“People have a fundamental right to travel without being tracked.”
Your average pedestrian probably doesn’t think twice about walking by a mounted closed-circuit camera. It’s easy to ignore or even miss the ever-growing pervasiveness of such technology.
To illuminate this issue, the Massachusetts Pirate Party, which advocates for privacy, government transparency, and copyright law reform, took to the streets this month to map out the locations of the many cameras watching you around the Hub. Participants in a walking event toured downtown counter-surveilling, later entering their findings on an Open Street Map. The DigBoston-affiliated Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism pushed for such a campaign back in 2015, and the Pirates have carried the baton in the years since.
The map currently shows more than 1,000 cameras in downtown Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville. According to Massachusetts Pirate Party Captain James O’Keefe, the September event and the active mapping project are intended to raise awareness about the growing expanse of the electronic eye.
“People have a fundamental right to travel without being tracked,” O’Keefe told DigBoston. “The expansion of surveillance cameras in our neighborhoods, especially with facial recognition technologies, threatens that right.”
O’Keefe continued, “Through efforts such as these mapping meetups, we seek to draw attention to government and corporate efforts to expand surveillance at the expense of our fundamental rights as human beings.”
The group will host a second camera-mapping event in Worcester on Oct 17.
Opponents of the latest Right to Repair ballot initiative are banking on the general public’s concerns about privacy. At least that’s what it looks like in their spinning attempt to block independent repair shops from accessing data from your car during tune-ups.
Massachusetts voters originally approved the Right to Repair ballot question in 2012. That law required car manufacturers to allow independent auto shops to access computerized diagnostics systems for repair purposes, instead of forcing car owners to pay repair rates from a dealership.
Since then, auto makers have developed wireless access features, potentially allowing them to bypass the state’s requirement under Right to Repair, which the new ballot measure seeks to prevent.
Opponents of Question 1 are leaning hard into data security claims, including with a television spot in which a lone woman nervously walks to her car—the last in the parking lot—while a menacing voiceover explains that an evil stalker, who already had access to the woman’s ride, is now able to hack into the system to get all of her personal information.
Opponents of Question 1, who operate as the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, have repeatedly criticized the other side for being funded by large auto parts chains, such as AutoZone and O’Reilly Auto Parts.
Meanwhile, the top donors for the coalition include General Motors, Toyota, Ford, Honda, and other manufacturers.
Going back into 2019, supporters of the amendment have gathered $9 million in campaign financing, according to the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Public Finance. In the same period, opponents sank $25 million into the measure.
Stay tuned for a deeper dive on this topic in our upcoming election issue.
Unlike car manufacturers, Amazon wants consumers to forget any surveillance concerns, particularly ones about robot boxes that can yell at you about being late on your rent.
Earlier this month, Amazon launched its Alexa for Residential service, which allows landlords to install and operate Alexa devices in rental units. The release, which promoted the device’s ability to function in a smart home, promised that the tech will not allow landlords to spy on tenants. But as the Ambient observed:
Your Sonos speakers are blaring an alarm sound into every room. The Philips Hue lights are flashing red, the robot vacuum cleaner is rolling menacingly slowly towards you and your Echo is telling you that this month’s rent is late.
This dystopian nightmare is a worst-worst-case scenario for Alexa for Residential, Amazon’s just-announced scheme to put voice controlled smart home tech into rental apartments and houses, starting this fall with partnerships locked in with IOTAS, Stratis IOT and Sentient Property Services.
“Our vision was to create a service that makes having an Alexa-enabled home accessible for anyone, regardless of whether they rent or own their home,” an Amazon spokesperson wrote in a press release. As proof that the market will welcome the newfangled Alexa with wide open arms, the company offered a 2019 poll from the National Apartment Association which found that 84% of residents vaguely support having a smart home. In a research study that found residents would enjoy being able to raise the thermostat without getting off the couch, Amazon saw a chance to develop a new robo-spy feature for renters.
Nevertheless, Amazon stresses: Alexa Residential will not allow landlords to spy on tenants. Although the devices all have a feature that allows users to “drop in” on other users, Amazon has told media outlets such as Gizmodo that the function is not a part of the program. A lot of those privacy functions, however, are potentially upended if a tenant decides to link their Amazon account with the device that came with their apartment.
But just to reiterate—Amazon swears that Alexa Residential will not allow landlords to spy on tenants.