After Hours

Technological innovations and conspiracy theories: The perfect storm

New technology sometimes leads to new conspiracy theories, as is the case with the four examples Wally Bahny discusses in this Geekend post.

You might think technological innovations and advancements would help us debunk conspiracy theories, because there are more data present and more ways to analyze a theory. After all, if nearly everyone on the street that fateful day in 1963 had a smartphone with an embedded camera, it might have been easier to spot whose face was in the window of that book depository and certainly someone would have caught video of the man on the grassy knoll. And, UFO "sightings" seem to be on a decline now that cameras are less likely to take fuzzy photographs thanks to digital imaging technology.

Technology has helped us debunk some conspiracy theories that have been around for years (e.g., Contrails/Chemtrails, the moon landing, and the September 11 myths about missiles), but at least four relatively new inventions introduced conspiracy theories.

  • Direct deposit: Nearly every bank in the United States offers a reward/bribe (usually in the range of $50-$200) for opening a checking account at their bank and directly depositing paychecks there. A logical reason for these offers is because a bank's cost of handling a paycheck weekly/bi-weekly/etc. is much higher over the term of your account than a relatively small (as far as a bank is concerned) up-front reward. Conspiracy theorists say the real reason is because your bank gets your money as early as possible on payday and then is able to earn a few fractions of a cent in the time they hold it before you spend it, even if you withdraw the entire amount when they open at 9:00 AM. Over time, those fractions of a cent add up to well over the reward amount.
  • DTV converters: In 2009 when the United States made the push to drop all analog TV broadcasts for the less bandwidth intensive digital TV broadcasts, a video of a DTV converter box showed up on the web that allegedly contained a camera and microphone, thereby letting the government see and hear everything that went on in your house. This video was later revealed to be a hoax, but for a while, it confirmed some people's fears about these boxes the government was, in many cases, giving away for free. Even when the hoax was revealed, conspiracy theorists were still up in arms, and many DTV converter boxes were cracked open, revealing nothing more than what should be in the box.
  • The cloud: If I put all my data in the cloud, what's to stop the government from issuing a subpoena and getting my information? Or just getting it anyway? What will the cloud provider do with my data once they have it? Ever since the cloud has gained popularity, these are some of the questions people ask. In reality, most people's data isn't that interesting or noteworthy; most people's lives aren't that interesting or noteworthy. Nevertheless, people are afraid and spend considerable time sharing their fears on some forums.
  • Facial recognition apps: So, if an app is able to capture my face, what's to stop the government or a big business from putting cameras up on the street and knowing my every move (Google Street View, anyone?)? Add that to data gathered in the cloud and before you know it, everyone will know everything about me. Certain articles about TrapWire, surveillance camera software that reportedly can recognize peoples' faces in footage from security cameras, only add fuel to this fire.

Share some of your favorite technology-related conspiracy theories in the comments section.

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