"Means of Control" by Byron Tau

Review by Borodutch

"Means of Control" is a scary book. I think it's the scariest non-fiction I've read in a long time. This fact is precisely why I want every single soul to read it.

The author does outstanding journalistic work by cross-examining various sources to find proof that governments don't just actively surveil citizens but do so increasingly well due to how insecure the infrastructure around us is. There are a few things that imprinted themselves on my mind:

  • Cars are inherently insecure and can be (and are) used to track people. E.g., car tire pressure sensors? They actively distribute unencrypted unique identifiers for the car control to pick it up. If you drive on highways and a specific car and pressure sensor are connected to you (and they are), then the government knows precisely how and where you drive — and that's even before we start talking GPS and smartphones. This is just one example of an insecure infrastructure used to track us.
  • No data is anonymous, even if analytics companies try to "anonymize" it. In reality, you always have a unique fingerprint that is the shape of the data. For instance, let's say they "anonymize" your GPS data. No name, but all the addresses you visit. You drive between your home and your work daily. Oh, yes, that's you — and only you who goes this way. Data is no longer anonymous.
  • Governments actively exploit the vulnerabilities and deanonymize datasets available commercially. Why run a sophisticated algorithm or develop a complicated gadget when, in fact, all the data needed to track a person is available for purchase openly from the data aggregators?
  • The cherry on top? We actively carry tiny surveillance devices (billions of them) that track us, the people around us, and our environment. Your phone suggested an open WiFi spot with high-speed internet. How do you think it got that information about the internet speed?
  • A plethora of data can be used to geolocate a person so precisely that you know what side of the bed they sleep on. For instance, if you have a router and a signal extender, your phone knows how far you are from both, even before we think of GPS.
  • The only way to protect your messaging privacy is to use e2e encrypted messaging apps like Signal. Telegram is not private.

The book opens so many doors and raises many questions (with some answers) that it genuinely scares me. When people talk about how much surveillance there is in China, I now think that we do as much surveillance (if not more) in North America, too.

In the eye of a state, your patterns, behavior, and thoughts are as clear as day. With the upcoming AI integrations (or even existing ones) into surveillance tech, one must fear that there will soon be no privacy left.