February 22, 2023
Spy Balloons & Robo Vacs
By: Brian Parsons
“I never said, ‘I want to be alone.’ I only said, ‘I want to be let alone!’ There is all the difference.” ―
On February 02, Americans were treated to the spectacle of a giant balloon floating over Montana wilderness that would go on to traverse the entire length of the United States. Of Chinese origin, this giant balloon was loaded with what appeared to be potential reconnaissance or communications equipment. Depending on what side of the political aisle observers were on, there was one of two responses from the public: First, shoot it down. We don’t appreciate foreign adversaries using espionage tools or potential weapons overhead. Second, Biden did the right thing by ensuring it was over open waters before dispatching it. It’s normal; they flew over during the Trump Administration as well.
For myself, I fall squarely into the shoot-it-down camp. There is something intrusive about a foreign object the width of several school buses entering my personal space that demands a decisive response. Given the sparse population of Montana, it seemed the appropriate time to dispatch it while above remote territory with the least risk to bystanders below. The concern wasn’t so much that China was gathering intelligence from above as some other potential for a weaponized payload like explosives, bioweapons, or an electromagnetic pulse device. The Chinese have no shortage of satellites or technology required to spy on Americans. Most Americans have willingly adopted Chinese manufactured and even branded surveillance technology into their homes, myself included.
I consider myself an early technology adopter. I was an alpha tester of Amazon’s first Echo home speaker device. An entire global library of music on-demand? Yes, please! What would follow is a connected home of lights, switches, thermostats, sprinkler controllers, alarm systems, cameras, etc. The convenient control over one’s home that technology allows is fantastic. But it has come at a cost.
During my foray into writing, one of the first articles I penned concerned the Faustian Bargain we enter into when we trade privacy for convenience. The crux of this dilemma is that the parties we enter into these agreements with have ulterior motives. Take social media, for example. We traded free personal connections online for a seat at our daily table. Technology corporations perform massive data mining campaigns to paint a picture of your entire life. They know who you are, your family and friends, your interests and hobbies, your jobs and colleagues, and your daily habits from sun up to sun up. They’re even listening while you sleep.
Once these corporations were firmly entrenched in our lives, they began to apply social pressure to engineer society in their twisted mold. From campaigns regarding topics such as diversity, equity, and inclusion, to election interference like that of the Center for Tech and Civic Life, to silencing political dissent by censorship or steering press coverage in manners favorable to themselves, big tech utilized the monetized data that they controlled against those they’d taken it from.
A common retort when debating the merits of privacy is, “I have nothing to hide.” It’s good that skeptics have nothing to hide because they’ve given up any possible place to hide. I started my blog, WithdrawConsent.org, to explore withdrawing consent from a system and society that had abused it. A part of that process was taking back control over my personal information, including what parts of my life I allow the rest of the world into.
A few years ago, I installed a Firewalla on my home network. A Firewalla is an inexpensive home firewall device that is easy to set up and has a minimal footprint on my home network performance without ongoing subscription costs. It allowed me to secure my home network from outside threats and showed me what was happening with devices inside my home network. What I learned raised some serious red flags.
At some point, my wife purchased a Shark Robotic vacuum on clearance. Excitedly, she set it up on our home network, and it mapped out its cleaning path. Unfortunately, the Firewalla began to set off alarms at odd times, suggesting that the Shark Vacuum was uploading a data feed to Shenzhen, China. Regardless of how innocuous this could be, I found no reason why any home appliance needed to send data it collects in my home to servers in China. I took the Shark vacuum off our network, and we got rid of it. We exchanged it for a different model with no data connection that works only on light detection and ranging, or lidar, to determine its path.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently published an article demonstrating how one woman’s Roomba vacuum took pictures of her sitting on the toilet, which was posted online. Sometimes what seems innocuous is quite dangerous. For this reason, I took a deeper look at what devices on my home network were uploading data to the internet. I found that the most egregious offenders were smart televisions and speakers. We turned off the wifi for the televisions and utilized separate devices for streaming. In the case of the smart speakers, the simple solution was to disable the hardware microphone buttons on top. While inconvenient, it completely stopped the data uploads until we wanted to utilize the speakers.
The smartphone is the elephant in the room on intelligent devices and privacy intrusion. Most of us have them, and most of us make exceptions for smartphones to maintain communications with family and friends. Though there are solutions to increase privacy, such as choosing a privacy-oriented device like a de-googled phone or installing privacy-focused software, your privacy only goes so far as the vendors whose apps and services you utilize. I will soon get rid of my Samsung phone because they consistently solicit me to accept changes to their privacy terms of service and install their adware to earn money for globalist charities.
When adversarial nations fly unidentified objects over our borders, we’re paralyzed by the threat. Meanwhile, most of us whitewash the daily micro-intrusions we accept at a much more frequent pace. At issue is not the absence or the presence of personal indiscretions. At issue is the incremental nature of our daily concessions until we’re left with no privacy at all.
Brian Parsons is a paleoconservative opinion columnist in Idaho, a proud husband and father, and saved by Grace. You can follow him at WithdrawConsent.org or find his opinion columns at the American Thinker, in the Idaho State Journal, or in other regional publications.