Big Tech or Big Brother? - Salvation Army Canada

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  • Jan8Tue

    Big Tech or Big Brother?

    What are the consequences of a data-driven world? January 8, 2019 Cadet Stephen Frank
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    Last summer, after moving to Winnipeg to attend the College for Officer Training, I finally caved in and bought a smartphone. Although I had resisted until then, I wanted to keep in touch with my family in Toronto. I purchased an Android phone, and I have to admit I enjoy it. I can video chat with my parents in real time, instead of writing an email or letter and waiting days or weeks for a reply. Using the map on my phone is quicker and easier than a paper map—it even tells me the fastest route from point A to point B.

    However, soon my phone started sending me unsolicited notifications. After several weeks of keeping track of my location, the time I went home and the route I took, it was “smart” enough to tell me that if I left at a certain time, my commute would take 15 minutes. My phone told me to go home before I was even ready to go home.

    Shortly after I purchased my phone—a Google-based product—the media reported that Google phones and apps were able to monitor a user’s movements, even with the GPS tracker turned off.

    In 2016, former FBI director James Comey admitted that he puts tape over the cameras on his phone and computer to prevent hackers and companies from spying on him. It was also leaked that government agencies around the world were able to use phone apps and computer software to spy on people. When the head of the FBI is concerned, shouldn’t we be?

    Ask yourself why a website like Twitter requires access to your phone or computer’s microphone. And why would a website or app require your location, unless it is an actual GPS app? As consumers, we need to be aware that these platforms can be and have been hacked.

    Some people don’t mind giving up their privacy for the sake of convenience. Fair enough, but once given, it is nearly impossible to get back. Others are fine with having their privacy taken away because they “have nothing to hide.” Another fair point, but if this were about accountability, it should be to your family, friends, church family, coworkers and, most importantly, to God.

    In November 2018, President Donald Trump announced he was “looking into” potential violations of antitrust laws by tech industry giants Amazon, Facebook and Google, for the way they suppress search results and silence dissenting political opinions. Should “big tech” have the power to decide which political opinions are worthy and which ones are not?

    In June, the Canadian federal government launched a countrywide consultation on how to deal with the digital transformation of work. With the fastpaced changes in how our data and personal information is collected, it will be an uphill battle to combat these issues.

    The benefits that big tech offers are evident. God can and does use modern technology for his purposes. I can now fit multiple Bible translations and commentaries on my phone—that’s a true modern-day miracle!

    However, when big tech has been caught spying on people, and using its power to promote or suppress political opinions, we need to ask ourselves what can be done about its role in our lives and society. I believe if George Orwell were to write his novel 1984 today, Big Brother would be portrayed by a Big Tech company and not a totalitarian political leader.

    Ultimately, we need to discuss and decide if it’s OK for tech companies to have access to our personal information or to control the information we receive. Are we OK with tech companies spying on us?

    Cadet Stephen Frank is a member of the Messengers of the Kingdom Session at the College for Officer Training in Winnipeg.

    Ethically Speaking is a series by The Salvation Army’s social issues committee.

    The Salvation Army and Digital Privacy

    The Salvation Army has a significant number of donors, and takes their privacy very seriously. “As an organization, we do not share or sell any of our data,” says John McAlister, national director of marketing and communications.

    “Any data that we collect—with permission—stays in our secure data centre, and the number of people who have access to it is limited. If an employee leaves the Army, their access is revoked within 24 hours. We dispose of information in a safe and timely manner when it is no longer required.

    “We also keep abreast with all Canadian anti-spam legislation. People must opt in to receive correspondence from us, and always have the option to unsubscribe.” For more information, visit

    The Salvation Army is accredited by the Imagine Canada Standards Program, demonstrating excellence in five areas—board governance, financial accountability, fundraising, staff management and volunteer involvement—and reporting back each year to remain in good standing.

    Feature photo: © SIphotography/

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