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26 Mar, 2018

Why the Facebook scandal makes travel technobabblers look like idiots

Travel technology forums, aka technobabblers, have experienced a shock-and-awe reality check in the wake of the Facebook scandal. I stopped attending technobabble forums many years ago. I just got bored of the starry-eyed delegates listening with open mouths to the usual gang of suspects spewing out the latest techno-toy wizardry and how it was going to revolutionise travel.

That it revolutionised travel is beyond doubt. What went completely undebated were all the now-emerging downsides of the big data movement – privacy violations, linkage with geopolitical agendas, consumer protection, legal issues, accountability and more. Sponsors, mainly travel technology companies themselves, do not want these on the event programmes for reasons which have now become apparent. The result was traditional sunny-side-up talk-shops – just another gathering of people preaching to the converted.

Sweeping these issues under the carpet and shying away from challenging conventional wisdoms still remains an option, of course. But only a complete idiot would choose to ignore a trust-violation of such magnitude. The cash- and data-rich travel & tourism sector is an intrinsic part and parcel of this data-vacuuming operation, and of enormous geopolitical and macroeconomic value to governments and multinational conglomerates.

Indeed, Facebook is just one of many American conglomerates in the data-vacuuming business. Google knows everything about what you read, search for and write. Expedia knows a lot about your travel habits. Marriott and Starwood know a lot about what you eat, what time you enter and exit your hotel room and what you order for room service. Visa, American Express and Mastercard know your spending habits by item, location and period of purchase. Apple phones can track your movements by the second. Airbnb and Uber know even more about your movements. In India, Amazon knows too much about what you buy. Each time you apply for a U.S. visa, the U.S. government harvests a treasure trove of information about your job, bank accounts and much more.

One may assume being protected by the so-called privacy policy. Has anyone ever read a privacy policy? Or even seen one in plain language? Written entirely in legal gobbledygook, it actually gives these companies the right to keep tabs on you – all in the interests of improving their service to you, of course.

Many years ago, I attended a Press conference by a U.S. government official in the days when the U.S. government was working to preserve net neutrality and ensure “openness” and “transparency”. I asked him why privacy policies could not be written in plain language. The answer was couched in equally complicated gobbledygook as the privacy policy. In effect, it was: Sorry, that’s not possible.

A few weeks later, I was at a Greater Mekong Subregion forum in Laos. There, Google was making its first appearance to highlight its ability to provide targeted marketing services to match demographics with destinations. Seeking to establish a fraternal relationship with the industry, the Google representative urged the industry representatives to think of the company as a “big brother” coming to the help of its younger brothers by offering a much more affordable and targetted marketing option. In the Q&A, I reminded him that the term “Big Brother” also has a more sinister Orwellian connotation, that the company knows too much about its users and would he care to clarify whether it shares that data with governments. He did not like that question one bit.

It does not end there. The plot thickens when more pieces are added to the jigsaw. U.S. advertising and PR companies and public opinion polling companies monitor public moods, purchasing habits and viewpoints. U.S. management consultancy companies constantly tell us how we need to re-engineer, compete and stay ahead. U.S. gurus give motivational talks about how to survive in a rapidly changing world. U.S. TV stations and print media lead us by the nose via commentaries and editorials. U.S. finance companies, banking institutions and ratings agencies influence our investment and currency and stock markets. U.S. movies and entertainment abound at every shopping mall.

Now remind me again – this is all innocuous stuff intended to improve my quality of life. To even suggest that the U.S. government or any other government has access to this information, or even misuses it, is to venture into the realm of a conspiracy theory.

As this “conspiracy theory” accusation is now in dubious territory, some collateral questions emerge: Why is all this data-vacuuming necessary?

Simple: For the pursuit and maintenance of power. Some would call it hegemony.

It is no secret that the U.S. government is in pursuit of power to maintain its post-Cold War pre-eminence and counter the rise of new powers such as Russia and China. As every empire has historically found out over the centuries, running one is an expensive business, especially when its gets overstretched geographically. Maintaining a global empire in the 21st century requires outsourcing the policing costs to external deputy sheriffs – Israel, India, Japan, Australia and Singapore to name just a few. American conglomerates are critical players in this game. Having established their presence in Europe, Asia and the Arab world, they are now moving into Africa and Latin America where the regime change agenda is in full swing to ensure governments toe the line.

Over the years, the U.S. government is publicly known to have used various strategies to foment regime change, for example, military coups in Chile and Iran. Then came the era of anti-government street protests such as in Poland, which led to the fall of the Berlin wall. Some, like Iraq, required outright invasions. Then came various colour revolutions and seasonal revolutions like the Arab spring. The more recent ones required heavy-duty use of communications tools to rally the masses, and deceive them. Today, just as drones operated from consoles in Arizona can be used long distance to kill people in Afghanistan, mind-games can be played via social media networks, with location being no bar.

In one way or another, all have at their core the need to manipulate the public – be it called disinformation, propaganda or fake news.

The mediums and methods may change, but the message and objective do not.

The plot thickens further when even more jigsaw pieces are added, especially to pinpoint the financiers. A key beneficiary of this global agenda is the Jewish state, Israel. Zuckerberg is a multi-billionaire Jew. So are Jeff Bezos, George Soros, Harvey Weinstein, Steve Wynn, Sheldon Adelson, and more. According media reports, Cambridge Analytica is almost wholly owned by the family of another Jewish billionaire Robert Mercer, former CEO of Renaissance Technologies. It is a rare Jew who does not back Israel which is being touted as an oasis of peace, stability and growth in a period of regional and global disruption and dystopia.

Anyone wonder how that happens?

Dual nationality is a big help. Hundreds of dual-national Israelis holding American, European, Australian even Canadian and New Zealand passports are living, working and travelling throughout Asia. Many run travel companies, booking engines and reservation systems. They know everything about everyone – every politician, bureaucrat, businessman, general, journalist. Known as ‘sayanim’ (look up the word in Wikipedia) they are ready swing into action to neutralise potential threats. Thanks to the vast information resources, they know exactly which pressure points to apply, how, when and where.

Now, to talk about Jews is all good if it is to laud how smart, kind, benevolent and ingenious they are. To even suggest that they would indulge in any nefarious behaviour such as harvesting personal data, invading your privacy or promoting regime-change is, uh, anti-semitism??

Like the “conspiracy theory”, that spurious, subjective allegation too has run its course.

Start putting the global, regional and local pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together, and it all makes perfect sense – the inter-relationship between geopolitical and macroeconomic agendas, the preservation of U.S. pre-eminence, the protection of Israeli ‘security,’ national elections in many countries, man-made mayhem and the mind-games being played to drive disruption agendas. This year, elections are due in Malaysia. Next year, in Indonesia and India. All are countries of great strategic importance in pursuit of that wider agenda.

The Facebook scandal confirms the veracity of what whistle-blowers such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden sought to expose at great personal risks to themselves. Travel industry technobabble forums have a golden opportunity to move beyond the parochial idiocy of short-term revenue objectives and take a hard look at the deeper, long-term agenda of the data-vacuumers. My impression is that they will not. They will blandly accept the Facebook explanations, swallow the crisis-management lies being spewed out by the FB spin doctors and go back to business as usual.

Until the next whistleblower steps up.