Over the last few months I’ve been busy creating a document for my day job. It’s a study on the rapid market growth of the “Smart” product category or as Best Buy calls it the “Connected Home”. These would be things like Amazon Echo (Alexa)/ Cloudcam, Google Home, Ring, Nest, iHome several products from Samsung, Apple or Sony etc. Chances are you have these types of products already. Like me, for example I’m able to control every electronic device in my house from my cell phone. We all interact with some sort of “smart” product in one way or another and surprisingly in more ways than we might of thought.
My report deals specifically with the impact on retail these products will have from a seasonal sales perspective. For example, internal forecasts at Best Buy are suggesting a 20% decrease in the Bluetooth Speaker category this holiday season with the back end to be made up with “connected” products. In other words the consumer, wants a ‘smart’ speaker with a VPA (Virtual Personal Assistant) so they can tell it what to do. It’s a different level of interactivity that we as consumers have longed for. And according to sales data, we’re buying into it hand over fist.
The research with my report has spanned from professional correspondences to putting ads on Craigslist for customer opinions and feedback on these items (for an easy five bucks). Needless to say I’ve covered anything and everything to put this together. Not exactly ground breaking stuff and calling this type of work boring would be a compliment.
What I am about to share however is an anonymous email I received regarding my research. The source of origin has not been determined but it was not from any direct replies of my correspondences and came out of nowhere.
Nothing was omitted or changed in any way and is transcribed exactly as I received (and read), only the email addresses have been removed.
To:firstname.lastname@example.org From: XXXXXXXXXXX
Re: Your Data Collection
This message is in response to your inquiries regarding networking / smart / connected consumer products. I’ll spare the introductions and only say the business I’m in requires a certain degree of clearance. For those in the know, I’m “behind the wall”. You can do your own homework to find out what this means. It’s because of this I found your requests and information. Please do not be alarmed, I’m not following you or have any bad intentions, I only want to give you some content to put in your report. You might not believe anything I’m saying and that’s fine you can do what you want. But if I didn’t think this to be important I wouldn’t be risking serious consequences to send it.
I’m going to be blunt, you’re being watched. I don’t mean you exactly, but in general everybody is. I’ll give you an example. Yesterday you woke up at 6:47AM then went back to sleep until 7:18AM. I know this because you looked at your phone to check the time. The camera on your phone, despite popular belief, is always on. I could also tell when it was moved from its previous position. Somewhere between 7:45 and 8:30Am you were on a laptop checking email, Imgur and your bank account (this was easy to find out). You left your house at 9:56AM and stopped at the gas station on XXXXXX street at 10:06AM. I know this because of the camera on your Ring doorbell, the city camera of XXXXX Street and the gas station’s surveillance. Also, your cell phone pinged one tower in your area giving me an exact location. Do you see where I’m going with this? Again, I’m not following you but there was no better way to show my legitimacy than to give you this quick demonstration. I stopped tailing you after you went into Starbucks where you spent $5.63 on your pumpkin spice nonfat latte after the lady in front of you with the bright yellow sweater bought her tall latte. You still with me? Read on.
It’s no secret that we live in a connected world. Even the word itself “connected” is used everywhere. And I’m sure your research into places like Amazon, Best Buy or Target would say the same. These items we buy use the internet which makes things easy for people like me to watch what you’re doing on any given day. And that is exactly what I do, day in and out, I watch. You can call it government, big brother or whatever but we only watch those that need to be. More to the point, there needs to be a suspicion about you that would make us watch. I’m here to tell you that it’s not us you should be worried about. It’s them.
Who’s them? Good question.
A few years ago I had a meeting with my superiors about an interception. It was a video feed that was uncovered by pure chance. We discovered it because the system being used was attached to one of our servers, basically we were hacked. It was surveillance footage of a family. They were nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing dangerous or suggestive about them. They were surveilled for weeks which meant the person watching knew everything about them. Their work and school schedules, eating habits, TV shows they watch and most importantly their sleep schedules. One night they all went to sleep and woke up in a box buried alive.
Imagine, going to sleep after having a decent, normal day and waking up in a coffin. Not knowing where you are, how you got there, nothing. Just surrounded by blackness, trapped for no apparent reason. This was the work of “sleepy_time”, just one of thousands, and I mean thousands of what we call “Handles”. These are individuals who use your smart products against you and sell their exploits around the globe. This may range from voyeuristic peep shows to deranged homicides, which is sleepy_time’s forte. Most of this activity unfortunately, are used for crimes. For instance – if someone wanted to abduct or just flat out kill you, they could purchase both past and current surveillances of you and make it easy.
A ‘handle’ like sleepy_time is most likely part of a team and not just one person. Their victims, once placed in the “coffin” and awake from their initial drugging are still being recorded on camera. It’s footage of the initial wake up and torturous death that demand an expensive price to view. Something this elaborate could never be done by a single person. There is the surveillance team that determines the strategy and the field team that conducts the actual activity (or job). This is big, big money but the most troubling thing for me is not the crime, but the lengths of preparation taken for it.
There are other ‘handles’ out there, like I stated, there are thousands and each have their own MO’s. Too many to list here. Sleepy_time is just an example of one of the more complicated ones.
You may be asking are these handles the “Them” I’m talking about and the short answer is ‘half’. I think of ‘them’ as two elements. The first are the handles, the second is something far more concerning, if you can even imagine. This second half doesn’t really have a title. I’ll try to explain.
When you’re at home you have habits. Maybe the first thing you do is flip on the TV. Maybe you go right to the fridge. Turn on your lights? How about what you say to your significant other when you walk through the front door? Is it the same thing everyday? How would you even know. You’re a data and metrics person so here are some numbers to crunch. I can tell you the word “Hello” is only used as a greeting in about 4% of households in the US. I can also tell you that 9% of people turn on their TV’s once they get home. The reason why this is such a low percentage is because it’s already on. Roughly 65% of the entire population has their televisions on at all times where 86% of people have them on while they are home until they go to bed for the night. Consider that, getting constant information 86% of the time you are home. Do you ever feel yourself compelled to do something? Buy something? Say something? Let me tell you that YOU DO AND YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW IT.
Everything you do or interact with is monitored in some way. We’re born into this. Remember the electric company coming by your house to read the meter? Probably not. In today’s (connected) world, monitoring has been taken to disturbing heights. What if all of this monitoring was being entered into one giant algorithm? Or more to the point, a doomsday code. I know, this sounds like conspiracy theory stuff, but if you were to put this into reality for a moment, what would a code like this actually do? Something that knows your habits from head to toe, knows what you do and how you do it, KNOWS YOU. I’d say they’d have the upper hand if the goal was total control. And that is the other half of “Them”. We know this exists, we know that your data is going “somewhere”, we just don’t know where.
Within our inner circles here we feel this collecting and monitoring has been happening for quite some time. The more involved individuals regarding this theory believe inventions such as the telephone and television were created for this very purpose. I’m not in this camp. I think the powers at large saw an opportunity and are seizing on it. But whatever the theories may be, the fact is, a complicated algorithm exists and everyday it becomes more and more in depth. We’ve been able to capture fractions of it but always never enough to tell us what it’s actually doing. We capture it bouncing around the thousands of satellites orbiting the planet where it ultimately disappears. Again, we have no idea where it goes but it has detailed monitoring data of each and every individual breathing air on this planet.
I’m not a religious person by any means but I’m reminded of a quote from the book of Revelation (1.7):
“Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him…”.
“every eye will see Him”… interesting. If you think about this, it is possible in our connected world for “every eye” to see? Absolutely. One could pass gas and put it out on Twitter for anyone to enjoy.
Obviously the religious among us will think that the “Him” refers to Jesus, but what if it’s something else? It shakes me to my core to think about what this could be.
If you made it this far you may wondering if any of this is true and I don’t blame you. It’s all hard to swallow but if you think about all of those things you interact with on a daily basis, maybe it’s not so hard. Like I said before, believe what you want and do what you will with this info. And if you’re interested there’s more, lots more.