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Big Brother, Big Business: The Data-Mining and Surveillance Industries

Distributed by Films Media Group, PO Box 2053, Princeton, New Jersey 08543-2053; 800-257-5126
Produced by Lori Gordon
Director n/a
DVD, color, 78 min.
College - Adult
Technology, Privacy

Reviewed by Leigh Mihlrad, Schaffer Library of Health Sciences, Albany Medical College, Albany, NY

Date Entered: 9/30/2009

This CNBC documentary starkly shows the results when potentially beneficial technologies are misused. Through a series of segments—accompanied by personal stories—with names like “Every Move You Make” and “Too Much Information,” this video showcases potentially negative personal privacy issues.

One prominent example is GPS, Global Positioning Systems. These devices are common in cars, cell phones, and other devices to aid in navigation. However, one company, Payless Car Rental, charged a man over $1,200 for driving his rental car from California into Nevada, which was not permitted under the rental agreement. The car's GPS unit—which he did not know about—notified the company of his whereabouts. Payless eventually lost a class-action lawsuit taken by this individual and other renters who were unaware that the company had used GPS to track their location.

Other examples in Big Brother, Big Business include cameras used by retail stores to deter shoplifting yet also improve sales; Internet searches stored in perpetuity that aide law enforcement in solving crimes yet take away individual privacy; "pretexting," where an individual pretends to be someone else in order to obtain privledged information—in this case, cell phone records—and data mining.

What keeps the documentary flowing are the personal stories. The woman with a revoked job offer due to a faulty background check that mistakenly said she had a criminal past. The man whose former business partners hired a private investigator to check up on him, and subsequently broke into his cell phone account. The drunk driver who killed a family of three, whose conviction was enabled by the car's event data recorder that chronicled his speed of 70 miles per hour at the time of the accident.

Privacy advocates from the Electronic Frontier Foundation concede that technological advances have been useful, but worry about its future use. They note that privacy laws haven’t been updated since the 1980s, and have not kept up with technologies. The experts also note that personal information is now held by third parties, which the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not protect.

While some of the material in Big Brother, Big Business is a bit outdated, as the video is three years old, overall it contains useful information that could benefit anyone.