This month, when protesters took to the streets of America to rage against ‘police brutality’ and ‘white supremacy’ following the death of George Floyd, millions of the participants unwittingly landed on the radar of location tracking companies. What happened to that information next may surprise some people.
Mapping technology is possibly the most revolutionary invention to come along since the Model T, yet you’ll never see or hear the invisible innovation sputtering down the street.
The groundbreaking technology, also known as ‘geofencing,’ makes it possible to track millions of people with pinpoint accuracy every minute of every day. For retailers, this massive amount of harvested data through smartphones is an invaluable source of information on consumer behavior, and there are a number of companies that now cater to that niche.
Foursquare, for example, is one of the heavyweights in the location technology industry. It works with some 150,000 app developers and many Fortune 100 companies. The problem with this new tracking technology, however, is that we are in the Wild West stage of its development; there are no formal rules governing its use. In fact, regulating what companies do with our personal information is so worrisome that Jeff Glueck, the CEO of Foursquare, floated the idea in a New York Times opinion piece that those working in the location data business “take a Hippocratic oath for data science…and hope that living by such an oath would curb abuses.”
It sounds like a grand idea, but nobody should hold their breath in expectation of it happening, especially now that the technology is being used in the political ream in the most consequential election year to come along in decades.
The political implications
As streets across the United States erupted this month with Black Lives Matter/Antifa protests following the death of George Floyd, tracking technology was given a golden opportunity for some raw beta testing.
Given the volatile nature of the protests, some may have thought that Silicon Valley was tracking protesters for the purpose of connecting them to criminal activities, like looting, physical assault and vandalism. After all, if smartphones can trace individuals legally shopping in Saks Fifth Avenue, for example, it should be equally capable of tracing looters inside of the same outlet.
Or perhaps the technology was used as a way of determining how many of the protesters had shown up at the events from other cities and states. After all, we saw such savvy techniques put to use at the peak of the Covid pandemic when college students crowded the beaches of Fort Lauderdale for the annual spring break revelry.
Tectonix GEO tweeted out a digitized map that showed the “secondary locations” of beachgoers after they departed Florida. It may have been very instructive had the same technology been applied after the Black Lives Matter protests dispersed to better understand the movement’s origins. But that is not what the tracking technology was used for.
Want to see the true potential impact of ignoring social distancing? Through a partnership with @xmodesocial, we analyzed secondary locations of anonymized mobile devices that were active at a single Ft. Lauderdale beach during spring break. This is where they went across the US: pic.twitter.com/3A3ePn9Vin
— Tectonix GEO (@TectonixGEO) March 25, 2020
Instead, the technology was used to sign up those individuals who protested the death of George Floyd to the Democratic Party. The Black Lives Matter/Antifa protests gave Democrat political strategists the ability to trace the participants of those events by their cellphone numbers and target them with messages about registering to vote, for example, or supporting other political activities.
The Collective, for example, a political group that works to elect African-Americans, began a campaign earlier this year to enlist Democratic voters while the main topic in the United States was impeaching the 45th POTUS not racism. In fact, Michael Bloomberg, the former Democratic presidential wannabe, donated $2million to the advocacy group in early March for the specific purpose of getting more blacks registered to vote. Some might call that curious timing.
“We never had the funding and the resources to really engage in these types of techniques before,” Quentin James, founder and president of the Collective, admitted to the Wall Street Journal this month.
This new political technology puts the protests and accompanying riots – coming as they did hot on the heels of Russiagate, impeachment and an economic shutdown due to a pandemic, all in a major election year – into a disturbing new light. Indeed, more cynical and conspiratorially minded observers might be tempted to believe that the nationwide protests were spurred on not for the purpose of protesting ‘police brutality’ or ‘white supremacy’, but rather to serve as a pretense for what was first and foremost a sophisticated vote-harvesting operation.
“Reaching those individuals is especially critical, groups say, since in-person voter registration drives were halted by the coronavirus,” reported the Wall Street Journal in an article that focused on Democrat voter harvesting during the protests. “Plus, with Americans staying home for the past few months to prevent the virus’s spread, organizations have little other recent data about people’s movements.”
The amount of damage BLM has done in the past few weeks is incalcuable. Not to mention the number of people who weren’t racist before and have become racist BECAUSE of them. https://t.co/4Ms1AHs4iI
— Brandon Straka (@BrandonStraka) June 21, 2020
It could also be added that the Democrat’s ability to spark public enthusiasm for their long list of colorless nominees, like Joe Biden, have been less than spectacular. Despite reports that Biden is leading Trump in the polls, the numbers were never reflected by an electrified electorate lining up for blocks to hear him speak. That can only be described as strange. In fact, as the Democratic frontrunner continues to shelter at home, giving the occasional bumbling television interview, Trump just managed to attract thousands of attendees to his first large-scale rally in months – and despite the purported threat of coronavirus lingering in the air.
Again, more cynical minds might be tempted to argue that since Democratic turnouts at both the ballot box and political rallies have been less than stellar, what better way of energizing the base and camouflaging voter indifference than through street protests that railed against the phantom threat of ‘systemic racism,’ which also serves the dual purpose of reaching out to thousands of new voters?
Whatever the case may be, this sort of ‘enrage and engage’ type of political strategy, where strategists are potentially able to scoop up millions of new supporters through their smartphone applications, is practically on par with opening up the southern border to illegal migrants who then vote left in the elections. It’s a grievous act that works against the best interests of the nation.
The most dangerous aspect of such scenarios is that the destructive nature of street protests and riots could be viewed by more ruthless individuals, of which there is no shortage in the world of politics, as a positive development as far as winning elections goes. A bit like a snake chewing on its tail out of hunger, a metaphor that aptly sums up the Democratic Party today.