How to defeat Big Brother

“Visibility is a trap.”

It can be safely argued that those four words, written by the French philosopher Michel Foucault in his discussion of the “panopticon,” were never more true than they were this year. Our visibility — defined as ubiquitous, networked digital connectedness — has at long last enabled an unprecedented surveillance state. In 2013, the negative consequences of our contemporary lifestyles were impossible to ignore.

But not just for the most obvious reason — the avalanche of revelations about the depth and scope of government spying delivered by Edward Snowden, which seized the world’s attention from June onward. The surveillance society is hardly limited to NSA spooks. We are now open books for everyone to read: Our friends and our enemies and our stalkers. Our providers of email and texting and social media and advertising and entertainment. Our employers, our doctors and our teachers. We have never been more visible, never been more willing or able to open up every moment of our existence to the outside world. And in doing so, we have handed the watchers fantastic power.

When you use something as seemingly innocuous as the flashlight app on your smartphone, it’s entirely possible that your location data is being gathered. The particular constellation of apps you use most often is exploited to build a profile for targeted advertising. Netflix makes note of every time you pause or fast-forward an episode of “Orange is the New Black.” Facebook is analyzing even the status updates that you delete before posting. Google Now knows when and where I am traveling, what packages are on the way to my house, and, of course, what I have been searching for recently. Your employer is gathering every conceivable data metric for evaluating your job performance.

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