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A variety of electronics are now being sold that connect directly to internet. From fridges to lights, thermostats to baby monitors, and security systems that connect to the TV, these devices communicate with one another for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the companies that develop these products care more about profit than your security and privacy.
While many people owning internet-connected products assume that they are the only ones who have access to the information being transmitted, a new search engine called Shodan has exposed this to be completely false. Anyone visiting Shodan can search and view the video being transmitted by many different kinds of insecure internet-connected devices. Among the things you can watch are bank security cameras, sleeping children, and people in swimming pools. Again, most users have no idea this information is publicly available.
As corporations seek new hooks to sell products, they are putting your private information online with little security.
Part of the problem is that many corporations falsely assume people do not care about privacy anymore because millennials share so much of their daily lives. However, new studies show that millennials are very careful about what they share and who they share it with.
The other part that is missing from this evolving "Internet of Things" industry is democratic government regulation. Neoliberal governments have long abdicated regulation to the free market (usually to the lowest bidder) as companies complain that meeting democratically and scientifically determined standards lowers profit margins. However, the clear market failure exposed by Shodan (the least insidious of those that exploit security lapses) must be addressed with regulation, transparency, and education to ensure that the privacy of personal data is maintained.
The default for those operating in this industry must be privacy and security to protect that privacy. It is the only way consumers can choose what they want to share, with whom, and when.
Not too early to start exposing bad Liberal policy
The honeymoon with the Liberal Party (federal and provincial) is dragging-on a bit for those who fight for social and economic justice. While much of the population continue to get their news from media sources enamoured with the new Liberal brand, substantive change is hard to come by. Advancing free trade agreements and hobnobbing with the world's financial elite aside, progressive changes to employment insurance, welfare programs, and investment in public services are lagging.
In the labour movement, many point to the Liberal introduction of legislation to undo the Conservative's anti-union bills C-377 and C-525 and retract unconstitutional decrees on federal union bargaining as positive steps, and they are. However, the decision to abandon these ideological initiatives was self-interested as much as anything, since this will save the government money and time fighting losing court battles.
When it comes to privatization however, the Liberals look mighty similar to the Conservatives when it comes to infrastructure spending. The mandatory P3 screen for infrastructure is gone, but the P3 incentives are still present making it likely that projects will take advantage of it. In addition, the Liberals are introducing a host of new financialization initiatives (such as asset recycling) which will drive privatization and profits for their banker friends (like the process of selling Hydro One in Ontario).
Socialists need to start identifying and calling-out these two-faced Liberal policies early and often. Otherwise, we will be stuck with the results of minimal change without having put forward any alternatives.
Thousands of people took to the streets in Hamilton this weekend to support Steelworkers and protest regressive changes to their pension plans. The Ontario government has exempted US Steel, owners of Canadian steel giant Stelco, from fulfilling the legal obligations to workers made when Stelco was purchased in 2007. As such, retired workers have lost a significant part what they thought were legally guaranteed pensions.
Uber a gateway to the worst kind of libertarian capitalism
While the debate about Uber tends to shift based on the state of a city's taxi industry, there is a much broader and important discussion that needs to be happening. Uber may be making waves, but the real problems are with its business model, one that spurns and evades regulation and could easily be adopted in dozens of other industries. The fight against Uber is not just a fight for quality taxi jobs, but one for the future of employers that can be held accountable for employee wages and working conditions.
Long the focus of US poverty activists and workers' representatives, arguments for maintaining low interest rates are gaining some support from some unlikely places. Different areas of finance capital have started to question whether the unelected US Federal Open Market Committee (who sets monetary policy) jumped the gun when they raised interest rates late last year. There is a growing call from both these groups to take a deeper look at the lower-end of the struggling global economy and for the federal government to rethink its rate increase.
What is interesting about this expanded lobbying is that the US-style of bank regulation is an extremely undemocratic one. The central banking system is deemed too important and so it is kept completely separate from the elected branches of government. The Federal Reserve has a history of managing the financial sector with an eye to sustaining massive profits for banks and US hegemony in the banking industry and not for working people. Low interests are great for people with debt, needing debt, or who are trying to make ends meet with low wages. However, under capitalism, low interest rates are not so good for pension funds and large investors or for the long-term stability of the financial system.
Liberals might want their hyper-capitalist techno-future, the resulting massive job displacement, and high-levels of income inequality but the result will be a wider split between those who gain from higher interest rates and those who suffer. The awareness of this extreme inequality will hopefully grow calls for democratic reform of the Federal Reserve system that is designed to make sure finance capitalism is rigged for the banks.
Taxing International Tech Corporations
Similar to the problem with regulating the international flow of data and the security of internet-connected devices is the problem of taxing the international monopolies that create and manage these technologies. This week saw a settlement between the UK Conservative government and Google over their near non-existent tax bill in spite of generating massive profits in the UK.
One might think that such an agreement is a move forward until the value of the deal is revealed: only £130M. As soon as the agreement was announced the Scottish National Party petitioned the EU to examine whether the deal was so beneficial to Google that it actually amounted to illegal government subsidization. In the light of such a dismal tax bill, even the right-wing Institute for Fiscal Studies in the UK called for a complete review of how international tech companies are taxed.
All eyes are on Iowa this week as insurgent candidates in both the Republican and Democratic parties try to dislodge the institutional incumbents for the presidential nomination. The first of the state-level caucuses usually helps set the tone for the whole race and Sanders and Clinton are neck-and-neck going in.
Zika and economic inequality
The explosion of the Zika virus is devastating lives in Latin America where a connection between the virus and birth defects of the brain have been discovered. As the panic has spread, women have petitioned the Brazilian government to relax their abortion laws for mothers infected with Zika. The worry at the international level is just how easily such viruses can be spread.
There is no question that the response to this virus needs to be at the state-level and supported internationally. However, the international medical community is worried that because many of those affected are poor and in poorer countries with two-tier medical systems, many will be without access to high-end medical support services. The virus is exposing huge gaps in the ability of privatized health services to be properly mobilized for such an outbreak. Similarly insufficient public programs were one of the reasons the response to Ebola was so slow.
Flint water crisis
Much of the news around Flint, Michigan's water issues are focusing on the terrible government management of their water systems, the slow response to the lead crisis affecting the city’s citizens, and the donations being made by private bottled-water companies. Unfortunately, less covered is the negative role of the private sector and water profiteers in the crisis.
The story of the right-wing mayor, racist anti-democratic policies of state Republicans, a focus on cost-cutting above all and reliance on private sector consultants to drive public water policy is what got them into this mess. The solution, which will have to be a public one, should not be lead by those following those same underlying policies.
As the Flint experience shows, access to clean water needs to be a democratic human right. The only way to effectively make water a right is to exclude the private sector profit makers from operating water utility systems, and for working people to demand action from their politicians. The truth is that water, like democracy, does not come cheap and it cannot come from a corporate board room.
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