There's an old saying, "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." Much the same can be said for today's Internet technologies. In the hands of the wrong people, these technologies can keep you uninformed and definitely invade your privacy. And we've all learned that a democracy is only as good as an informed citizenry.
Iain Thomson at Secure Computing Magazine compiled a list of the "Top 10 Technologies For Tyranny." Number 8 on the list:
"The use of GPS to track criminals was pioneered in the US... looking ahead GPS could be a key technology in keeping populations quiescent. We're already seeing moves afoot to have GPS installed in all cars so that road pricing schemes can be put into operation. Everything from phones to pet's collars is now having GPS fitted and the ability to read the signals means we could all be tracked much more efficiently."
Number 7 on the list:
"ID cards have been around for a while... but these days, with the advent of RFID, ID cards can also be used to keep tabs on where a person is and what they are doing. If managed correctly, an authoritarian regime can know who is in the country, who is out of the country and where they have been in the meantime. In 2008, the Chinese government outlined a plan to put RFID tags in as many as a billion ID cards..."
Number 6 on the list:
"It is said that no snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible. The same is true for some companies it seems. I'm sure when the Chinese authorities went to Cisco for the equipment to build the Great Firewall of China the local head of sales thought about what it could be used for, but that those thoughts were elbowed aside by the thought of his or her annual bonus package if the sale went through. Similarly Microsoft and Yahoo routinely hand over user details to the Chinese authorities when asked, despite that action often leads to jail sentences for people who publicly express an opinion. Other companies do exactly the same thing, and have done so throughout history. IBM provided the Nazi regime with a customised Hollerith punch card system to help automate Hitler's Final Solution and Thomas Watson was awarded a medal by Germany for it, although he eventually gave it back. Both General Motors and Ford also helped the Nazi war effort initially and members of both companies also received medals from the regime."
Two of my favorite technologies to watch, behavioral advertising and Facebook, fall under number 2 on the list. In and of themselves, these new technologies are great but how they are used -- and abused -- is the concern.