. A path lies before us, enticing us with the shimmer of high-tech convenience at seemingly no charge, but with an unseen price: our privacy. Another path beckons us to remain steadfast, to guard our personal sanctum, to resist the transformation of our existence into a perpetual stream of commodities.

The choice before us is a stark one. Do we sacrifice our privacy on the altar of convenience? Are we prepared to embrace a world where our lives are but fodder for a hungry, relentless data machine? Our response will not just dictate our relationship with technology but will also steer the course of our society. We stand on the precipice, gazing into a churning maelstrom that threatens to consume us all, and the question echoes in the silent, expectant air: are we ready to fight, or is it time to leap into the abyss and lose what makes us, us?

You can read more on Part 2, which will delve into other companies who are engaging in similar acts, as Telly is far from an isolated example, but then will end on a positive note, pointing out ways in which we can fight back.

On Orwell and Lovecraft

Both this part and the next part make some references to works by George Orwell and H.P. Lovecraft, if you’re interested in more of what they have to say, you may want to read some of their works.

George Orwell was an influential 20th-century writer known for his incisive social and political commentary. His works often critique totalitarianism, authoritarianism, and societal inequities, employing allegory and dystopian settings. Orwell’s two most famous novels are “Animal Farm,” an allegorical critique of Soviet Communism using a revolt among farm animals, and “1984,” a dystopian future where a totalitarian regime uses surveillance, propaganda, and psychological manipulation to control its citizens. His clear, lucid writing style and use of “plain English” has influenced many writers and journalists. Orwell’s exploration of power dynamics and language manipulation in his works remain relevant today, often invoked in political and cultural discourse.

H.P. Lovecraft was a 20th-century writer known for his unique brand of cosmic horror. His works typically depict a universe where humanity is insignificant and powerless before ancient alien gods and entities. Key themes include the fear of the unknown, the insignificance of humanity, and the fragility of sanity. Lovecraft’s narrative style often employs antiquated language, first-person narratives, and an epistolary format. His creations, like Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, and the imaginary town of Arkham, have left a profound impact on the horror genre, inspiring countless other authors and media.

Privacy is a fundamental human right
  1. Privacy (Part 1): Constantly Under Threat
  2. Privacy (Part 2): What can you do?