China to stop spying on its people (humor… kind of)

The Borowitz Report has a
funny post
up today (hat tip Box of Meat) about Facebook and China:

China to Stop
Spying on its People; Will Use Facebook Instead

Social Network to
Replace Listening Devices, Spy Satellites

BEIJING – The Chinese
government announced today that it would disband its extensive domestic
spying program that gathers personal information on its citizens and would
instead use Facebook.

According to the head of
the domestic spying operation, China decided to scrap its elaborate array of
spy satellites, eavesdropping devices and closed-circuit surveillance cameras
after recognizing that Facebook put them all to shame.

“At the end of the day,
we were not getting as much intimate personal data as Facebook does,” he
said.  “So as of today, every man, woman and child in China is
officially our ‘friend.’”

The Chinese version of
Facebook, launched next week, will feature addictive online games reminiscent
of the American version, such as Collective Farmville.

The Borowitz Report is a
tongue-in-cheek social commentary blog but this one does have an element of
truth to it.  It contrasts the styles of government collection of
private information vs voluntary disclosure of private information.

For a country such as
China that is determined to maintain internal stability, they have a desire
to crackdown on dissent.  Because the population is so large and because
there are such strong tensions between the rural/urban split (2/3 vs 1/3 of
the population), imbalances can cause that instability into a weakened
government.  When China is fractured and divided it is easier to
conquer.  So, in order to prevent this, China engages in a series of
human rights crackdowns in order to collect information and monitor people
and movements that they perceive as internal threats to the regime. 
They can do this using spy satellites and listening devices, as well as
banning access to certain sites on the Internet and not letting certain data
go outside its borders (referred to as the Great Firewall of China – this is
a reverse pun on the Great Wall of China except that wall was designed to
keep people out, not in).

This, of course, requires
a lot of technological resources and the government has to maintain a vast
technological infrastructure in order to collect information on people who
are either unwilling to reveal it or actively trying to hide it.  By
contrast, Facebook is a huge social networking site where people voluntarily
share information with each other.  They put their interests, likes,
dislikes, books they read, friends they associate with, email address,
pictures, videos, and so forth, all online for others to see.  Using
this information, private marketing companies can build a dossier of a user
and target advertisements (whenever I log in to Facebook, I always see ads
for dating sites on the right hand side of my page because my relationship
status says that I am single).  However, while marketers can gain access
to this information in order to make money, governments could find it useful
to keep track people who oppose their regime.  By monitoring people’s
political interests, and their friends, for a much lower cost of maintenance
it is far quicker to build up profiles on your citizen base.

Of course, it isn’t quite
that simple.  For the majority of the population, this type of
information just isn’t that interesting.  While having access to lots of
information is a plus, sorting through that information and finding something
useful isn’t as easy as it sounds.  And it also assumes that the people
who you monitor are actually using Facebook (not necessarily true in the
developing world, such as China) and are careless about the information that
they reveal (likely in the case of an inexperienced political dissenter, much
less likely in the case of an experienced one).  So, while the
government adding everyone as a friend would likely yield some interesting
trends, and while it would likely yield some actionable information, it wouldn’t
necessarily be able to yield exhaustive information.  It takes time to
search through billions of records, and it takes time to sort all of those
results, and it takes time to follow up on the leads.  But if those
leads don’t go anywhere, then it doesn’t necessarily lead to an efficient use
of resources.

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